Customers and stand-up comedians usually still think of the customer service process as difficult. The long waits on hold and the inability of customer service representatives to actually do anything to help, but times are changing.
Think back a few years. It was the brands who defined how customers could get in touch by publishing a phone number or email address the customer had to use. They would also publish opening hours, so the customer knew when it was possible to expect a response. Now contrast this to the reality of how many customers are behaving today.
They don't wait. They expect customer service at any time and they don't want the brand to define a channel, they will just complain however they want. This could mean a blog, a tweet, a Facebook post, or a review on TripAdvisor. However the customer wants to talk about a product or service today, the brand is expected to be able to monitor online discussion and to respond inside the same channel.
But how many companies are really achieving this? I know that I have often tweeted a question to a company and they have responded with an automated message saying "please call us" - is it really helpful to say that the brand is offering a support option on Twitter, yet the message online is always "please call us"?
In the industry, this ability to serve customers equally well across many channels is known as omnichannel and it is becoming much more important because customers are more footloose than ever. It is extremely frustrating to email your details to a company, then to call an hour later (because there has been no response) only to be told that the agent on the call knows nothing about your email. Major brands are working hard to fix this by connecting together all the various ways that customers get in touch.
And they need to get it right. Research by the Harvard Business Review shows that investing in the customer experience directly leads to an increase in revenue - it can actually be quantified. In fact, analysis by Forrester Research has shown that companies that focus on improving their customer experience can expect to see growth of 24-26% more than companies that just rest on what they have got today.
I remember listening to a recent talk by the analyst Peter Ryan, of Ryan Strategic Advisory, where he said that improving the customer experience has now become the single most important priority for global executives. That's right, it's now even more important than the traditional executive priorities of reducing costs and increasing revenues. Think about what this means for corporate strategy as well as what it means for you as a customer.
This leads me to two conclusions; customers are now in charge and executives that want to succeed need to accept this and alter their business to welcome it. However uncomfortable this may be. Customers should expect a great service from any brands and if they don't receive it they should shout across the social networks and ensure that the brand hears their dissatisfaction. They are already doing it.
Customer expectations have been redefined. Brands that are not listening and are not putting the customer first in this environment simply will not survive.