By Lyvia Nabarro, MOSL's Head of Market Communications and Engagement

As we begin a new year, now is often the time for reflection and to set resolutions for things we want to accomplish, commit to or change. What’s different this year perhaps is that change somewhat feels out of our hands. So much has changed over the last year and continues to be unpredictable that identifying what is within our control can feel overwhelming.

In one way or another we have all been impacted by the realities of living with a global pandemic. In setting out to write this blog, I wanted to explore the changing role of customer service as we’ve changed our ways of working and the lessons we have learnt from those who have “got it right”.

Great customer service has always been a passion of mine and something I seek to bring with me into every role. Whether you are in a typical “customer facing” role or not, it’s important to think about the way in which you engage, communicate, and collaborate. Whilst selling a good product or resolving of a problem effectively may be fundamentals of customer service – we all want a bit of humanity in the way we interact (like me you may also say “please” and “no, thank you” to your Amazon Alexa).

We’ve all been there through the course of lockdown – in particular, those restaurants whose teams and technology make the new process of social distanced eating and QR code ordering feel effortless. And those who miss the mark and instead make you frustrated and a little anxious. In more cases than not, those who have mastered the change started by thinking “what would this feel like as a customer?”

Before moving into communications, I held a number of managerial roles in customer service industries – from restaurants to the theatre to entertainment. And in each role, ensuring that you adapt to different customer needs and learn to pre-empt people’s wants is key. It’s a highly intuitive business and one where you need to learn quickly to trust your gut, rather than simply follow a rule book.

Now what that doesn’t mean is that the customer is always right (sorry customers). Oh, they can be woefully wrong. As a Box Office Manager of a theatre in London, I once had a customer slam her fist on the table and demand to know what I earnt and who hired me simply because I wouldn’t let her into a show 15 minutes late. Not only did it say ‘no latecomers’ in bold on the ticket, but importantly, the reason I couldn’t let her in was because the audience seats were behind the stage. She would have had to walk right passed Miss Julie in her opening flirtations to get to her seat. Not, I’m sure, what other patrons had paid to see.

So, rather than react I stayed calm, offered her a reduced-price ticket for another evening and asked our bar manager to get her a drink on the house before she headed home. She opted for tea.

The reason I am sharing this example is because the customer can be wrong, but your reaction can be right. Instead of an outright “no” it’s a “here’s what we can do”.

I worked at Disneyworld in Florida for a total of two years in my early to mid-twenties. When they talk about world-class customer service, they are not wrong. Everything in the company’s ethos is centred around going above and beyond and creating ‘magical moments’ for guests. This means that colleagues (or cast members as they are referred to) are encouraged to not only create an experience for customers, but to go the extra mile. This kind of empowerment leads to greater customer service and let’s be honest, makes everyone’s job that bit more rewarding.

With that in mind, what have we learnt about the changing face of customer service in a pandemic? I’m going to throw some stats your way.

“42% of customers are put off by rude or unhelpful customer service staff.” (NewVoiceMedia) – The pandemic has been a challenge, and I believe caused a level of underlying anxiety and frictions in our ways of communicating. This can have an impact on customer service, but now more than ever we need to consider how we engage with customers – as companies have adapted to new business models (think Pret’s “dark kitchen”, gin distilleries making hand sanitiser or pubs offering takeaway pints) customer loyalty goes a long way. Making sure you train your staff on what good customer service is and empowering them to do what is in the best interests for the customer is essential. Your staff will be happier, and you don’t need me to point out the link between happier workforces and happier customers.

“Speed of response (89%), speed of resolution (89%), and friendliness of representative (82%) are seen as the most important aspects of the customer service experience, regardless of channel.” (Zendesk) – Most companies these days adopt a multi-channel approach, recognising that not all customers are the same and may want to engage in different ways. Some may look for services via social media, while others will prefer to pick up a phone or speak to someone in person. Speed of response, speed of resolution and friendliness of staff are not good enough in isolation – neither will it win you many favours if you give great service through one channel, but poor service through another. Many businesses have moved services online during the pandemic to continue to operate and reach their customers, but introducing a new channel is not simple. Consistency is key – no matter what service or platform a customer is using, or who they are talking to – they should expect the same high-level of service. What’s the phrase… “the chain is only as strong as its weakest link”.

“73% of customers want the ability to solve product/service issues on their own.” (Aspect Consumer Experience Survey) – In the age of YouTube tutorials, online forums and TikTok videos, customers are more informed and more connected than ever. This means that they want the opportunity to fix problems themselves, in a way that is easy, fast, and seamless. Providing great ‘self-serve’ tools and platforms will be essential in 2022 – particularly considering the pandemic and the desire for customers to solve problems in their own home and in times not dictated by traditional opening hours. This will help business close the gap between growing customers expectations and our ability to serve them efficiently. 

“30% of consumers say not being able to reach a real human is the most frustrating part of a bad customer service experience.” (Microsoft) – I want to end on this one, because as I said, now more than ever we are all craving a bit of human connection. And we’ve all been there, screaming numbers at an automated phone service that is sending you around in circles. But a “real human” is more than getting through to someone on the phone, its about human emotions. Having someone to empathise, make a joke with you, or genuinely care about your concern makes the world of difference as a customer. At MOSL we have several channels our members can use to contact us – our website, our email mailboxes, our social channels, but at the end of the day we are still at the end of a phone (or Microsoft Teams call). Video calling has revolutionised the way we work as businesses and as an industry. We have greater insight to each other; our work environments and we can connect at the touch of a button. It is a momentous change, and something that I hope we don’t lose.

Now, how do I summarise? Well, as well as my well-known love of Disney, I recently shared with my colleagues, my love for the Moomins characters and stories. For those who are unfamiliar with them, they are wonderful creatures from the mind of Finnish author, novelist, painter, comic strip author – Tove Jansson. A writer very much ahead of her time and one who believed in the power of imagination, evolution, and invention. In light of the ongoing uncertainty the pandemic has created and, our changing ways of working, expectations and the need for human connection, I would like to leave you on a quote from Moominmamma (source: Moominpappa At Sea, Tove Jansson, 1965):

“But one needs a change sometimes. We take everything too much for granted, including each other.”

As we head into 2022, I truly believe the face of customer service will continue to change, but what we must not lose is each other and our ability to connect, communicate and ultimately deliver better customer service.

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