A Few Lessons Customer Service Should Learn from Alfred

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A Few Lessons Customer Service Should Learn from Alfred

Alfred Pennyworth is Bruce Wayne’s butler. Alfred anticipates the needs of his boss, and he is exceptionally good at finding ways to solve Bruce and Batman’s problems before and as they happen.

Not many of us can afford to have a personal assistant that can do all this for us. Nor are we likely to find someone as purely attentive as Alfred. With today’s predictive technologies though, we might have a viable Alfred alternative.

So what does Alfred have to do with your company, and with customer support? Today is the age of the customer, but we still often struggle with customer support. Great support experiences should be extraordinarily personal, the same way that Alfred serves Bruce Wayne.

How can we better anticipate the needs and issues of our customers? How can our support be more accessible, and relevant? Here are three Alfred-esque traits that need to define the customer support experience in the future, and that with emerging predictive technologies, we may finally begin to realize.

Support teams should already know about the customer

Customer support agents act like they have no idea who you are when you call in for help, and that’s a problem. It’s why we ask friends and family for help (or are often the ones asked for help) when we have a problem – because they have the context of our needs and what we are trying to accomplish.

Customer agents often end up asking redundant questions, making you repeat the process with another agent in another department. But what’s worse is that this kind of personal information already exists within the company — it’s just buried somewhere in the back office.

For support to service us better, they have to take into account all the things that make us unique. Alfred raised Bruce from childhood, knows everything about his history, his preferences, what makes him sad, angry and happy. With this knowledge and experience, Alfred is often able to give Bruce the advice needs, before he needs it.

Like Alfred’s knowledge of all details about Bruce, support needs to have as much relevant information available immediately at its fingertips as it can. It’s more than just the popular contextual information being built into many of the latest CRM apps (the customer’s location, time of day, social sentiments), but also everything in the back office that may have an influence over your support needs: what products or services you’ve purchased, including upgrades and add-ons, what your order and billing history is, what your usage patterns are, and your past service interactions.

If your support agents are still required to navigate a multitude of systems (the swivel chair problem) to access this type of information, your company is behind the times. IT leaders around the world are driving the implementation of integration, aggregation and presentation systems that drastically reduce the burden on the agent of finding relevant information, and are presenting that information to them proactively, allowing the agent to perform their customer advocate role instead of being a data sleuth.

Support should be wherever you are

At home, in the batmobile, in the cave: Alfred is always just a few steps away, ready to be at your service. Alfred knows where Bruce is at all times, and is there to help even if the Internet goes down.

Customer communication channels are typically managed by different organizations within a company, and they are limited to that particular channel. If the customer switches to another channel, then they need to start the process over with someone new. Support is given without context, and therefore often misses the mark completely.

AT&T Uverse allows customers to troubleshoot any of their issues (TV, phone or Internet) through their set-top box. If the Internet goes down, a customer can easily resolve the issue and restore service with a few clicks on the remote. You don’t even need to take out your phone — to try and read lengthy content using your cell service or to call an agent.

Companies must provide this sort of seamless cross-channel experience with the same quality of experience, no matter how the customer is contacting them. Each contact should start already with an understanding of the customer’s context, including past interactions.

Support needs to produce real-time solutions

Just as Alfred builds, programs and maintains much of Batman’s next-gen technology, including the Batcomputer, the Dark Knight relies on Alfred’s highly sophisticated computer skills to solve problems for him, give him the right information at the right time, and often to avoid disaster.

Support agents on the other hand don’t have access to the technology that makes it easy to help their customers in real time. Today’s Knowledge Management systems are geared around the agent using their best interpretation of the data they are gathering to search for relevant content. This process drives an inconsistent experience for customers, and is completely dependent on agent skills.

To fix this problem, agents need to be given a powerful, optimized workspace that helps them personalize the customer experience. Today’s big data and predictive analytics systems can be used to analyze customer data both offline and in real time to help guide agents to the right content for each customer they help.

Furthermore, machine learning can also be used to drive ever-improving accuracy of agent/customer interactions. The outcome of each interaction can be measured and fed back into systems that will automatically improve the system’s ability to guide agents to the right content.

This is truly the next step in the evolution of customer support. IBM’s Watson, NextIT’s intelligent virtual assistant are the beginning of a wave of systems that will engage with customers and agents in real time, learn from those interactions, and improve over time. In the next 1-2 years, expect to see more companies use big data and machine learning systems to produce real-time support for customers.

To be sure, we’re not likely to find an Alfred to run the customer support experience in our companies, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. Or better yet, we need to at least empower our agents with the tools they need to anticipate, understand and solve customer problems.