I had an interesting experience last week. After looking up some information about one of my benefits online, I decided to call the service provider directly to make sure that I understood what I’d read correctly. After listening to my question, the service rep who answered my call said, “You know, you can find out that information online by yourself. Were you aware of that?” “Yes”, I answered. “I was. In fact, I’ve already been online, but I still have a question, so I decided to call.” After a short pause the service rep continued, “Are you in front of your computer? I’ll walk you through how to find the answer to your question online so next time you won’t have to call us at all.”

After I put down the phone, I realized that I didn’t feel very good about the service I’d received. I’d called to talk with someone because I wanted to make a connection with a real live human being who cared about me and the problem I was having. Unfortunately, however, what I ended up feeling was disappointed and disconnected. Disconnected from the service rep I’d spoken to, and disconnected from my benefits company.

That got me thinking about the topic of ‘connectivity’ and what being ‘connected’ to – and with – customers really means for a service organization. Does it mean that your customers can find out information on a website twenty-four hours a day? Get a quote whenever they want it without ever talking to an actual person in your company? Or does it really mean that they feel that they are cared about and are connected to your company as people: real live human beings?

As more and more technology becomes available, I believe that this is an extremely important question for every service company to think carefully about. Because in my opinion it’s easy to be mistaken and think that technology is creating connections with your customers, when in fact, it might actually be disconnecting them. And if customers feel ‘disconnected’ from your company, there’s always the danger that they’ll switch to a different service provider. Because, ultimately, in my opinion, in service interactions, what most customers want is that actual human connection and it’s that connection that ties them to you and your company.

Let’s look a little more closely at my experience calling my benefits provider. Having spent a number of years as a call center rep, it was clear to me that the service rep I talked to was doing her best to ‘train me’ to use the online system to find out information without calling the company directly. That would reduce the number of incoming calls and make things easier and more efficient for the call center. Problem was, though, that’s exactly how my service experience made me feel: as if my call was an imposition on the call center’s productivity. I didn’t feel as if answering my question and solving my problem was important to the company at all.

If you work in a service organization, there’s so many things to do in a day that it’s easy to forget that the value for your customers is the service that is created between your company and each customer: a booked hotel room, or an answered question to give someone peace of mind (like my call to my service provider). And in my experience, it’s even easier to forget that that that value is often created together with the customer, while having a real, direct, personal connection WITH that customer, either in person or on the phone.

How can you tell if your service organization is really serious about connecting with your customers?

  • Take a look at what metrics your contact centers are using. Are there targets to reduce average call handle time? Reducing the number of contacts by having customers use self-service options? If so, then perhaps your service reps are being rewarded to get your customers off the phone – disconnect them – instead of finding ways to get to know them as people and understand their unique problems to make real human connections!
  • Does your organization make it a regular practice to ask customers directly about how their service experience has been at the time of service? Or what products or services they wish your company offered? Or are random, anonymous surveys sent out? Think about how good your customers would feel if they were asked, in person, or on the phone by someone who really cared about their answer.

Being connected to your customers means having a real, caring relationship with them as human beings – not just calls to be handled or interruptions to daily productivity. It means spending the time getting to know them, listening carefully for the feelings behind their initial questions and asking questions to get to know their wants and needs better. Each service interaction is an opportunity for a point of connection that can tie your customer more closely to your company. If your customers never get a chance to speak directly to people in your company, if they are simply directed to self-service options, how can your company differentiate itself by the service it provides? And make those close, personal connections that your customers, as people, really want?

Are you connected?