Service Is About Conversations, Not Tickets

Nothing symbolizes all that’s wrong with customer service as well as the support ticket.

Take my visit to the trade office, two weeks ago.

Upon walking in, a machine spit a numbered ticket at me. Then I was crammed into a dusty room with dozens of fellow victims, waiting there for 30 minutes before finally being called. By sheer coincidence it was the same administrator who handled my last case, but she didn’t recognize me.

I've come to expect such experiences from bureaucratic government institutions, but I can’t wrap my head around it when otherwise modern businesses apply the same approach.

When I recently reached out to an online shop I visit frequently, they replied to me with an automated email and an assigned ticket number. Although it was a trendy, modern fashion shop, its service methods were rooted in the 19th century.

If I, as a customer, embody the company's ultimate goal, then why am I constantly treated as a number instead of a person?

Service-as-an-assembly line

The reason why is that most companies still approach customer service with an assembly line perspective. Open tickets come in; closed tickets come out.

I suspect the root of the problem is related to customer service not being recognized as a real discipline in business studies. “ The Personal MBA ” doesn't even contain a chapter on the topic. This is curious, considering that it’s the world’s largest employment sector.

Most businesses regard customer service as a necessary evil. The best performing service is the one which costs the least. Outsource it or automate it.

The 8 Core Principles of Good Customer Service

Performance in any field is guided by a few core principles. These are the core principles governing the quality of customer service.

First principle thinking

We all know that if you push costs long enough, quality will suffer. But where in production you compromise on factors like durability, in service you compromise on human dignity.

Endless queues, annoying choice menus and ticket systems are all symptoms of this approach. Is there an alternative?

Service-as-a-value

The alternative is a philosophy that acknowledges service as something that adds value to the customer experience. A core competency – potentially a unique selling point.

Instead of outsourcing it, companies with this philosophy recognize their customer relationships as the engine behind their success – as their greatest source of learning. How could you outsource something that crucial?

The successful companies of the future recognize that their value is the sum of their customer relationships. And relationships are about conversations, not tickets. A good service conversation feels like receiving help from a good friend. The opposite of what a bureaucratic, ticket-based approach feels like.

Breaking the mold

So far I’ve ignored one crucial issue: service isn't free, and most people prefer cheaper to better. Who am I to complain about leg space and the flight attendant's attitude when I’m paying Ryanair €20 for my flight from Cologne to Milan?

Mostly, improvements in customer service are accompanied by higher costs and prices. Better service has traditionally equalled more employees, more training or higher salaries. But since those costs translate into higher prices for the customer, their payoff is questionable.

That's why we have to look for service improvements in which customer interests (quality service, affordability) and business interests (happy customers, profit) overlap.

Venn diagram with customer and business interests.

When customer desires exceed the business' profitability, service is unsustainable. When business interest exceed customer wishes, symptoms of bad service rear their ugly heads: waiting queues, understaffing, etc.

The challenge lies in maximizing the overlap: where good customer service is paired with low costs and high profits flow from improved customer relationships.

At Userlike , we are building solutions to expand this overlap. To break down the trade-off between quality and costs, and realize support that maximizes profitability and human dignity.

Venn diagram with bigger overlap customer and business interests.

Many of the technologies for better customer communication are already here, ready to be adopted.

Take the asynchronous nature of live chat and messaging support, which allows one agent to help multiple customers at the same time – while also cutting away the dreaded waiting line altogether.

Userlike chat slots, showing that one agent can chat with multiple customers at the same time.

Or what about canned messages (chat macros)? These allow support reps to offer much faster responses with fewer errors.

Userlike's canned messages, chat macros, to answer customers faster and better.

Building on browser technologies, a solution like Userlike recognizes returning customers and matches them with the support reps they were in touch with before – thereby nurturing familiarity between your customers and support reps.

A customer and agent interaction, repeating over time.

And not to forget: the advancements made in language processing, which make it possible for chatbots to take over the 'repetitive' part of the customer interaction ( "Hello, how can I help you?" ) and to offer answers to frequently asked questions.

A chatbot collecting customer information before passing the chat on to the chat agent.

And many more customer support technologies are currently in development. Take the rise of messaging apps and their curious absence in B2C communication. Practically everyone has adopted them as their primary mode of communication in their private lives, but few companies have successfully integrated them into their support stack. Within Userlike we're currently working to fix this – and I’m sure we're not the only ones.

Infographic of messaging apps adoption curve.

So even though experiences similar to the one I had at the trade office may occasionally fill you with despair, keep in mind that the excuses for bad support are steadily being stripped away.

We are heading towards a future in which customer communication revolves around conversations, not tickets.