If you’ve ever read a Smartcom blog, you will know that the Smartcom team is absolutely fanatical about everything tech. As a business, we also care about customer service. Not only do we care about the satisfaction levels of our own customers, but we are also constantly looking for ways to help other businesses improve their client relations.

In recent years, however, it often feels like tech and customer service are working against each other. Years ago, businesses relied on face-to-face interactions with their clients. Business was personal. In the late 1800s the telephone slowly started to replace the need for personal contact between business and consumer. Fast forward to the 21st century, and you find multiple tech inventions filling the gap between clients and business personnel; phones, apps, websites, live chats, email, SMS. There are endless ways of avoiding face-to-face contact.

Earlier this year, Amazon opened their first cashierless convenience store, Amazon Go.

“The store requires customers to scan their smartphone on the way in, tracks them with cameras and other sensors as they browse, and, when they take an item off the shelf, adds it to a virtual cart. Groceries are charged to the customer’s Amazon account when they leave with their goods.” – The Seattle Times

The Amazon Go store has gone as far as completely replacing all humans in their store, a move which a lot of experts are predicting will redefine the way we shop.

While buying your fruit and veg from a store without any staff may feel strange, the concept of humanless businesses is something which we are quickly becoming accustomed to. Some of the world’s largest businesses do not offer any form of customer support. Facebook, Netflix, Google – they all want you to try and solve your problem yourself, before speaking to an actual human. Most large online retailers do not provide you with a direct contact number or physical address. Instead they have various scenarios listed on their sites to help you troubleshoot your own problem. This year we will even see two new banks in South Africa – Discovery Bank and Tyme – both operating without any branches.

The question businesses owners should now ask themselves is, will technology improve or damage my business’ customer relations?

The answer is that tech should help you improve your service levels, but it all depends on how you use it.

Let’s break it down:

The telephone

Most people would rather call your business instead of travelling to a physical location only to have a minor issue sorted. It is more convenient and more cost-effective for both the customer and the business. However, some call centres are so exasperating that they are doing more harm than good. Holding on for hours, having to choose between a million options and never getting to speak to the correct person is extremely frustrating and can destroy customer relations.

Email

Email is even more convenient than voice calls and even more cost effective. They are, however, only beneficial if someone actually responds to them. The same goes for contact forms on websites or messages from social media.

Live Chat

Every business wants a live chat option on their website. Unlike email, it is real-time, but cheaper than a call centre. While having this functionality is great for customer service, always being offline can be frustrating for your customers.

We can go on with various other examples, but you get the idea.

When it comes to tech and customer service, the key is to use technology to improve your customer service, not replace it. Innovative technology can help any business to offer better service while cutting cost, but it is important to view technology as a tool to compliment the traditional values of customer service. Shopping in a store without any cashiers can be super convenient, but if someone bought sour milk, they would want to speak to someone in the store. If they can’t find anyone at your business to speak to, they will only end up speaking about their experience with other people, who could decide to refrain from using your business.

Technology is allowing businesses to connect to more people, faster and cheaper, than ever before. Your business should be using all these tools, but if you want to come out on top, make sure you are using them to get closer to your customers, instead of driving a wedge between you and the people who keep your business running.

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