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New Paradigm Shift in Customer Service
How to offer customer care in a self-service world
Most consumers are already Internet savvy and are turning to the Web to get their questions answered. On an average day, Google handles more than 3 billion searches worldwide.1 According to the Pew Research Center, 99% of American adults age 18-29 are Internet users and 96% of American adults age 30-49 are Internet users.2 Research from the ADA indicates that more than 60% of the active dentist population falls into these age categories.3 In a separate Pew Research Center survey, 92% of online adults use search engines to find information on the Web.4
Digitization has created a major shift in the traditional customer service model. Customers are driving the transformation toward self-service by using websites, blogs, social media, and video to gain information and engage businesses. By the time a new dentist is ready to send a case to your laboratory, the likelihood is high that he or she has researched your laboratory, your product offerings, and your materials, as well as read online reviews of your business.
According to research firm Forrester, one of the top 10 customer experience trends for 2017 is extending and enhancing consumer self-service capabilities. They note that customers of all ages are moving away from phoning customer service representatives to using self-service as a first point of contact with a company. The research shows that acknowledging the self-service transformation is not a debate, but necessary to compete.
As an industry primarily built on relationships, the rise of self-service may seem concerning for dental laboratory owners. However, the transformation of the traditional customer service model creates opportunities and allows us to take advantage of newer technologies to reach customers.
The shift toward digital is not about getting rid of phone calls or face-to-face channels; it is about enhancing and expanding customer service options. While self-service offers customer convenience and efficiency, relationships are built and more complex questions are best solved through traditional methods. Laboratory professionals at the forefront of service and technology are blending both digital and traditional customer service channels to improve customer satisfaction and engagement. For example, a technician may be talking with a dentist on the phone, discussing a specific technique while the dentist is watching the laboratory’s instructional video.
Self-service creates efficiency for both the laboratory and the customer. Laboratories should evaluate their top five or 10 questions from phone calls received and review whether the answers to those questions are creating value or if there is a self-service option to deliver that information in another way. By adding details to your website or customer portal—like general turnaround time or adding the ability to schedule a pick up or review invoices—the staff on the phones can devote more time to detailed case discussion and problem solving while your customers can access the other information at their convenience.
The introduction of social media, instant messaging, and chat functions on websites has significantly increased the speed of communication with customers. In a global study, Professor Steven Van Belleghem notes that the majority of modern consumers now expect answers to phone calls and Facebook and Twitter questions within 4 hours. The same response time was expected by customers for inquiries posted on laboratory websites or sent via email (44% and 39% of survey respondents respectively).5 Social media, website, and technology teams are now expanding their roles from strictly marketing functions to include customer service to help meet expectations of valuable and speedy—if not instant—communication.
The increased speed of communication has had additional positive and negative consequences in the customer service world. The self-service model has created communities of users who are able to instantly share their customer experiences, good or bad, to any number of your potential clients. This has raised the stakes for customer service; your biggest fans and biggest detractors can voice their opinions in a matter of minutes. Professor Van Belleghem’s study noted that a majority of respondents indicated they would like to ask product questions of other consumers or receive help from other consumers. In addition, approximately 60 percent of respondents noted they would like to give feedback or help other consumers with questions.
Succeeding in self-service goes beyond just having an informative website or having a social media page. Just like in traditional customer service channels, it is important to understand the needs, wants, and expectations of your customers. Ask yourself: What channels do customers use to interface with your business? How many phone calls do you take in a day, and what are clients asking? When using your website, how long are customers there and what paths do they take? What search terms are customers using to get to your site and, once there, what are they searching for on your site? What would make the customer experience better, faster, and more efficient?
As our society becomes increasingly dependent on communications technology, self-service will only continue to grow. While self-service is a departure for an industry with traditional customer service efforts, successfully blending the two can create a win-win situation for both your business and your clients.
1 D’Onfro J. Here's a reminder of just how huge Google search truly is. Business Insider Website. March 27, 2016. http://www.businessinsider.com/google-search-engine-facts-2016-3/#in-1998-the-year-google-officially-launched-users-were-making-about-500000-searches-per-day-now-there-are-more-than-23-million-google-searches-per-minute-2. Accessed June 19, 2017.
2 Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet. Pew Research Center Website. January 12, 2017. http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/internet-broadband. Accessed June 19, 2017.
3 Munson B, Vujicic M. Number of practicing dentists per capita in the United States will grow steadily. Health Policy Institute Research Brief. American Dental Association. June 2016 (Revised). http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science%20and%20Research/HPI/Files/HPIBrief_0616_1.pdf. Accessed June 19, 2017.
4 Purcell K. Search and email still top the list of most popular online activities. August 9, 2011. Pew Research Center Website. http://www.pewinternet.org/2011/08/09/search-and-email-still-top-the-list-of-most-popular-online-activities. Accessed June 19, 2017.
5 Van Belleghem S. The Real Self-service Economy. June 18, 2013. https://www.slideshare.net/stevenvanbelleghem/the-self-serving-economy. Accessed June 19, 2017.
About the Author
Deborah Curson-Vieira is the Director of Customer Care at Dental Prosthetic Services in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.