Why customer service leaders SHOULD reinvent the wheel

Pierce Buckley
14 June 2024

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Gradual improvements to customer service can no longer keep pace with increasing complexity and plummeting satisfaction. Innovation must take bigger leaps and change the contact center forever.

We’re often told ‘don’t reinvent the wheel’, which usually means ‘let’s solve the immediate problem in the most efficient way’. 

This is good advice in some circumstances; sometimes you just have to deliver, right?

The thing is, that approach encourages incremental change. And at the moment, customer service actually needs a bit of reinvention.

The first wheel wasn’t even used for transport

It was used for pottery in Mesopotamia around 3,500 BC. So more of a turntable really.

Then in 3,000 BC they turned it sideways and put it on the side of a chariot, and then spent at least one thousand years gradually refining it with things like spokes.

Things sped up thanks to commercial car manufacturing. From the 1960s (yes, AD) onwards we got magnesium wheels, and then aluminium and carbon fibre.

Today, Michelin are working on airless tyres that would basically eliminate blowouts.

Customer service needs reinvention not refinement

When is an appropriate time to reinvent the wheel? When it’s not fit for the terrain you’re trying to cross. That’s when. 

The systems that power most contact centers work ‘fine’, but it’s a difficult time to be in customer service.

The UK’s Customer Satisfaction index, for example, shows that dissatisfaction across all sectors is the lowest it’s been since 2015. 

Guess what the total annual wait time is to reach the UK’s tax office on the phone? With every customer combined.

It’s 800 years. 

Meanwhile, the UK’s communications regulator has had to bring in new rules to force energy companies to improve their ailing customer service. 

Forrester’s US Customer Experience Index tells a similar story of declining quality. 

One reason is staff shortages. 63% of contact center leaders are struggling to hire. At the same time the agent turnover rate has reached 60%.

Another is increasing complexity. That’s partly why the UK tax office’s call queues have gotten longer; there are more freelancers and people with complicated tax returns who need to phone for help. 

There are big challenges facing contact centers, which means that innovation needs to take bigger steps.

How do you reinvent the contact center?

Let’s look at an example: Zendesk. 

Zendesk is a CRM used by more than 100,000+ companies. It was one of the first, and it does pretty much everything.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t make it better.

Something that the end-users of a CRM do a lot of? Data entry, or ‘typing into boxes’ as it’s informally known.

This kind of thing is commonplace in contact centers. So common that people kind of just accept it. But because we’re reinventing we could automate data entry on behalf of the agent.

It’s a good start, but it’s a reactive improvement like a new kind of wheel alloy. 

We need to aim bigger. So we could add in an AI that talks to callers, works with agents, and also does most of the data entry. I say could – babelforce have done this already.

Imagine if all 100,000+ Zendesk customers did that, and if other CRMs followed suit. 

We could pretty much get rid of contact center data entry, everywhere in the world. 

That’s the kind of big leap forward we need right now. Something more like Michelin’s 3D printed airless tire wheels (TWEELS), and less like a new kind of spoke.

Big advancements will make you stand out

Solving big problems isn’t the only reason to aim high.

Go to Trustpilot.com, or your local equivalent, and look at the last few companies you bought something from. 

More often than not, customer service is mentioned within the first five reviews you look at. Either because of its complete absence, or because it’s done particularly well. 

For some companies it’s mentioned in almost every review. And this matters because:

  • Nearly 90% of customers would switch to a different company if it could provide better CX
  • 3 in 4 consumers will spend more with businesses that provide a good CX
  • 60% of consumers have purchased with a brand based solely on the service they expect to receive

No-one wants to do business with a company that makes them complete an obstacle course.

But if you give your customers experiences that feel genuinely crafted for them, they’ll stick around and tell other people why. 

Today’s contact centers will look outdated sooner than you think

Tech is moving fast right now. Just look at GPT 3.5 vs 4o. 

Imagine how bad the customer experience would be by now if contact centers hadn’t evolved since they were created in the 1960s.

They wouldn’t be able to deal with modern demands without ACD systems, speech recognition, IVR systems, CTIs, CRMs and AI.

It would be pointless, like sticking a potters’ wheel on the side of a truck.

But that scenario would never have happened because customer service leaders understand something important. 

If it improves the experience your customers have, there’s no such thing as too much innovation. 

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