Before we discuss Oracle’s vision for the future of customer service, let’s take a good look at where it stands today.
Whether truly great or absolutely appalling, we take for granted that businesses offer some sort of customer service. Why is that? Why does every organization need to have an avenue to resolve customer issues? It’s not hard to find companies without a traditional sales force or marketing department, but try finding one without customer service.
The reason is simple: Customer service is a critical driver of the customer experience (CX)—and ultimately, customer loyalty. These days, businesses compete on experiences. It’s what differentiates them from their competitors, and long-term survival depends on being able to stand out from the crowd.
Differentiation is hard to do, especially in a way that’s both sustainable and affordable.
Dropping prices by 50% typically isn’t something cost structures can support over a sustained period, and superficial changes, such as adjusting packaging and rebranding efforts, can be easily copied. Investing in better marketing automation tools may lead to more customer engagements, but they don’t directly create value for the customer. Similarly, focusing purely on operational efficiency may reduce operating expenses, but often at the cost of the customer’s experience.
But with customer service driving most customer touchpoints, it only makes sense to invest in service to differentiate your brand.
Think of the last time you interacted with any person at a business. Chances are it was someone in customer service, regardless of your stage in the customer journey. Perhaps you needed advice during the purchase process. When reaching out, you likely engaged with the brand’s service team. Or you searched a knowledgebase when using a product to check accessory compatibility—that’s service. Maybe you left an item in your shopping cart and received an invitation to chat with an expert—that’s also service.
So how does a business stand out from its competitors with a truly differentiated service experience? Customer service technologies are becoming commodities. Forrester calls this “digital sameness.” Almost any business can deploy (video) chat, support customers over social messaging channels, offer a self-service customer portal, integrate its phone channel with the agent desktop, and implement a chatbot. As a result, today’s customer service leaders may find it hard to drive differentiation through service technologies—no matter how smoothly they run their operations.
As Oracle established our vision for the future of service and how to help our customers stand out, we kept three fundamental truths about today’s customer service practices in mind.
Everything in today’s customer service strategy is based on reactive service paradigms: agents sitting in their cubicles—or more likely at home—waiting for the next email, chat, or call. The customer must always take the initiative. Support processes, queue structures, KPIs, content, channel strategies, and so forth are all based on a dated mid-20th century model. This counts for self-service as well. Chatbots and knowledge bases wait for customers to ask a question or browse an article.
Today’s service experience is largely the same for all customers—those trying to make a purchase and those with a return, big spenders and serial returners, long-time brand ambassadors and new prospects. The website looks the same, as does the knowledgebase or the interactive voice response (IVR). Agents deliver the same standard messages and follow the same procedures.
Process design isn’t easy, and as a result, many stakeholders must compromise to get the job done. In many cases, the compromising falls to the customer, like being asked to enter a 20-digit account number in an IVR system. Of course, this makes it easier for the agent, but it definitely isn't easier for the customer.
Oracle's vision for the future of customer service is to break these paradigms and usher in a completely new strategy: digital-first service driven by predictive, unique, and hyper-convenient experiences.
Predictive service allows a company to take the initiative when solving customer problems. That could mean appearing at the right time and place on the website, sending a text when something may not meet a customer’s expectations, or patiently following a customer along their digital journey, eager to offer effortless help when needed.
This kind of predictive service requires data—and lots of it. Event data, telemetry data, profile data, transactional data, CRM data, asset data, and more can be used to create and activate a real-time dynamic customer view to drive predictive service experiences. As with all things data, it’s not easy. It requires the collection and consolidation of a broad range of data points and conversion of that data into something actionable—precisely where Oracle’s strengths lie.
Each customer and their needs are unique; their service experience should be, too. Take a customer that’s been researching golf clubs, for example. They pause their digital journey but return a few days later to find that the website and portal have been tailored around golf equipment, making it easy to continue their research. Or perhaps a customer needs help fixing a broken product. Imagine they engage a chatbot for advice, and it skips the niceties and knowledge on other topics to simply help with that issue.
“Unique service experience” may also mean that when a package is delayed, the website, mobile app, chatbot, customer portal, IVR, agents, knowledge base, and store associate—in other words, all possible service touchpoints—are aware that receiving the package is the one thing the customer cares about at that moment.
Delivering experiences like these is only possible for digital-first organizations. It not only requires understanding customer context at all points of the customer journey, but also using that information to orchestrate unique experiences across all touchpoints, an area where Oracle excels.
Instead of designing processes solely for organizational efficiency, hyper-convenient service is about making everything as easy as possible for the customer.
Even mom and pop stores have chatbots nowadays, but most are only able to answer a handful of questions. Imagine a conversational AI concierge that can answer questions, find relevant knowledgebase articles, invoke sophisticated decision automation interview flows, and dip into complex back-office processes, like updating data, retrieving customer information, or checking statuses.
Consider how messaging creates opportunities to engage in an asynchronous conversation between agent and customer. The customer can respond on their terms when they have a moment, a stark contrast to the wait-in-queue and synchronous style of today’s service.
Hyper-convenience also involves tapping into the full breadth of modern channels available. A video chat can allow for live troubleshooting with a remote expert, while co-browse allows agents to literally get on the same page as customers when they experience difficulties. In-app push notifications, automatic emails, and text messages with important incident updates remove friction from customer's experiences.
Ultimately, hyper-convenience is about making complex service processes that span many lines of business invisible to the customer—seemingly as simple as a one-click order button, reserving an Uber, or starting to use that latest iPhone. Digital-first organizations can pull it off by leveraging a broad range of channels, automation tools, and cloud-native serverless technologies on a single platform—something Oracle specializes in.
People often ask whether digital-first is the same as digital transformation. It’s not. Especially since the pandemic, we should assume that everything capable of being “digitally transformed” with relative ease has by now been transformed.
Besides that, digital transformation suggests a project with a finite start and end. Digital-first service is not a fixed-scope project, but rather a strategy that helps companies deal with constant change in an agile way. As we’ve learned the past few years, it’s imperative for businesses to be as agile as possible and react to new realities instantly. It’s no longer about completing a digital transformation but being in a constant state of flux. The world is too dynamic not to be.
Digital-first service helps organizations drive differentiated customer service experiences, but being digital-first is also the key to making changes to these experiences on the fly when needed.
This post is the first in a series where we’ll go deeper into digital-first service, what it means for service leaders, and how to get started. Stay tuned for the next posts that will explore each of the three tenets of our digital-first service strategy.
Watch the replay of the Oracle Virtual Summit, “Deliver Service That Meets the Moment,” to hear the latest insights on the new digital-first customer service reality.
Looking for powerful and intelligent B2B, B2C, and field service solutions that connect relevant customer data across your organization to help you predict the need for service and deliver personalized customer experiences? See why you should choose Oracle Service over Salesforce or Zendesk.
Daniel Foppen leads the digital-first product strategy team for Oracle Service, focusing on the future of customer experience, data strategy, innovation, customer service, and digital transformation. He is a thought leader, public speaker, daddy, husband, foodie, avid snowboarder, and bass player.