Customer service has always been critical for enterprises, and this year, more customers of smart companies will find it as easy as clicking a button. As a matter of fact, 2014 might well be called "The Year of the Easy Button."
Take Amazon. Last year, the company added a "mayday" button to its Kindle Fire tablets. A user who pushes the button will be immediately launched into a live session with someone from the Amazon help desk, who knows all about the ins and outs of the device. Quite a different perspective from a company that makes it hard to find a phone number on its Web site and that famously once said "the best service is no service."
Sony offers an "assist" button in its VAIO line of computers, which takes users to a Web page designed for their specific model. Industry analysts expect more such "SOS" buttons to be included in consumer products released this year.
The form this service takes will depend on the company, the customer, and the product. But more than at any time in recent years, it will involve providing easy access to information either through self-help or through a real person at the other end, whom the customer can interact with by voice or via the Web through text chat or video engagement.
Many companies have moved away from live service in the past several years, believing it was too expensive. Customer service phone numbers that started out at the top of a Web page gradually worked their way to the bottom, and in many instances have disappeared entirely.
But most of the time, companies taking this approach were practicing a false economy. Properly serviced customers are not only happier customers; they are also more willing to open their wallets. Numerous studies of Web sites that offer live chat to their customers as part of the checkout process show that average purchases from these experiences are as much as four times higher than for customers who check out on their own.
Put most simply, with poor customer service, you're leaving a lot of money on the table. The imaginary line between a support call and a sales call has in many instances disappeared.
Make no mistake. Customers are not moving away from self-service tools, but instead prefer a blend of service offerings that meet their specific needs. The ultimate customer experience is one that seamlessly integrates self-service with unassisted self-service and live customer service options, all with the click of a button.
In addition to being one-button simple, the "omniservice" that will become increasingly important this year has another crucial element: Customers will be getting better access to information by finding more consistent and relevant answers, no matter which channel they use.
In the past, a customer emailing in a question might be told something different than a customer talking with a live agent. With so many different communication channels, companies had a hard time keeping everyone on the same page.
Businesses no longer need to worry about customers getting different answers, or about the quality of the support varying based on the channel over which it is being offered. This is because knowledge is increasingly being viewed as a strategic business imperative. Crowdsourcing knowledge to establish a single source of truth allows companies to scale their customer service initiatives across devices (Web, mobile, tablet) and channels (voice, email, chat, social).
Where is all this heading? To a small version of the future made famous by The Jetsons, which imagined a world in which all work was done by just pushing a button. We don't have home robots yet, but we do have machines that let us cook dinner, wash the clothes, or do the dishes with the touch of a single finger.
Unfortunately, customer service hasn't always kept up with product development. The good news is that this year will be remembered as the year when that finally changed, when getting help with a product started to become as easy as pressing down on one of its buttons.
Nikhil Govindaraj is the vice president of products at Moxie Software. He is responsible for all aspects of product management and engineering, including strategy, design, development, and quality assurance.