Customer Service: Something Different From What It Used To Be

Customer service is going through a fundamental transformation. There was a time when customer service represented a mini-nightmare. You’d have to call on the phone, wait an interminable amount of time, and talk with a customer service representative who may or may not have been trained or empathetic enough to help you.

But today that’s all different. In this new world, plentiful documentation combined with crowdsourced answers and artificial intelligence is helping to change all that. Somehow in the past few months I’ve encountered “chatbots” on nearly every big consumer site, offering to help. Often, behind these chat screens are not actual people but AI-driven “robots” that are now able to do as good a job, if not better, as a human could — and for less cost. In a recent article in VentureBeat about a $20 million funding round for a company called Directly that provides this technology, I learned the following staggering information about the size of this market in the United States:

Directly is targeting a huge market, no doubt: The top 2,000 companies in the U.S. spend about $250 billion each year on supporting customers, [Directly CEO and co-founder Antony] Brydon said — that’s about 50 billion customer cases a year, with each query costing about $5 to answer. Large companies like Comcast are spending $2-3 billion a year. U.S. companies spend about $20 billion on tech solutions.

And yet, customer service ratings remain at about 75 percent. Directly says it gets those ratings up to an average of 93 percent, reduces response times to 2-3 minutes across digital channels, and cuts support costs by an average of 65 percent.

Recently, I bought an Alexa-powered speaker. I followed instructions on the phone app as far as I could, but my outcome didn’t match what was written, and I was beginning to get frustrated. But in this case, the manufacturer had also embedded a video beside the written help. During this three-minute video, a customer service representative talked through the entire process and showed the screens, which immediately solved my problem. I felt good about figuring it out “on my own.”  

Now, customer service calls in the arts may be nothing like this in terms of size, but the concepts are the same. Customer service typically means calling the box office, and we all have experiences both good and bad in that regard, despite the best intentions of the organizations. It’s very hard to staff, train, and support a 24/7 service operation as a non-profit.  

But here’s where a new opportunity lies. Let me suggest you do an assessment of what you offer now. How much customer support information do you provide on your site? For instance, do you provide detailed information about parking, what time the house opens, what to do if patrons need assistance for an aging relative, or how to exchange tickets? I am not talking about one-sentence answers; I’m talking over-the-top, detailed answers written in a clear, empathetic manner designed to solve problems before your patrons ever need to call.

What’s interesting is that customers today want this customer service information to be online. The millennial generation typically looks online first, before making that dreaded phone call. And I suspect that as documentation gets better, older generations will begin to do the same.

So at the risk of overstating my premise, let me ask again: How much information about your ticketing and event information exists on your website? Is your customer service help screen filled with nearly every question a customer could possibly ask? Do you make it easy for people to find information that could just as easily be found on the web versus making them call you? 

While your organization may not be able to afford a sophisticated bot to interpret a user’s question and match it with a pre-formatted set of answers, you can get most of the way there for next to no cost. The cost for these services will inevitably come down, so why not start by putting up as much helpful information as possible in an accessible place on your site where ticket buyers can quickly and easily find the answers they are looking for?

If I’m right, this will be a win for your box office and your customers — with nearly immediate results.

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