Survey of LinkedIn members asks: What’s the most significant customer service technology breakthrough?

I recently asked the LinkedIn network “What’s the most significant customer service breakthrough you’ve seen in your time, from a technology standpoint? Is it your CRM? Workforce management? Quality monitoring? E-Learning? Web Chat? Google Services?”

As a testament to the power of social networking, I was able to get 27+ responses from business professionals. Now I can take this feedback, and through the blog, have it reach readers who can then share the story over various other social media. The story may even make it back to LinkedIn eventually, as LinkedIn had recently opened up and allowed external applications to dip into their pool.

While the answers were varied, they can be categorized into a few distinct yet connected areas:

1) Analytics:
“I am speaking as a customer rather than a service provider, but I have to point to “targeted service levels” based on data analytics. The example that comes to mind is a recent transaction with amazon.com. My daughter received a kindle for her birthday and within 15 days had downloaded 15 books and within 30 days had broken the device. Technically the accident wasn’t covered by the warranty, but I have to believe that amazon.com understood this revenue stream (in the same way they know what I want better than my husband) and replaced the kindle, no questions asked. The incident created a delighted customer (who will spend many more hours and dollars at amazon) and, in the end, a happy amazon. This was win-win customer service.”
– NancyLachance, Director at DeVry Inc.

“I think that the inmplementation of “membership clubs” made the biggest impact on customer service and led to today’s emphasis on CRM. It was initially a way to incentivize people to frequently purchase to gain rewards; thereby increasing sales, but it led to the collection of a massive amount of data which led to good database marketing opportunities. Later, through more sophistication, these programs became for interactive and real time with the availability of providing preferences sections. One this opened up, a clerk could provide very personal service to a customer by reading/seeing their profile. This tool is still expanding and technology is being furthered (such as data chips, RFIDs, etc.) It’s a very exciting area that all started by incentivizing folks to buy more stuff ;)”
– Mary Mussard, GSD

“Customer service is or ought to be an all-encompassing thing. Hence, in the use of a technology platform, I have to suggest Amazon as the most significant customer service breakthrough of the Internet Age thus far. They set the standard as to how e-commerce and customer service work, from the customized greeting and recommendations to the safe and secure one-click check out process and then product fulfillment. The entire process is flawless. And in a sense, customer service is what Amazon offers — not its products.”
– Frank Feather, Keynote Speaker + Strategy Consultant, CEO + Business Futurist + ex-Banker

“I believe knowledge management (KM) represents a true break-through in customer service. A KM solution harnesses the vast base of experience and knowledge that exist within a company and its universe of customers, to answer questions, empower self-service online and drive better agent-assisted support in the call center, Serena Software gives a great real-life testimonial in this brief but powerful video: http://www.youtube.com/user/SmartOnQ It’s based on real customer service challenges addressed by a knowledge management solution.”
– Gonzalo Mannucci, Director, Lead Generation at InQuira

2) The Internet:
“The most significant development in my opinion has been the internet – providing easy ways to communicate, exchange documents, etc. This increased the “touch” points dramatically”
– Brian Casto, CEO Group 19, Sales Consulting & Outsourcing

“I agree it is the Net. Specifically Google. The ability to enter any error code or model number and get information is a breakthrough.”
– Bruce LeRoy, Retired Puerto Rican Programmer

“Of all the things that catch me by surprise, it’s Twitter. I have learned more about SAP in three weeks by reading their tweets than any press release would have ever provided.

I think we’re going to see more of this personal, bit-direct interaction in the future. It makes it more personal. Really amazing example is how Comcast is using tweets to talk to people.”
– Cristin Merritt, Global Marketing at Insite Objects, Inc.

“I would not put my finger on a single one breakthrough, yet if I had to point one thing out it would be the Wikis as an elegant solution to knowledge bases.
That of course precludes, the internet, the lan , the ethernet, the linux server, open source, a call center , voip possibly etc. that need to be in place for a wiki user to be actually productive.”
– Angelos Karageorgiou, Internet Architect && IT Strategist

“The internet has created a real opportunity for companies to get fast, easy interaction with the customer. BUT – far too many companies think of net support only in terms of lower cost. It’s real strength is to provide a higher quality customer support for the same price. But if your customer service costs less, your cutting quality. If you question that think about your last time you contacted a vendor for customer support.
– Allen Laudenslager, Independent technical documentation professional

“Graphical Browsers made Internet a conduit for all elements of the purchase transaction. It had been around previously but 1994-1995 was when it began to penetrate the non-techie space opening the door to all that most consumers take for granted today. Shopping Research, Mass Customization, E-Commerce, Post Sale Customer Service and resale have all been made possible by this presentation tool. Its hard to imagine life today without the ability to get nearly any question answered and the ability to purchase nearly anything.”
– Don Waskiewicz, Deep Blue Insights

“I feel that Live Chat is one of the most useful forms of customer service. When I am online and need an answer, I want it quick. This allows me to not only get my question answered immediately but raise other questions as needed, without waiting for back and forth email.”
– Deborah Ferraro, Controller/HR Manager at customedialabs

“Live chat customer service online. It breaks through the language barrier, is fast, effective and interactive.”
– Allan Katz, Owner, Loyalty Marketing Institute

3) Telecom:
“I think that “the internet” is too broad an answer because it isn’t specific to customer service. I actually think it’s 2.0 voice and messaging services. The fact that my credit card can text me when I approach my credit limit, that I book a product delivery with an automated call-based calendar, and that my doctor’s office can automatically ring me when a free appointment comes up is pretty amazing and delivers real value to me as a customer.”
– Sabrina Dent, Owner, SabrinaDent.com

“The iPhone is a technological breakthrough for me. If you are running an online, small business via your website, being able to respond to emails, make website changes and do minor research from a mobile device is a milestone. Portability and mobility is an asset to any business.”
– Rommel C. Caibal, Creative Director

“By far the most significant technology breaktrhough has been the standard telephone. It gave the ability for customers to make a phone call and talk in person with a companies representitives that would actualy provide service to assist then in their problem resolution. It helped build company and brand loyalty on the part of consumers. The worst invention was the auto atendent and voice mail. The more technology that stands between the personal interaction between a consumer and the business, the worse it makes the experience. 15 years ago I was extremely impressed with the technical support offered by a company called Sybase. You not only reached a live person right away but got the help you needed to resolve any and all problems you had. Today companies of all sizes are getting away from the human experince in their technical support. Sure it saves cost in the budget, however it hurts the bottom line in other ways. Some companies its impossible to talk to a person to have your issues resolved. How does that build loyalty?”
– Gary Estridge, IT and Services Professional Consultant

4) Software As A Service:
“Move from batch to real-time administration of policy transactions – reported on to customers via CRM and variety of admin sx web based interfaces.
– Gail Johnson Morris, Customer-centric Financial Services Executive – in transition.

“Customer service hasn’t gotten better, it has in general, declined. The best advancement that can be made is the people who work in customer service, which of course depends on the CRM package they use.”
– Lee Stevens, Microsoft Support Engineer

5) Outsourced Services:
“Managed Services – it has increased our abilities to deliver a consistent, stable experience to the user in multiple ways.
– Nathan Vincent, Owner, NextX Communications

6) Open Source: 
“For me it would have to be companies open sourcing their software (transparency, really). When a company’s product is open source I rarely, if ever, have to contact their support department. Solving a problem goes from waiting on hold or waiting for the “right” support person to simply taking a closer look at how the product works (the code) or performing a simple Internet search.

The more “open” a company is with their products the less I have to deal with their support department and to me, that is the best customer service you can get. All of the following are huge (to me) when it comes to customer service:

1) Public forums where you can search for previous questions/answers from other users of the product.
2) Publicly published code and documentation (that is indexed by search engines).
3) A public bug reporting system where anyone can submit or query bugs.

Customer support people come and go (especially the good ones) but the above items ensure that no matter what happens to the company or their employees I can continue to use their product efficiently and overcome any problems.

Some other really great customer service breakthroughs in recent years:

– Including a return shipping label with shipped products (and/or an automated online system to get an RMA number and print your own label on demand). Zappos and ShoeBuy are good examples.
– ATMs (though, I was just a kid).
– Self check-out lanes (the kind that work well–not the kind at Walmart and Lowes).

…and various other technologies that allow customers to take care of things on their own without having to deal with waiting or other slow/manual processes.

I suspect that in the future things like RFID, biometrics, and video conferencing will provide further breakthroughs in customer service.”
– Dan McDougall, IT Security and Linux Expert

7) Other:
“Different industries benefited in different technologies but here I think were the top 5 technologies: VOIP, CRM, RFID, WIKI and SAAS.”
– Duke del Prado, Manager-Financial Info Systems at Intralinks, Inc.

“The most significant breakthrough is the discovery that it’s possible to run a company in a “service industry” without providing much customer service.”
– John Nagle, Owner, SiteTruth

“Self service that works – the airlines do it, amazon do it, ebay do it. End to end service and no people contact – but great customer service when it works.”
– Stuart Jolly, Development Director at Teleperformance

“Depending on what you want to service! If your customer service scenario involves hardware shipments (like spare parts or supplies) and/or involves forms of data exchange (like software updating, or simply customer’s feedbacks) there might be different levels of enhancements. However, I’d say that any kind of possible “remote data connections” (like the Internet, but also Cellular Modems/phones) is THE big breakthrough. What you need is to move data, not people and parts.”
– Fulvio Giacobbe, R&D Developement at OPM

“Our breakthrough has been customer extranets. We have started using an intranet and extranet tool called HyperOffice. In addition to setting up intranet workspaces it allows us to quickly set up extranet workspaces for each client. These extranet workspaces are password protected virtual spaces accessible from any web browser where we can store relevant documents for documents (specifications, forms, training, policy), collaborate with clients on documents, manage joint tasks, keep them abreast of events with group calendars, provide them relevant contact information with address books, have discussions on forums, or conduct feedback surveys using online polls. It literally takes just a few minutes to set up a basic extranet workspace. Moreover we can customize and brand each workspace with logos, easily manage the layout, content, hyperlinking, collaboration tools etc. This has greatly enhanced our client relationships, as well as simplified management of these relationships.”
– Pankaj Taneja, Business Dev. Exec. at Second Foundation

“I would absolutely agree with the note in a few posts here – customer service is an all encompassing enterprise wide activity, however, that aside, from a technology perspective I think the most significant advancement has been automated engineer scheduling. Scheduling tools pull together location, skill set, priorities, contract / service credit information and so on to schedule engineers with the right know how, the right parts and the right approach to be in the right place at the right time – if your service model relies on man in a van, you will no doubt recognise the need for all of these to fall into place. On every key metric on the B/S I have found this a winner – commercially costs are saved in mileage, dead time, spares etc; from a people perspective engineers are working and not kris-krossing a city; from a customer perspective they get the right service, carefully managed; and from a learning perspective it helps all understand the gaps in the service offering. Clearly this doesn’t help in certain environments – mainly where service engineers are not needed used (e.g. the Amazon example). However where people are core to the offering, I have seen scheduling technology revolutionise services in road side assistance businesses, white goods businesses, technology businesses and a number of other industries, all be it there needs to be a specific business model in place to be beneficial.”
– Richard Ackroyd, Application Governance Manager at Siemens

“I’ve found community forums for self help to be the most significant break-through. Really great providers of services and products create interaction between prospects, partners and customers.”
– Marc Pitre, Chief Marketing Officer at AmeriStart

“WebEx – GotoMeeting – These products have enhanced our ability to service our customers immediately. We no longer have to wait for data to load or faxes to be sent for screenshots. We use these relatively inexpensive tools to be on the phone and shared desktop with our client to see exactly what is taking place. Take all of the guess work out of customer support. Brings customer service and satisfaction to a new level.”
– Scott White, Allegro, Energy Trading Risk Management, Oil&Gas Accounting, Document Imaging

“‘the voice of the customer’ – its true, but our ability as consumers to gather together in communities, with the speed and velocity of the internet has meant organizations need to react quickly to consumerism!. A perfect example is the UK Bank Charges case, sites like moneysavingsexpert.co.uk. These forums and communities have changed the way companies now interact and provide service. Another good example is the CEO of a UK based HiFi brand – Arcam, comments on boards themselves, giving that extra personal touch. Other companies are following suit having experts or champions protect and manage their online brands and ensure the customer experience is protected well..”
– Nigel Walsh, General Manager, UKISA & Southern Region

“My vote is Web Self Service applications. Self Service for customer service is like Blackberry to Email. Self Service applications have given SMB companies the ability to give 24x7x365 service to customers without the heavy cost burden. Visibility into knowledge bases, incident management, and self admin tasks have increased customer satisfaction levels with a cost effective solution.”
– Hoyt Mann, President and Co-Founder

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