What customer support teams can learn from world-class restaurants

The other day, I found a video on Reddit of a vlogger trying out Italy’s Osteria Francescana. It was fascinating. This Modena eatery has three Michelin stars and was named the world’s best restaurant, so obviously the food looked incredible. But what struck me was the service. At one point a customer asked for a Kleenex and the server set down three hand-folded tissues on a gilded plate. When one was taken, a replacement soon appeared.

That’s the kind of service diners are willing to pay for, and I think there are lessons in there for all companies as they try to determine what the future of their customer service operations should look like.   

According to research by PwC, speed, convenience and knowledgeable responses are the top three qualities people look for in a customer service experience. Phone-based service teams face an obvious conflict here as in-depth discussions take longer, pushing up wait times and impacting speed and convenience. It’s like that familiar business maxim: you can have something done fast, quick or cheap, but you can’t have all three. 

North American companies have tended to prioritize speed and convenience and as a result their “contact us” pages are reminiscent of a 1990s restaurant menu that offers a bewildering array of options. You can email, call, engage the chatbot, chat to a live agent, consult the FAQs, use the self-service features, even send an old-school letter. This is fine for basic enquiries, but for anything more complex it leaves customers confused and wondering which channel provides the service they need. There’s nothing more frustrating than waiting days for an email response that tells you to phone a call centre. 

But, to stretch the food analogy to breaking point, companies can have their cake and eat it. To do that, the focus needs to be on providing smarter options, not more choice. 

I see North America soon following the trail blazed by many Asian-headquartered companies, which really push hard their service integrations with popular messaging apps. Essentially, they’ve created a main front door to access all their customer service functions. Messaging not only allows companies to meet their customers where they are, it also enables them to make greater use of automation in triaging queries. Instead of a customer having to figure out whether it’s worth phoning the call centre, a chatbot can assess the query, provide immediate answers if possible or hand off to a service agent if not. 

As chatbots keep getting smarter and able to answer more queries themselves, new possibilities open up for companies to differentiate on the quality of their live service. Instead of thinking about call volumes, they can focus on call value. 

I think we’re in for a reinvention of the famous bank teller phenomenon in which ATMs didn’t make staff unnecessary but shifted their functions from handling cash to engaging with customers and providing financial advice. It’s not hard to see how retailers could make fashion consultants more available to advise online shoppers. Hardware stores could train their call centre staff to become home renovation experts. Some may even find customers are willing to pay a premium to speak to a live agent, helping turn customer service from a cost centre into a revenue driver. 

To me, automation and personalization will be the twin pillars on which companies build their service offerings going forward, enabling them to find new ways to conveniently connect with customers. 

Just don’t expect everyone to fold your Kleenex.  

Learn more

If you're interested in world-class customer experiences, check out this report by leading analyst Forrester consulting on how to offer industry-leading CX without raising costs.

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Thought Leadership September 21, 2020 by Brooke Granovsky