Madhav Sheth is VP-realme and CEO-realme India and Europe
“It takes months to find a customer, seconds to lose one”. Come to think of it, what an apt saying for the times we live in. In an age of customer-centricity, laced with abundant choices, hyper-personalisation, and social media advocacy, the journey to retain a loyal user is even more critical than acquiring a new one. The smartphone industry in India is one of the fastest-growing as well as a highly competitive market. According to a techARC report last year, the number of Indian smartphone users crossed 500 million. For this vast catchment of users, the post-purchase journey is extremely vital. Be it normal troubleshooting or repairs and replacement of charging, display, battery, accessories, as well as OS [operating system] and security updates, consumers are looking for a smooth customer support experience that is readily available throughout the product usage life cycle.
In the post-pandemic era, consumers are placing major emphasis on contactless servicing, channel-agnostic support, and a judicious balance of human-machine assistance. Let us look at some pivotal factors that will make or break after-sales service in the years to come.
Dedicated online communities as brand custodians
On average, a customer has a minimum of 10-12 questions in their mind while buying products. Safe to say, this further proliferates as the journey with the brand begins and continues well into the entire product life cycle. It is essential for brands to start acting as true custodians and create an interactive platform that builds transparency and trust.
Today, online fan communities have evolved from being just a checklist on the brand marketing roster to becoming thriving hotbeds for creativity and discussion. From simple troubleshooting questions such as why the smartphone is overheating, sudden crashes to more serious damages such as screen/battery replacements, online communities have become meaningful mediums for valuable advice and a way forward.
For consumers, it has become a space where they can seek advice and guidance for product problems, rely on a trustworthy knowledge repository, and use it as a one-stop destination. It’s also an avenue through which users can share their product experiences and feedback for brands to implement in the long run, get information about new launches, activities, and events.
As social distancing and quarantines continue, and people at large will tend to avoid physical proximity now more than ever, there is need for hyper-active, hyper-responsive online communities that believe in building genuine connections with the audience.
The versatility of omnichannel service experience
When was the last time you just relied on a single channel to interact with your preferred brand? Today, customers make use of multiple mediums such as live chats, applications, brick and mortar stores, ecommerce pages to seek support and service.
Customer service in silos is a thing of the past. Welcome to the era of omnichannel services which brings the promise of a frictionless journey and high-quality service. With omnichannel support, consumers do not have to jump ship from one interface to another for issue resolution. For instance, you start a discussion on a social media page and get directed to other support channels such as live chats for deep-dive insights and it finally ends with a text message or a personal phone call from customer support representatives.
Omnichannel also enables the customer to be self-sufficient as the brand creates multiple touchpoints for self-serve purposes. Customers can check the cost of spare parts of different models on official websites, raise requests and schedule doorstep pick-up and delivery of repairs and replacements. We have come a long way from standing in queues at local service centres, haven’t we?
From generic to specialised skill sets
Customer service training is no more a one-size-fits-all approach. While the short-term ROI [return on investment] on investing in a good after-sales team is seen as amplifying positive social media word of mouth, eventually it makes consumers want to associate with the brand in the longer run.
Essentially, I believe that customers—who are satisfied with interactions with the service team—go on to being brand evangelists and advocates, vouching for its superior service and products to their fraternities. And that is where the need for personalised training comes in. Just plain cut-and-dry knowledge of product specs will not pass the muster anymore.
Over the next few years, we will see brands investing in building an after-sales workforce with specialised skill-sets, including emotional intelligence, resourcefulness, and empathy, with good crisis management abilities. This will also involve measuring aptitudes, personalised training sessions, quarterly and annual surveys to create a customer support team par excellence.
The synergy of human and AI in customer service
While we have covered the key tenets, let us spread our vision a little into the future. Yes, chatbots have already automated manual, routine tasks, armed with a basic set of knowledge capsules. Conversational AI [artificial intelligence] is available 24/7, consistently helpful, reduces waiting period, and betters user experience. As algorithms become more sophisticated with machine learning and artificial intelligence, a few years down the line, bots will be able to learn, train, and evolve too. However, as I said before, personalised human interaction will never go out of existence. The role of the customer support team will transform dynamically as they will be required to help customers grow, enjoy an excellent brand journey, and derive immense value from products and services.
Post the pandemic, smartphones have assumed greater significance as the world strives to stay connected with each other. And during these challenging times, a brand needs to do all it can to put the fundamentals in place, ensure superior after-sales experience as well as think innovatively. Fortune favours the brave. The law never changes. It takes time and effort to build a holistic after-service ecosystem, and it is not easy. However, it is always worth it since the pleasure and trust of your customers is priceless. After all, good products will earn you new customers, but will they give you loyal and returning ones?
The writer is VP-realme and CEO-realme India and Europe