Customer service is rapidly evolving, so it’s essential to have a conversation about the field’s major trends and topics.
Zowie’s New Wave is a series of interviews with trailblazing customer service experts. They’ll be offering insights and laying out their visions for the future.
For our 2nd edition, we’ll be talking with leaders we met up with at Web Summit 2021.
Today, we meet Martta Oliveira, Head of Customer Service at Cofidis.
About Our Guest
My name is Martta Oliveira, and I work at Cofidis, a consumer finance company in Portugal. The company is part of Cofidis Participations and has sister companies in various European countries like Spain, Italy, and France.
We offer consumer credit products as well as payment and insurance solutions that help people fulfill their projects and dreams throughout their life. We work directly with customers, as well as through partners.
My background is in Design Thinking and Customer Experience as a consultant. Now, I’ve moved into the world of customer support with the view of helping organizations become more competitive and more sustainable by giving and delivering experiences that really make a difference in customers’ lives.
These experiences turn customers into fans of the companies they’re buying from and make them want to recommend the company to their peers and families.
What is your definition of ideal customer service?
The ideal customer support experience will vary from one customer to another. We need to give space in companies for the different demands of our customers.
Customers are more demanding now than they’ve been before, and they’ll continue to become more so because of the experiences they’re having with other organizations. We need to be able to find out what the customer needs at any moment.
They might just need a quick answer and want to find it themselves—they don’t want to depend on anyone else to get it. Or they need to speak to someone, even if it’s a very simple thing—they need the emotional reassurance of speaking with a human and getting walked through the process.
So an ideal customer support experience will adapt to a customer’s needs in a particular moment.
Why do you think customer service is so important?
Customers will only buy from companies again if they have a good experience. The truth of the matter is that some companies have loyal customers because the customers are stuck with them. There aren’t any other alternatives.
If you want true loyalty, your customers need to have a good experience with your company. The way that you can make that difference is through the customer support experience.
Customers won’t trust a company that delivers a bad customer support experience. If you provide a good one, even if there is a problem, the fact that you’ve resolved the issue will help build trust in the organization and customers. There’s a lot of research that customers won’t buy from an organization after having a bad customer support experience. It’s so important to get that right.
What are the main bottlenecks you’re facing as a Head of Customer Service?
There are many challenges. One of them is predicting and meeting the demands of synchronous customer contact, like telephone, live chat, or face-to-face. Meeting peak demand at those times will always be a challenge because you can’t change the size of your team. Telephone lines are always more piled up in the mornings, around people’s coffee and lunch breaks. Being able to predict the customer demand or the level of synchronous contacts is one big challenge for organizations.
Another thing is being able to understand why customers are contacting you. There’s a lot of data in organizations, but it’s not often connected. And that is key if you want to send out proactive communications to customers where you anticipate their need for contact, if you want to be able to create self-service solutions like customer login spaces where they can manage their own account, or if you’re talking about chatbots, voice bots, and email bots that try to resolve a problem for a customer. All of that hinges on customer data. So being able to pool that data in a way that will enable powerful, meaningful interactions with your customers is also a big challenge.
What about repetitive questions? How do you cope with them?
This comes back to the importance of data. First, we need to know the main reasons customers are contacting us. When you speak with people who are on the front lines, you’ll get a lot of impressions, but what you need is numbers.
Then you’ll know which repetitive questions you want to tackle. From there, you can create proactive communication or chatbot solutions or other self-service options.
How do you define the relationship between customer service and customer experience?
They’re the same for me. Customer service is customer experience. For every single interaction you’re having with a customer, whether with a human being or a digital touchpoint, you’re always delivering a customer experience.
Is it the experience you intend to give? Or are you unintentionally providing fragmented customer experiences?
What do you think can be improved about this relationship between customer service and customer experience?
As in any organization, there are silos. People with different focuses work in different teams, and I think it will always be a challenge to communicate between teams.
The way to improve this communication is to install systems. I’m not talking about technology—I’m talking about ways of working in an organization where you can cement the conversation between the customer support and customer experience teams.
What’s happening on the front lines reveals what the customer experience is like. The dialogue between the two teams needs to be constant. You need clear points to communicate, meet, exchange ideas, share data, and discuss how your qualitative findings meet your quantitative results.
How could technology influence and actually improve customer service?
Technology is a key enabler for meeting demand or reducing peaks. For example, if you have self-service solutions for customers, they might be able to get faster access to information and be able to do it on their own, which means that they need less human intervention.
Technology can also make interactions with customers really powerful by giving customer support agents the needed tools and information. When they have the correct information at their fingertips, they can provide the best experience to customers.
Technology is also vital for powering management decisions. Having the right technology gives you insights that will help you make the right decisions about focusing investment of time, money, attention, and people. You can identify the repetitive questions where it’s worthwhile to have an FAQ, have a chatbot, or have another kind of self-service operation ready for customers.
If you imagine the ideal customer service tool, what would it be, and how would it improve the quality of work?
It would have to tackle the three points I mentioned before: empowering customers, customer support agents, and decision makers. You rarely have a tool that does everything, so you need to integrate an ecosystem of technologies that you use in the company.
Then, you can make the most out of the data you have and, ultimately, funnel the right information to the right people, at the right time.
What do you think will play the most significant role in the next five years in terms of customer support?
Humans are always going to be at the heart of customer support. If you want to build solid, lasting relationships with customers, you’re going to do that through interactions with humans.
With that being said, it might also be the humans behind the technology. Whatever way we see customer support in the future, it needs to feel natural and human, even when it’s powered by technology.
Technology is really going to shape the next five years: technology that is working together with humans and that humans can use to deliver human experiences.
In terms of customer support, is there anything that will not be as important in five years as it is now?
In the Portuguese market, phone and voice interactions are still a big part of communicating and talking with customer support. At least half of the volume of contacts that companies get is through voice channels.
I wonder if that will still be the predominant channel in five years, or if we’ll move to live chat messaging and emailing solutions. That would help with managing peak demand. More customers would get a faster answer to their questions if they weren’t reliant on having a voice conversation with someone.