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Is customer service the same as customer satisfaction? As leaders of successful businesses, your job is to see into the future. To know where your competitors and customers are headed and to get there first. To be ready with the solution to a need they haven’t seen for themselves yet and to make sure that their concerns are addressed, hopefully before too much collateral damage is done. It’s not impossible, but neither is it easy.

There’s a market sector called Customer Experience Management (CEM) and we just attended a conference on the subject. With the market for mobile and data services saturated in most countries, telecommunications companies (Telcos) are keen to make their customer feel loved. While you may not get this feeling when you try to change your mobile plan, it’s a fact that Telcos are coming to rely on upselling and customer retention to sustain revenue.

The figures are interesting. Apparently we, as a global consumer base, send 80 billion text and social media messages a day. That’s how dependent we are on our devices. Generally, we are happy enough with our service providers, but sometimes things fall over. Of the people who have a complaint with their service, only 1 in 26 complains directly by phone.

One provider receives 70,000 customer contacts a day, dealt with by 3,200 agents. Customer service satisfaction scores depend on the outcome of these calls – the best outcome being that the call gets answered quickly and the issue is resolved by a human. Has that ever happened for you?

Telcos are trying to reduce their reliance on taking calls by person by introducing automation to route and handle calls. To a consumer this often feels like a cunning ruse to avoid actually talking to us one-to-one. Another development is to use chatbots to answer the call instead of running callers through a series of number selection options. Chatbots draw from a menu of pre-prepared statements and may eventually pass our call on to a real human.

So here’s the dichotomy. Company ‘A’ is working to develop great new ways of fielding calls using machine learning and chatbots. Company ‘B’ says, “Support, don’t replace, humans” with bots. And customers really don’t want to have to make a call in the first place.

The contrast between what seems obvious looking in, and what companies actually do to overcome such issues, demonstrates why design thinking is such a powerful tool: adopt the company approach and try to overcome a problem or apply consumer centricity to resolve the issue at its root.

In practice, nothing is quite as easy as this. Large companies with large numbers of people paid to recruit new technology need to be seen to be doing exactly that. Machine learning is a new tool. It’s often confused with artificial intelligence, but that’s a conversation for another day. The point is that, on occasion, an obvious question sometimes pulls the sheet off the elephant in the room.

What will make a difference to you? Masking the symptoms or treating the cause? Let’s talk about people, product and function of the things you make and can make. Let’s think about designing products and services to meet a real and tangible consumer need, now and in the future. Let’s be as definite as we can about how our markets are shifting and let’s see if we can deliver excellent consumer service and remove the need for a safety net.

Let’s work through the process of design thinking, together. If any of the comments in this blog raise any questions you’d like to talk about please drop us a line here.

Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.

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