Esteban Kolsky of ThinkJar: Customer Service Will Not Exist in 10 Years

At this year’s ExCom 2016 event, one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking sessions came from Esteban Kolsky, former Gartner analyst and one of the most respected thought leaders focusing on customer service. Kolsky, who also is the founder of ThinkJar Research, presented on why he feels the customer service function, as we know it today, will be gone in 10 years.  

Below is an edited transcript taken from his presentation. To see the entire presentation, click on the YouTube video below.  

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Esteban Kolsky of ThinkJar: Customer Service Will Not Exist in 10 Years Thanks to Customer CommunityEsteban Kolsky: Customer service in 2025 is not going to exist. We’re not going to have customer service anymore in 10 years at the pace we’re going in. Customer service is going to be so bad that nobody’s going to want to do it. And the question that I have for you is are you ready for this. Is your company ready?

Small Business Trends: Why won’t customer service exist in 10 years?

Esteban Kolsky: We’re doing everything so wrong that we cannot continue because it’s not sustainable; and I’m very serious about that. First of all you can never make customers happy no matter what you try. It may make it happen one time or not the next time and the time after that. So aiming to make customers happy is the absolute worst thing that a business can do. It’s going to cost you money, time and resources that you don’t have to do something that you’re not going to achieve.

Small Business Trends: Why can’t we make customers happy?

Esteban Kolsky: The bottom line is most people cannot make customers happy because they’re not really trying to make them happy. You have to get to the point where you have balance. It’s got to be a win-win situation. Customer’s need to get what they want. But you also need to keep your business sustainable. And at some point that breaks down very quickly. It becomes too expensive to continue what we’re doing today for customer service. Customer service was never meant to exist. The only reason we have customer service today is because we moved from a production economy to a service economy. And when you do a service that is nothing tangible in it to offer something more we offer an exchange for money for service, is customer service. Ever since we started 40 years ago we’ve been doing a really bad and worse job every single time and have the numbers to prove this.

Small Business Trends: How is social impacting customer service?

Esteban Kolsky: Fifty-five percent of requests in social and social channels get ignored. Ignored! Imagine if you don’t pick up more than half the phone calls that you get are you doing more than half of the emails. What about half the people that come to your store. You ignore them. You don’t talk to them. You don’t ask them what they need.

Of those that do get addressed, eighty four percent get escalated to another channel. So why would you go on to Twitter, Facebook or Communities or anywhere if you end up on the phone? What’s the point of that? You as a company are spending money, time and resources on something that won’t give you any results. There’s a handful of people that have done great things and social service. For the most part every single company that started that is actually getting away from it. I do a survey every single year in year one for about five years ago.

Year one, 83 percent of people would try customer service through social; Facebook and Twitter. Year 2, 90 percent tried. Year three, 70 percent. Last year 60 percent. I do it again this year and I expect to get 40 percent based on conversations because it really doesn’t work; it doesn’t offer the benefits. So you can actually grease the squeaky wheel and go and talk to the person that is actually complaining on Twitter but there’s no value to that. You much rather generate a good customer service solution through the phone, email, chat, community, online through self-service and then direct people to get the answer.

Customers don’t want to complain, they want answers. That’s the bottom line of customer service, they want an answer. If you create a good system that gives the answer than people will not come to you.

Thirteen percent of companies say that 25 percent of interactions that they have for customer service is started on a social channel. 72 percent of customer service interactions via Facebook are never completed anywhere period. You go to Facebook and you talk to a brand and say I am having a problem. three out of four won’t get an answer. And remember customers are looking for answers. And finally you know 67 percent of social interactions that start customer service go back to the channel of origin, which is usually the phone, self-service, e-mail or something else. There’s no value to doing customer service the way we’re doing it. There’s value to do it right but we’re not doing it right. And that’s the big difference. Every single channel has a specific purpose, every single channel that you use has as a way of working. And if you don’t use it for that then you’re wasting time and money. And that’s what we’re doing today with Twitter and Facebook.

Small Business Trends: Where do communities fit in?

Esteban Kolsky: Everybody is talking about communities. That’s the way of the future; it is to some extent. Let me ask a question. When you have a customer service question today where do you go first? First place that you go is Google.

You get an answer and usually get directed to a community. That’s the way the customer service is done for the most part today. But 36 percent of companies have deployed communities in the last 12 months. Again this is coming from the research that I do. 84 percent report a savings in cost of transactions when completing communities. Of course there is a savings because you as a company have very little to do in communities. You have to make sure that the communities have the right information but the community takes care of everything. The whole idea of customer service via communities is that there’s a place people can go, get an answer, talk with smart people and then go from there. And that’s what a community is the people that have the answers. We start in one place you can find them there you get everybody who knows anything about it what do you need. And they give you an answer. There’s a lot of value in community. Community is the ultimate version of customer service. You probably heard this before. The best customer service is no service at all right. Nobody needs customer service. The only way that you do “no service” is through community because your customers will serve your other customers.

Small Business Trends: How about omnichannel support?

Esteban Kolsky: Less than 1 percent of people are actually doing omnichannel, although 97 percent are invested in omnichannel service because it’s hard. It doesn’t work because we don’t have the technology to make it work. The key to making omnichannel work is to be able to actually keep track of cross-channel interactions. If I start talking to Brent here in person and then I go on line and I look at his blog and then I go and buy something from an e-commerce site or has his name that should be all the same interaction. Keeping track of those three pieces of data in one central location today cannot be done. We don’t have the technology to do that. So what people invest in, less than 1 percent of companies are actually doing something with omnichannel. And from those 1 percent, only 23 percent are doing it well.

But the second one is the one that is really killing me. Cross-channel tracking of data; only 2 percent of companies are doing that today. Without tracking data across all the different channels, You cannot do omnichannel. So we don’t have the culture or we don’t have the understanding, and don’t have the technology to do this. So it really is not going to work.

Small Business Trends: Where does customer journey mapping fit in?

Esteban Kolsky: 34 percent of companies have undertaken some form of customer journey mapping less than 2 percent actually reported success. Everybody knows what more journey mapping is. It’s basically when I tell you what you are supposed to do if you want to talk to me. I try that with my kids. It doesn’t work. I promise you won’t work with your customers either. You can’t tell your customers how they need to interact with you. You need to build that infrastructure that ask your customers to do whatever they want to do. That’s the difference. I mean you can say yeah but 90 percent of my clients you know like to come to me with the fonts are going to be a great phone system. Fantastic. What about the other 10 percent? Well you know it can’t be that hard.

Guess what? Your best customer is in that 10 percent. So what are you going to do now. You build that journey that your best customers cannot utilize or you build only for your best customer. You know that 90 percent you cannot assume that the customers will always do the same thing.

Small Business Trends: What’s the value of customer engagement and how does that impact support?

Esteban Kolsky: Basically the bottom line is if you have good interactions with customers over time you form a relationship. If you have a relationship with customers over time and it generates trust, then that turns into engagement. Engagement is an outcome it’s not a metric. There’s no way you can measure it. So don’t try. If I know you well enough and I generate enough trust, and you know me well enough and generate enough trust, over time that turns into engagement. That’s what I can do about engagement.

Fifty-eight percent are doing customer engagement. You’ve seen all sorts of definitions for engagement but only less than 1 percent of companies say that they can measure customer engagement. And what they actually measure is how the outcome of engagement affects the rest of the interactions. 91 percent of non-engaged customers will leave when dissatisfied. So you have to engage your customers somehow.

If you know who your customers are and what they want, 65 percent of the time you can up-sell or cross-sell something. If you don’t know, only 12 percent of the time you will do that. So there’s money in actually getting engaged with your customers.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.