The mention of “outsourcing” in customer service brings up an image of a giant call center, in a foreign country, packed with people who work in 12-hour shifts. Companies partner with these centers to provide affordable customer service for their end customers. While these are the norm, a new paradigm of customer service outsourcing is emerging. Customers are outsourcing their own customer service issues to third parties.
Up until now, contacting companies with an issue or complaint has been time-consuming and painful. Customers have to navigate complex phone menus, wait on hold, and explain their issue to representatives several times. If an airline passenger wants to resolve a lost baggage claim via email, they need to draft emails and search around the web for the right contact information and process to follow. Sound familiar?
These critical pain points led to the creation of several companies (detailed below) which develop mobile apps that take care of service issues on behalf of the customer. In other words, they enable people to outsource their issues and complaints to a third-party service, one that is specifically optimized for resolving customer service issues. From a customer’s point of view, it’s perfect. Just hook it up and a “personal concierge” will take over and bombard the offending company until they resolve the issue or provide a refund.
Companies and contact center leaders need to brace themselves for the rise of this outsourced customer complaint model. While it’s certainly great for customers in terms of speed and convenience, it adds another dimension of complexity to how contact centers will have to operate moving forward.
The On-Demand Economy
The rise of outsourced customer complaints is a byproduct of the On-Demand Economy. People can get a ride in an instant with Uber or Lyft; have something shipped to their house by Amazon, or have someone run their errands through TaskRabbit. As the On-Demand Economy proliferates through more aspects of our daily lives, it’s inevitable that customer service will be quick to follow.
In general, the On-Demand Economy has already changed customer service in many ways. Companies are trying to make their contact centers more efficient through the use of technologies like machine learning and AI. Yet those technologies, while extremely effective, still assume that an end customer is reaching out with their issue or query. What’s changing now is the fact that customers can simply outsource their complaints to a third party. Need a refund for a delayed flight? Simply ping the third party, and have them contact the company on your behalf while you move on with your life. This is the basic, and extremely powerful, value proposition of the On-Demand economy – and it’s going to have serious consequences for the contact center.
The Apps are Already Here
Outsourced customer complaints are not a thing of the future. These apps and services are already here today, and contact centers need to adjust their strategy accordingly.
Take AirHelp, for example, who are a leader in this space. An app which plugs into your email inbox and automatically scans for all the flights you’ve taken in the last three years. It then runs them through a database to determine if any were delayed or cancelled — automatically identifying possible refunds you could be entitled for. If an eligible delay is found, AirHelp will automatically contact the airline and ensure you get your refund, while keeping a percentage of the funds as a success fee. An amazing deal, considering you would have never even known that airlines owed you refunds for flights you already took during the last few years. You literally have free money sitting in your email inbox, and AirHelp helps you get it without lifting a finger.
“I started AirHelp to save people from the horrible customer service of airlines that has been a race to the bottom since the birth of low cost carriers. We call it Justice-as-a-Service (JaaS),” says Henrik Zillmer, Founder & CEO of AirHelp. “By automating the validation and processing of refund claims we gave travelers a consumer rights lawyer in their pocket, which provides them with instant legal advice on their case.”
Another one is “Service”, which launched in 2015 and has taken a strong hold in the travel industry. Today they offer two key products — one which proactively alerts a traveler if their flight has been delayed and helps them get compensation automatically. The other which monitors your hotel bookings, and if the price drops at any time, will automatically secure the lower price for you. The response from customers has been very positive, with the bulk of customers relying on Service for solutions in the airline and travel industries.
Putting the customer first is just good business sense,” said Michael Schneider, Founder & CEO of Service. “Most travelers don’t want to take the time to complain following flight issues, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want compensation for their inconvenience.”
With apps like AirHelp and Service, contact centers must prepare for an increase in outsourced customer service interactions.
Spike in Volume
The math is simple. The easier it is for customers to offload their complaints to a third party, the more issues contact centers are likely to receive. Customer service teams will have to handle complaints from these third-party representatives, which are often quite different in nature from a regular customer interaction. These outsourced services will be more efficient, professional, and equipped with all the information they need to get an optimal outcome for the end customer.
Some outsourced services may even be sophisticated enough to invoke legal action, if their customers’ issues are not resolved promptly. To cope, contact centers will need to have technology and data infrastructure in place to handle a rapidly increasing volume of sophisticated interactions in a time-efficient manner.
One key strategy to handle this spike in outsourced customer complaints is to implement an AI solution to work alongside human agents. A customer service agent working in an AI-reinforced contact center is more effective and efficient in their role. Many of the mundane repetitive tasks are solved with machine learning on behalf of the agent. As a result agents have more time for sophisticated interactions, such as those raised through third party customer complaint services.
As third-party services like AirHelp and Service continue to grow in popularity, customer service leaders must get ahead of the trend. Companies need to look at upgrading their agent training programs and investing in AI tools to make sure that every service issue results in a positive outcome – no matter who is on the other end of the complaint.