customer service technology

It is a universally acknowledged truth that we all dread calling a customer service line. What usually starts as a simple problem or inquiry turns into a monstrous hour-long game of telephone hopscotch that involves you angrily saying, “I need help with _____” over and over again. Meanwhile, you’re feeling like a fool and being bounced around to six different people (and bemoaning six similarly atrocious on-hold jingles). All of this happens before finally reaching the person who can actually help you–or so you desperately hope.

To make things worse, it’s only when you start explaining your problem to this faceless savior, this light at the end of the dark telephone tunnel, that you’re apologetically told that all the waiting and transferring could have been avoided. If the first agent had just understood your request a little more clearly! There goes an hour of your life and half your cellphone’s battery life. What was the point of calling again?

Customer service in call centers has been getting a bad rap for years, and it’s not difficult to see why with experiences like the one mentioned above. (True story. To the first agent who put me through transfer hell, may all your bacon burn). David Yarnold addressed this problem in a 2012 Forbes article titled “Why Does Customer Service Suck?”

“For many companies, the goal is cutting costs from the service department, which has typically been a profit drain,” Yarnold wrote. “These companies slash costs by eliminating personal interaction, using consolidations of call centers, call deflection technology, robotic implementations of call scripting and workforce optimization tools. Get off the call, get out of the client site, move on to the next appointment as quickly as possible! The result is a reduction in the amount of time their people spend in direct personal contact with customers.”

Many SpareFoot customers are first-time storage users and are unfamiliar with storage jargon and specifications, which is why we encourage them to call our Customer Experience Team. They’re bona fide storage experts. However, the idea of calling a “call center” is probably more unsavory than ever right before a big move or life change. We wanted to defy that.

customer love

Using Technology to Show Love to Customers
Moving and other life events associated with storage is already stressful enough. This is why exceptional customer service is so important to us. Our goal is to ease the burden of moving and storage by at least making it as seamless as possible.

How? By using technology to make us more human.

I sat down with Josh Lipton, who works with our Customer Experience Team to design an amazing SpareFoot customer experience. Josh recently spoke at TwilioCon 2013 about how companies can be more successful by relying on technology like Twilio’s, which specializes in telecom “cloud” communication. Josh’s philosophy from day one has been simple: Our choices around technology should allow us to get technology out of the way, so that we can focus on the experience we want to deliver.

A Beautifully Designed Experience
“Think past the call center, but to the best brands in the world,” Josh said. “They’ve designed the customer experience all the way through. Take a top-notch hotel, for example. Everything from your check-in, to how your room looks, to your towels is a beautifully designed experience.”

SpareFoot aspires to the same thing: We want to present a beautifully designed experience. That means that our websites make sense, the phone calls are helpful, and the agents are personable, happy people who are knowledgeable about storage. It’s all intentional, and it should feel that way.

“You should know you’re talking to a SpareFoot agent by the way the experience went,” Josh said.

Calling into a customer service center shouldn’t be an atrocious ordeal. It can be seamless, painless and even enjoyable–and technology is a key to providing that beautiful experience.

sparefoot customer experience team

More Technology = More Humanity
Historically, call centers have used very complex, out-of-date systems and methods.

“Even if they wanted to change, it would be extremely difficult,” Josh said. “Old technology gets in the way of the product you want to design.”

Think of all the times when you’ve given information to the automated system, only to speak to an agent who hasn’t gotten that information. It’s annoying and immediately downgrades the experience.

“That’s an immediate disconnect for the customer,” Josh said. “Things like that happen because of a combination of technology and people who aren’t built with an idea about how to design an experience that someone would actually want to enjoy.”

New technology, such as Twilio’s, allows you to treat communication as part of your overall product without the need for hardware, server rooms and specialists. When you don’t have to spend time worrying about that, you can spend time concentrating on how to improve the experience for customers.

“By getting the problem of how you do it out of the way, you can focus on what you want to build,” Josh said.

One thing SpareFoot hopes to accomplish in the near future is knowing about the experience a user has had on our website when they call in. This allows our team to spend more time answering questions, rather than asking what the customer has already done on the web.

Another thing we’re working on is connecting a customer to the agent he or she spoke to earlier. This would mean that the same people who help a customer make a storage booking are the also the same people who help with that customer’s existing bookings, if the customer calls back.

It’s just common sense. But think of how many times you’ve redialed the customer service number, only to hear someone new (and completely unfamiliar with your situation) on the other end.

“Because we choose tools that are modern and flexible, like Twilio, we’re able to adapt our systems very efficiently to new ideas,” Josh said. “Whereas with older platforms and technologies, the idea of programming that into your process would be time consuming and complicated.”


More than Robots
Technology also plays a crucial role in the second pillar of an amazing customer experience–happy agents. By using products that our agents actually enjoy using, like Salesforce and Bloomfire, we make sure that they’re genuinely happier, more productive and equipped to deliver a great customer experience. These products are intelligently designed, fast and responsive, which puts our team in a better state of mind when answering calls.

“It’s about treating your agents like grown-ups and actual humans,” Lipton said. “We’re not going to make them robots–we use technology so that our team isn’t a team of robots. No one wants to talk to a call-center robot. They want to talk to engaging, intelligent and articulate people who love talking to customers all day long and helping them solve their storage problems.”

Which brings us back nicely to Yarnold’s simple, profound point about how technology informs humanity:

“…the human element generates meaningful, memorable customer experiences that lead to loyalty and increased revenue. Technology is at the crux of both of these examples, but it’s not the technology that more efficiently fixes customer problems, instead it is the engine that empowers the people that solve them. That’s the key distinction and realization that separates the decent service organizations from the great ones.”

That’s what SpareFoot wants to be–one of the great ones, one of the exceptional ones.

Top image courtesy of