It’s only been 90 days since the first hint of shelter-at-home orders in the U.S., but it feels like 5 years. According to a recent American Psychiatric Association-sponsored poll, more than one-third of Americans (36%) say coronavirus is having a serious impact on their mental health and most (59%) feel coronavirus is having a serious impact on their day-to-day lives.
Whether it’s a worry about a loved one, a Zoom work call crashing, the kids at home misbehaving, or a package not arriving, the stress and anxiety created by this pandemic is directly affecting our ability to be patient and tolerant when things go wrong. Customer service departments — the place where everyone goes when things go wrong — are struggling to deal with customers’ rock-bottom patience and sky-high expectations.
But this impatience is nothing new, the virus outbreak has just accelerated a trend that’s been building for years.
How Soon Is Now?
Technology continues to recalibrate customer expectations of immediacy. And, expectation is the mother of impatience. Hubspot found that “90% of customers rate an “immediate” response as important or very important when they have a customer service question.” The average time to a customer’s first query or concern across all ecommerce is still around 17 hours. The rift between customer expectations of service and a retailer’s ability to deliver is ever-growing.
Chat and social media messaging are compounding the problem. With live chat being the most preferred customer service channel among millennials and more consumers than ever turning to social media for support, it is clear that customers are seeking quick help in real-time. A company’s customer acquisition through social media only adds to the false perception that immediacy is possible.
The ‘Now Customer”
Patience, or rather impatience, is the emotional response to a delay. Dr. Jim Stone explains that impatience results from our own expectations. In turn, customer impatience stems from the failure of businesses to meet service expectations — no one wants to hear that their email or message is in a queue and will be answered within 24 hours.
The Otto Beisheim School of Management in Germany conducted a study on patience and came to several starling conclusions:
- Present-biased individuals have less patience and are focused on the now
- Patience is dropping by generation
The more consumers become present-biased through constant connection, the more focused they become on immediate gratification and the harder they are to satisfy. The problem is best summed up by one customer’s recent comment on business wait times: “I must develop patience… immediately.”
Expectations in the Midst of a Pandemic
Many businesses are finding that providing service for the shelter-at-home ‘Now Customer’ is impossible without limitless budgets. Attempts to offer better service often translates to longer interactions, which impact service levels, staffing, not to mention that longer wait times are responsible for at least $75 billion in lost revenue per year.
This conflict between the expectations of the Now Customer and a business’s ability to act now affects customer loyalty, retention, and ultimately, the bottom line.
Patience isn’t a Virtue, It’s a Technology Deficit
So how can customer service departments meet these new demands without ballooning costs and adding more stress to an already overburdened customer service staff? A Covid-19 vaccine will obviously help take our stress levels down and bring life back to some semblance of normality, but the customer’s impatience and expectations for immediacy will continue to increase. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said, ““Only thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontented. Their expectations are never static. They only go up.”
The stresses caused by the Coronavirus, the 24/7 news cycle, and our isolation have ushered in a new dawn for the Now Customer. These factors combined with our our technology-fueled entitlement for immediacy have opened up an even wider expectation gap between customer and brand, between our need to feel valued and looked after and a brand’s ability to live up to those expectations. Put simply, technology got us into this mess and only better technology can get us out. People are terrified enough by the world outside, they don’t need to be further tortured by clunky, unintelligent chatbots. Customers and customer service professionals deserve so much more. It’s time for software companies, and AI companies in particular, to start delivering the service we deserve. Brands can no longer set their service sights on going back to a pre-coronavirus normal. That place no longer exists.