How Customer Service Has Changed and How to Stay Ahead

Sep 22, 2017 6 Min Read

Customer Service in Industry 4.0

Nowadays we, as consumers, get more and more choices. It is certainly not surprising that, fuelled by technology, our expectations have also become increasingly sophisticated. 

Even when we got a last-minute long weekend extension as a result of our Kuala Lumpur SEA Games medal haul, it was easy for many Malaysians to quickly check out the available sales in malls (and perhaps accidentally buy a coffee grinder like yours truly), book a quick road trip, including accommodation and food, or perhaps just take the opportunity to renew one’s gym membership with free personal training sessions thrown in. 

Wow, what ease to get good deals at such short notice. All possible because it is easy to compare what is available in the market and the different pros and cons as experienced by different actual users. 

And that is how Industry 4.0 will be – the convergence and integration of physical and digital worlds into one. 

Now, companies are racing against time to redefine their offerings and services to customers so that the merged worlds will work for the company instead of against them. 

Especially since the “Industry 4.0 engages customers” report from Deloitte University Press estimated that about 50% of S&P 500 firms will likely be new companies due to digital disruptions and that the survival of companies will hinge on their ability to change with times. 

Even today, services are being personalised for different needs and customers have the ease of online purchasing and payment as well as distribution. 

Furthermore, there is a shift in human structural belief systems from established institutions (think: governments and banks) to reviews from strangers (think: Uber, Airbnb, Trip Advisor). 

While the benefits are reaped by consumers, companies are also benefiting from being able to use data analytics to harness preferences and purchasing patterns – do you notice how the ads in Facebook and Instagram are getting increasingly accurate to your recent online searches or purchases?

Speed and excellence of delivery

What this means to companies is that they must up their game in terms of customer service, being able to consistently anticipate their prospects and clients, as well as keep their internal brand advocates i.e. employees. 

This stretches across the entire customer experience, as different points of engagement with the customers must deliver their own value and contribution. Today’s customer compares speed of response to their queries, comments and service received. 

It is an “instant” and “live” world where a multitude of different folks and angles are being constantly updated, whether that’s over the phone, in person or through live chat outsourcing. It is almost like having a perpetual 360-degree microscope and CCTV on companies’ service level to its customers. 

For example, on Facebook, to qualify for the “Very responsive to messages” badge, the company needs to be responding quickly and consistently. This means that the company page must have achieved (over last seven days), both a response rate of 90% AND an average response time of 15 minutes to private messages sent to its page.

This is no small feat and companies need to have a good social media strategy and execution to get this badge of honour, which translates to increasing credibility on its products and services.


In this fast-changing landscape, therefore, it is ironic that society has even more appreciation for the humanistic representation of life. Today’s customer values authentic, non-robotic responses. 

This could be in the form of a good sense of humour such as those demonstrated by myBurgerLab during its introduction of the Nasi Lemak Burger and the string of subsequent comparison comments cum reviews. 

At the same time, customers also value a genuine demonstration of the care and concern that companies or their employees have for its customers instead of being only driven by revenue and profitability. For example, the online retailer Zappos has long been looked at glowingly for its customer service. 

One of its employees had made a call as part of its customer service process to follow up with one of its customers, Zaz Lamarr on the overdue return of some shoes.

It was unfortunate that Zaz had just lost her mother and the company reacted admirably as it had not only arranged for all the necessary returns of the shoes without cost, it went the extra mile. 

Zappos’s sympathetic gestures of sending flowers to the grieving customer had rave reviews online which, in turn, certainly created positive word-of-mouth and loyal fans! 

This is something which the convergence of the physical and digital realms of Industry 4.0 enabled the company to do. In doing something extraordinary for its customer, it reinforces the affection that customers have for Zappos and its famed customer service culture. 

The entire delivery of customer experience must broaden and inspire the customers. Today, customers no longer settle for basic and standalone products and services.

They prefer holistic, integrated and seamless end-to-end offerings, which are unique and customised to their needs.

Up-to-date processes

Companies must be able to understand their customers and their individual nuances to create this customer experience analytics

Collection, analysis and application of customer data needs to feed forward to creation of products and services. 

Some companies including Hyatt and Starbucks already have adapted their new offerings processes to include co-creation with their customers. Some others have creatively roped in their customers to help market their offerings via both physical and digital campaigns and competitions. 

Perhaps lacking in many companies is the ability to also integrate their processes and policies to ensure that the entire customer experience is aligned and working as one, rather than being impeded by more traditional and internally-focused back of the house. 

These are not only limited to those which are directly related to customers but also to the employees as brand ambassadors. Besides, engaged employees have long been demonstrated as having a positive impact on customer experience.

Having the right talent

The evolution of companies in terms of customer service in Industry 4.0 also needs to take into consideration how to attract, develop and retain employees to be delivering these unique, authentic and WOW experiences to its customers. 

Attracting and retaining digital natives – who are comfortable in this digital eco-system – is vital not only to provide the experience which is expected, but also to think in the shoes of the customers to innovate and deliver new experiences.

And the other employees who may not be as natural in the digital eco-system, will also need to be convinced and upskilled to switch easily between the physical and digital realms. 

This upskilling is beyond technical capabilities as it also includes the ability to work with different people on diverse topics, tools and platforms to enable focus on the customer. 

Problem solving, design thinking and communication skills are fundamental in the Industry 4.0 world.

Empowering employees to collaborate

On the other hand, management needs to learn how to take enough risk in providing the right level of empowerment at different parts of the company to support quick, small and authentic wins for the company and its employees. 

Building organisation structures, networks, spaces and platforms to enable collaborative employees will better mobilise them to be delivering customer-focused solutions and services. 

This reminds me of a conversation I just had with my 11-year-old son. 

Apparently, the first DC Comics superheroes to work together were The Flash and Green Lantern. 

And it started because they both realised that, while they were superheroes, they were not able to overcome the enemy alone. 

When I asked why The Flash and Green Lantern would want to work together, he told me that it is because they found a common cause, to save children. 

So, it seems that the world of comics, like real life, presents the need to have a common vision and cause so that, by working together, we bring different skillsets for the betterment of the world in which we live. 

As my colleague and culture guru, Joseph Tan often says – the cause needs to be greater than the cost. 

Are we prepared to pay the cost of Industry 4.0 if we are not prepared?

Share This

Caroline Ong has spent numerous years in the management consulting and HR space, and is formerly Leaderonomics country general manager in Malaysia. She believes in maximising the potential of people and wants to continue contributing in making a difference to others. She is still learning about superheroes and is always willing to hear more stories from you to relate to her children.

You May Also Like


Streamlining IT Infrastructure Management through DevOps and Automation

The DevOps movement has gained significant momentum in recent years, as more and more businesses are realising the benefits of a DevOps culture.

Oct 03, 2023 6 Min Read

A group of people gathered around a laptop (engagement)

How to Achieve Engagement in the Workplace

Eva Christodoulou, Head of Solutions and Services at Leaderonomics, shares what it takes to achieve employee engagement in the workplace and what employees can do to ensure that they remain engaged.

May 06, 2021 23 Min Podcast

strategy is simple

What Is Strategy?

To many people, strategy is a total mystery. But it’s really not complicated, says Harvard Business School’s Felix Oberholzer-Gee.

Mar 21, 2022 10 Min Video

Be a Leader's Digest Reader