In 2017, customer service trends will continue to drive success. Customer service is the new marketing, don’t you know? Some customer service trends will fall by the wayside, others will be increasingly decisive. Customer retention is key to profitability, and it is a result of dedicated customer service with an emphasis on customer success.
However, customer expectations are changing: the demographics of consumers are shifting and technology is evolving to become more specialized. Customer service is becoming simultaneously more complex, and more crucial to success. The problem is, many businesses are struggling to ride the wave: implementation of new technology, new directives, and new methods can take a while. Unfortunately, to stagnate is to lose relevance.
In 2016, 60% of consumers reported having higher expectations in terms of customer service than they did the previous year. This article will look at four customer service trends which will affect the way businesses cater to the customer experience in 2017.
Omnichannel is a requisite, but that doesn’t make it easy
Omnichannel isn’t just a buzzword; de facto, it is one of the customer service trends which are here to stay. Despite latency on the part of many businesses, offering omnichannel support has become nigh-obligatory to meet increasingly demanding customer expectations. Customers demand consistently qualified support over multiple channels.
A game of catch-up
Arranging a successful omnichannel strategy is tricky. Businesses must be present on their customers’ preferred support channels. But mere presence isn’t enough: customers expect their experience to be equally expeditious no matter the means they use to get in touch with a business.
Cross-platform branding and customer experience must be the same on all channels; having complaints and queries escalade from one channel to another will only frustrate customers. It’s a delicate line to toe between the quantity of channels and quality of service. Your patrons won’t care what you call it, they just expect your support team to help them quickly and efficiently, no matter the channel or medium.
Nevertheless, despite the emergence of alternative channels, the phone remains the preferred means of reaching customer support. Moreover, mobile support has grown in importance to surpass desktop as a channel. This shift in customer priorities demands that businesses adapt. Many companies’ decision-making process is often too slow to truly reflect customer expectations, and the battlefield too broad for businesses to excel at alternative channels.
Consistency is key
The way to consistent, effective omnichannel support is to strive for effortlessness. Minimizing friction and effort for your customers will make them more successful, and more satisfied.
Delegating your entire support funnel to one provider isn’t the answer. Nowadays, you can pick the best service provider to handle each channel you choose to employ. Live chat, email, VoIP business phone, there are specialists for every channel. Communication tools are evolving to meet customer expectations, and provide an intuitive and effective tool for support and sales teams alike. It’s a buyer’s market for businesses seeking to set up an effective omnichannel strategy.
What’s more, all these services can be integrated with one another. Their combined expertise makes for a seamless experience on the customer’s end and on your own team’s. Today, businesses are essentially obligated to offer omnichannel support channels to their customers. As far as customer service trends go, this is a tall order. But there are specialized providers who can bring their precise expertise to your omnichannel strategy in order to please your customers.
Learn to cater to Millennials, not alienate them
Speaking of pleasing customers, let’s talk one of the potentially upsetting customer service trends: the looming specter of Millennials. Both in sheer numbers and purchasing power, Generation Y is in the process of overtaking Baby Boomers and Gen X in the developed world. We are smack-bang in the middle of watching a whole new demographic of consumers flourish.
Embrace the shift, and don’t get left behind
Those witnessing this shift of consumer power tend to be threatened by it. It’s not unusual to hear sweeping (often derogatory) generalizations about Millennials: they’re lazy, entitled, and cynical. These accusations say more about the people voicing them than about the millions of people who make up Gen Y as a whole.
Nevertheless, due to the inevitability of change, Millennials do have a different approach to customer service than other age groups.
[do action=”blockquotecustom” cite=”This connected consumer shares and discovers information differently. And, how they make decisions is unique, not at all similar to the funnel that the other consumer groups follow. Therefore, this genre of consumer requires a completely new and personalized approach.” image=”” name=”Brian Solis” function=”author of The End of Business As Usual: Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution”/]
Be they bona fide Millennials, or customers of any age whose expectations have evolved with the changing customer support landscape, here are three areas to focus on for improved customer service:
Brand engagement goes both ways.
Millennials engage with the businesses they patron in a novel way. First, according to a study by Barkley, more than half of Millennials favor businesses whose values align with their own. Second, Millennials tend to closely and personally interact with businesses during their entire customer experience. Third, that interaction is often shared the whole way through. Due to a greater ease with communication tools, Gen Y tends to rely on crowdsourcing and make review-based decisions.
This means that adapting your customer service funnel to millennial standards is difficult, but it’s also a gift that keeps on giving; happy customers share that positivity, and can become brand ambassadors. Conversely, dissatisfied Gen Y customers will have no qualms about leaving a brand with which they didn’t connect, nor about sharing that disappointment with others. Millennials, for all our reputation for aloofness, often want nothing more than to be able to favorably interact with your brand.
Self-reliance isn’t aloofness.
60% of Millennials feel good about themselves and the company when they are able to sort out a support issue on their own. Millennials are better informed and more resourceful than their predecessors. Millenials have a different attitude towards the phone channel, but that’s not to say that it can’t work for them. Nevertheless, waiting on the phone is a huge pain point. This is why it’s more important than ever to provide quality self-service resources for your customers.
Provide a hybrid support model.
Gen Y doesn’t limit itself to single-channel engagement. The importance of a seamless and consistent omnichannel experience we discussed above is especially weighty for Millennials. We expect the businesses we patron to be flexible, available, and efficient. This means an agile and complementary relationship between support channels. The phone channel isn’t losing relevance, but 70% of Millennial women report being comfortable solving an easy issue without talking to a human. It’s increasingly interesting for businesses to ask this difficult question: when will human interaction be helpful and welcome, and when it would just get in the way of a happy resolution? Make sure that the human presence adds value to customer interaction, rather than taking away from it.
Even shoehorning Millennials under the umbrella of “customer service trends” can be grating, since Gen Y resents generalization. However, it’s important to be lucid about the change that this emerging demographic is bringing to customer expectations.
Self-service tools empower customers
Self-service customer resources, which we touched upon in the previous section, are continuing to be one of the customer service trends your business cannot ignore. Cut out the middleman and provide answers to repetitive customer support issues right on your website.
This empowers customers, who tend to feel better about themselves and the company they patron if they can manage to solve their problem on their own. Connected customers enjoy self-service because they feel self-reliant and empowered.
Self-service resources are available round the clock, which will reduce friction and lower customers’ effort score. They will also alleviate some pressure from your other support channels. Monitoring your FAQ section will also give you valuable insight on your client base’s recurring pain points and give you insight on how to improve both your product and your support funnel. Proactive training for your customers is support before you need it.
IoT makes for proactive customer service
Evidently, customer service is increasingly about providing the proper tools to customers, but also about making sure they know how to get the most out of them. If those tools happen to be a part of the product you sell, all the better. This bring me to a more technological side of customer service trends: the Internet of Things.
Business IoT is already quite widespread (elevators signalling breakdowns to their technicians, vending machines recording activity peaks during the day, etc.), but consumer IoT is expected to grow dramatically. By 2020, people will own an average of twenty connected devices, each. This is a terrific opportunity for proactive customer service.
IoT devices could self-monitor for quality assurance from their manufacturing, to their delivery, to their potential breakdown. This constant quality control would provide preemptive customer service. It might mean predicting malfunctions, observing customer habits, or identifying opportunities for upselling. It would favor both customer retention, and the means of capitalizing on a mutually beneficial relationship. With ongoing dialogue and two-way data analysis for maximum efficiency and low effort, IoT would be a means to build a lasting, loyal rapport with customers.
[do action=”blockquotecustom” cite=”In a world where everything is connected and devices intelligently communicate with each other … the IoT could well become internet of everything.” image=”” name=”Abhinav Sridhar” function=”Senior consultant, Aranca Research”/]
The main challenge facing IoT, which experts agree, remains in its infancy, is that of connected devices successfully “talking” to one another. Integrating devices with each other would mean a seamless dialog between one’s utilities, and a unified method of customer care. However, though it’s in the cards, we’re not quite there. Which leads me to my next point.
The future of customer support may lie in AI
Connected devices have the potential to be revolutionary for customers. But Artificial Intelligence (and its offshoot, machine learning) is the “next frontier” of customer service trends.
The challenge of teaching machines to dispense effective customer support isn’t brand new. Google, IBM, and others have implemented AI systems for their customer support for years. Two months ago, Salesforce unveiled Einstein. Historically, the technology has weathered some hiccups (see Microsoft’s Tay debacle). However, the fruits of many companies’ labor, such as Inbenta or IPSoft, are starting to ripen.
The complementary strengths of AI and humans
One potential application of AI is to direct customer support. Chatbots are already present in that area. However, with the evolution of machine learning, chatbots are becoming more effective and outperform themselves with every interaction. AI can also answer to bulk emails on the same subject. Customer support is quite repetitive, and speed is of the essence. Therefore, a machine which continuously improves could be the perfect tool to field repetitive, low-priority customer support issues. A high volume of calls would even be good news for the AI’s “growth”, leaving the phone lines and human agents to handle the more complex problems.
Another is data collection and analysis. As the software used by customer support teams gets more agile and intelligent, data collection becomes more accessible to businesses of all size. However, the practice still hasn’t become widespread enough to be truly useful. In many cases, humans are still the best at handling the analysis portion of big data, which is qualified and time-consuming work.
AI can analyze consumer habits and patterns without human input. The North Face used Watson , IBM’s natural-language processing machine learning system, to create their Expert Personal Shopper, which matches customers and leads with products. AI could provide pre-emptive customer support by anticipating problems before they arise, thereby mitigating the need for reactive assistance and upping customer satisfaction.
AI is an investment for the future
The continuous fine-tuning and curation of AI technology is definitely not a light task. However, its benefits are undeniable: increased productivity, accuracy, and precision. The first people to benefit from AI assistance are your sales team. Training a machine and training a human agent both require an investment of time and money, but their complementary skills will both benefit a business’ customer service system.
What other customer service trends do you see emerging or ruling supreme in 2017? Let us know in the comment section! In the meantime, consider giving our own virtual call center solution a try: