Technology and higher customer expectations are driving significant trends in customer service. We’ve assembled what we believe are the top 10 trends that will be impacting organizations this year and the years to come:

#1 Embracing the role of customer service in the customers’ experience

Up until recently, the term “customer experience” had been used in context of process improvement, predictive software technologies and customer feedback systems. Organizations are beginning to come around to the truism that these non-human things, in isolation, aren’t enough. And the research is bearing it out. Look for new Customer Experience strategic plans to start revolving around the 4 ‘P’s – Policy, Process, People and Practices. These are the four controllable levers that influence customer perceptions, with good, old-fashioned ‘customer service’ playing a dominant role.

#2 No more searching for “Wow” customer service delivery

The research is telling us that creating ‘Wow’ experiences and ‘delighting’ customers doesn’t deliver the type of increased customer loyalty we once thought. Standby metrics for assessing customer loyalty used to be CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) and NPS (Net Promoter Score). In the July issue of Harvard Business Review, Dixon, Freeman and Toman identified CES (Customer Effort Score) as being a much greater predictor of customer loyalty. In short, making a customer’s experience consistently pleasant, seamless and trouble-free is the best strategy.

#3 More customer-friendly return policies

World-class organizations such as Zappo’s, L.L. Bean Chapters and Kohl’s are focusing on Giving money back as happily as they take it. They are focused on creating ongoing loyalty, not just on single transactions.

#4 Increasing use of Social Media for customer service and service recovery

Customers are continuing to turn to social media for customer service and service issues. And companies are responding at an increasing rate. According to Social Media Today’s Social Customer Engagement Index, 34% of corporations have been actively using social media for over two years. This is up from just over 20% in 2011. See this trend continuing.

#5 Increased focus on consistency of experience through all channels

As customer contact channels have expanded over the last decade, organizations have struggled to maintain consistency of information and experience. According to a recent study by the customer service software company, Synthetix, 91% of us expect to receive consistency. Unfortunately 65% of us have said we aren’t getting it. (74% rank a poor multi-channel experience as a major annoyance). Look for companies focus on better aligning all of their contact channels.

#6 Increased focus on customer retention

As the market is saturating for many of the dominant industries (eg. telecommunications), there is a profound shift in business strategy from customer acquisition to trying to retain existing customers. This will be reflected in changes in promotional strategies, as well as increases in customer service staffing, technologies and training.

#7 Better trained staff and higher standards

The old ‘warm-body-and-a-pulse” practice for staffing in retail and call-center environments isn’t enough anymore. With an increasingly educated and connected customer, with higher service expectations, companies are focused more than ever on ensuring their employees have the skills to deliver superior service experiences. Training, and live-environment coaching, (referred to 20 years ago as ‘management by walking around’) is increasing dramatically. Included in this will be increased improvement in tools for the front-line, such as greater access to information and knowledge bases, and greater empowerment to resolve issues before they escalate.

#8 The emergence of dialogue in electronic media service channels

Historically, web-based service channels have consisted of ‘two-party monologues.’ The customer, for example, submits an email or Facebook post or Tweet or ‘ticket’, then the company replies in kind. These sometimes painfully long threads of conversation are increasingly being replaced with a greater emphasis on dialogue. The research is telling us that more customers are favouring webchat as a vehicle for customer service than ever before. Some companies, like BestBuy, have gone as far as to remove email as a vehicle for interacting with the company, in favour of live chat. As part of this, look for video chat to begin to emerge. Mobile and internet bandwidth and speed continue to increase, and will soon accommodate live people you can actually see, talking live with customers.

#9 Increasing focus on Customer Service throughout organizations

Customer service used to be the domain of front-line customer service agents, clerks and sales representatives. Companies are now recognizing that customer service needs to be present throughout the organization. Look for continued growth of focus on internal customer service, and service in non-traditional customer touch-points such as accounts receivable, shipping/receiving, security, etc.

#10 Increased tracking of customer attitudes and experience

Organizations are no longer waiting for the complaints to come in. Through Voice-of-the-customer research and other polling and feedback mechanisms, companies are making significant efforts to understand their customers, and look for ways to improve their experiences.

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