Customer service standards have shifted dramatically over the past decade, thanks to a combination of more competition in the market and an abundance of increasingly-accessible technology.
All businesses understand that the customer experience is a powerful differentiator, and it absolutely will impact who customers buy from, how long they stay loyal, and even what they’re willing to pay.
We know that customer service is essential to a business’s long-term success, but what exactly does the future of customer service hold?
In this post, we’re going to take a look at how the pandemic has impacted customer expectations and what we expect for the future of customer service.
How the Pandemic Has Impacted Customer Service
Expectations were already high of customer service before the pandemic struck, with 54% of consumers from all over the world saying that their customer service expectations had risen year-over-year in 2017.
The pandemic, however, had a significant impact on customer service. With lockdowns and social distancing requiring many businesses to operate online or remotely, customer service representatives via phone, email, and live chat became the face of brands. There weren’t in-person salespeople to build relationships or solve issues.
Some businesses struggled with this, as call volume went up significantly, especially when supply chains and standard operating procedures were disrupted and impacted customers.
One study found that “difficult” customer calls increased from 10% to 20% once the pandemic ramped up. This was partially due to unsolvable problems caused by the pandemic, though it didn’t help that customer anxiety and frustration as a whole had increased dramatically, too.
Perhaps the most significant change, of course, was that many customer service agents were now working from home for the first time. As of right now, many still do.
What We Think the Future of Customer Service Looks Like
COVID-19 has clearly presented some challenges to the customer service industry that will likely shape it moving forward. We’ve also had an emergence of new technology, which in turn can alter consumer behavior.
All of these factors are going to change the face of customer service in 2021 and beyond. Let’s take a look at what we believe the future of customer service will hold.
Increased Accessibility Across Multiple Communication Channels
If this year has taught us anything it’s that accessibility through multiple communication channels is a must.
Have a Facebook Page for your business? Customers will message you there, and expect a response within 24 hours. They’ll also call you, email you, send messages through your site, and use just about any communication platform available to them.
You need to have customer service agents manning all of them, but remember that even as more communication channels branch out, phone will still be central.
Most customers prefer to talk to someone on the phone for urgent, important, or secure purposes. You don’t want to risk missing these calls or keeping people waiting for 45+ minutes on hold while their anxiety levels go up, so having strong support for your phone lines will be crucial.
Businesses Will Prioritize Meaningful Connections with Customers
Customers want to do business with brands that care about them. And while customers can be fickle, easily tempted to try the competition for a slightly lower price or a single less-than-stellar experience, one of the few things that can establish true loyalty is legitimate relationships.
Small, human-to-human moments between a customer and a customer service agent can be a gamechanger, even if they’ll likely never talk to that agent again.
Think about the last time you had a major customer service disaster. Maybe, for example, you had ordered an expensive $200 weighted blanket for your daughter’s birthday, only it arrived damaged two days before the big day. You don’t want an apathetic customer service agent to say “well we’ll refund you, sorry for the inconvenience.”
Hearing someone on the other end of the line who genuinely seems to care, and who works to find a solution is what you want– and it’s what will keep you around as a customer.
Personalization Will Allow Higher-Quality Service
While we train our customer service teams to handle every foreseeable scenario, the reality is that each individual customer is unique, and every concern is unique.
Someone who receives that weighted blanket in tatters will only want their money back, while others wouldn’t settle for anything less than a new blanket overnighted to them the next day so it can arrive on-time as a gift. Some may want quick action taken, while others may have questions about the quality of the product overall.
Personalization in customer service means that your customers are being treated as individuals. And when your team has the ability to act as if each customer is an individual and not just adhering to strict scripts, everyone benefits.
Personalization will continue to be a powerful force in the future of customer service, aided by stronger CRM tools to track customer histories to better find ideal solutions faster.
Reliance On Third-Party Tools & Services to Offer Faster, Better Service
A few weeks ago, I had to make a call to follow up with Discover about an issue with fraud on one of my cards. I’d already called before and was dreading needing to rehash the entire scenario over again.
I didn’t have to. Even though I spoke to a new customer service agent, they pulled up my file and the case, and we were able to jump right back in. They were able to offer a solution that worked specifically for me, based on the situation.
As a customer, I felt cared about, and a stressful situation was resolved quickly and easily. And they were able to do this because they had a strong CRM, which allowed them to take adequate notes during the first call that they could source during the second. And even better, the team members were clearly trained to use them.
Third-party services like high-quality answering services are also becoming more popular, especially as customer service demands continue to increase. Customers are tired of waiting on hold when they’re used to fast responses through live chat, so having an answering service that can pick up every call in three rings or less can be a game-changer for your business.
While this year has shown us that no one knows what exactly the future holds, we are confident about the direction that the future of customer service is moving in. We know that customers will stay the focal point and that all trends will come down to delivering higher levels of customer service faster than ever.