Business success has always been driven by the quality of customer service. However tomorrow’s customers will expect more, be increasingly fickle, and more readily take advantage of the growing ease of switching between vendors. Outstanding excellence in customer service will be the primary factor shaping the competitive performance of companies. Looking to the future, there are 9 vital trends in what customers will expect and the best companies will provide. To succeed in years to come companies must understand and take advantage of these emerging changes.
The days of customers resignedly accepting waiting over 15 minutes to speak to someone on a service call are over. People expect a fast or even immediate response, and are usually happy to go to other channels such as chat to get it. This requires companies to allocate sufficient resources to key service channels, or at very least to provide alternative service paths that satisfy customers.
Service needs to be available to customers wherever they are. This of course includes providing easy-to-use mobile interfaces that work well on the full range of devices used by customers. It also means integrating seamlessly into the apps where customers spend their time, notably on social media. The next phase is adapting communication or service to the customer’s context, for example providing different interfaces whether they are driving, walking, or in public transport.
- Automated service
Increasingly service will be provided not by humans, but by machines. We have long endured poorly designed Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems. Now we are entering an era in which we can interact with almost-intelligent systems that will sometimes be better at service than humans. Moving beyond automated chat and Siri-like response systems, such as Spanish bank BBVA’s Lola app, it won’t be long before we routinely have service conversations with machines.
- Rich interaction
The most important domain for building strong yet cost-efficient customer relationships is in enabling highly engaging interaction with service staff. Recent research from Telstra shows that 57% of customers would like video service from their financial institutions, while an increasing number of banks are already embedding high-definition videoconferencing facilities into their branches and ATMs. Collaboration tools can add value to video service in allowing representatives to immediately show customers how to do what they want.
- Personal connection
People feel personal connected with those they feel are similar to them. Zappos routes customer calls to service representatives in the same state as the caller, so they have something in common from the outset. Sophisticated call centres today build profiles of both customers and service staff so they can match personalities and interests, and direct calls to those who have already interacted positively with the customer.
- Proactive service
The best service will be provided even before people ask for assistance. Social media, and in some case cameras or sensors in retail environments or on websites, allow companies to immediately identify when their customers require assistance. Customers of the best organisations will soon expect to get support when they need it, without having to ask.
- Customer co-creation
The strongest customer relationships are those in which customers participate in creating the products, the service experience and the brand. Companies such as household goods retailer Muji or UK mobile provider GiffGaff involve their customers in the design and functioning of their operations. This creates superior offerings, better service, and stronger engagement with the company.
- Customer learning
A key principle of ‘knowledge-based’ customer relationships is that making your customers more knowledgeable and capable will build enduring high-value relationships. Customer service must be focused on educating customers, by pointing them to resources, discussing possibilities, and helping them to understand issues. US bank Wells Fargo in its customer service process points customers to its extensive set of financial education tools.
Transparency will increasingly be one of the key differentiators in customer service. Customers will expect to see response times, changes in customer satisfaction, and the experiences of other customers. Much of this information is already becoming visible through social media. Customers will gravitate to those companies that proactively provide transparency and know they are building their reputation in every single customer interaction.