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The Future of Customer Service: Easy, Effective, Emotional

How does a business differentiate itself in the ultra competitive environment that we all operate in? How does it stand out from the rest in a crowded marketplace? The answers for more and more business organizations now lie with the realization that providing an outstanding level of service to their customers can set them apart from the rest—a customer experience that not only satisfies the customer’s needs, but delights and surprises them, leading to repeat business and recommendations that boost sales and ultimately enhance the bottom line.

Meeting those aspirations can prove to be challenging in a complex landscape where it is the customer, and not the service provider, that drives expectations. Meeting that challenge means providing a consistent experience for the customer throughout their engagement journey, across multiple channels, and at all of the touch points that the customer might have with the business, both online and offline. And that requires an obsessive approach that builds on operational efficiencies providing easy, effective interactions that foster a positive emotional bond with the customer.

customer-serviceThat is one of the key takeaways from the recently updated report from Forrester analyst Kate Leggett, Trends 2016: The Future of Customer Service. The 2016 update reviewed the most recent Forrester research on customer service and CRM to highlight some key issues and trends for the future of customer service. The results identified what one might call the three “e’s” of customer service that must be delivered to meet customer expectations; easy, effective, and emotional.

Making it Easy for the Customer

It makes sense that if you make something easy to do then people, and that means customers in this case, are more likely to do it, and to do it repeatedly.

The report identified some key trends that they think will emerge this year as companies strive to give customers the easy service interactions they expect.

Self-service.

Forrester’s research suggests that mobile and web self-service interactions for customers are now exceeding live-assist channel options. Customers are most likely to start an interaction online, only seeking human intervention to find assistance for more complex issues that they can’t solve elsewhere.

The report authors predict that in response, customer service organizations are likely to make self-service options easier for customers, building on the foundations that already exist. Some of the suggestions as to how that might happen make for interesting reading.

“They will start to explore virtual agents and communities to extend the reach of curated content. They will look at ways to make knowledge more ubiquitous and reduce its manual overhead. They will start embedding knowledge into devices — like Xerox does with its printers — or delivering it via wearables to a remote service technician. They will also explore cognitive engagement solutions that take input, learn from that input with human assistance, put the content into context, and make relevant, evidence-based recommendations.”

Wow, that is quite a leap forward from having a FAQ option on your website. It’s also interesting to see how IoT devices and cognitive solutions are coming in to play.

Reducing friction.

Customer service providers will seek out new ways to reduce the friction that customers can encounter, for instance when having to repeat their situation to multiple agents, or being left hanging while they wait for assistance. New channels will emerge, such as Facebook Messenger, We Chat, and video chat to interact with the customer and direct them to low friction channels. New authentication options will be explored, like real-time voice biometrics, to reduce the need for repeated security questions.

Effective Customer Service

An effective customer service operation needs to deliver the right service experience, to the right user, at the right time. That experience needs to be delivered in the preferred channel of the user, be that self-service or agent assisted. To achieve that end customer service organizations will, suggests the report, increasingly look to “vendor-defined best-practice process flows and industry specific solutions” as a starting point. Providers will extend these process flows to uniquely differentiate their own offering, with improved analytics and reporting, designed to optimize the success of each process.

Analytics will improve and extend decision processes (where the customer’s or system’s next action is decided automatically), so that the right steps can be taken to service customer needs more effectively. The added benefit for the marketing and sales teams of course, will be the ability to present personalized upsell and cross-sell opportunities to customers during engagements.

The report authors also envisage connected devices playing a much greater role in pre-emptively diagnosing and fixing potential customer service issues. Pre-emptive service they say is a win-win on all fronts, with faster resolution of issues at a lower cost, combined with improved anticipation of the needs of the customer.

Creating an Emotional Bond

It’s not all about ease and effectiveness however. To be successful, service interactions also need to forge a positive emotional bond with the customer. The customer service transaction should demonstrate that the organization is empowering systems and agents to take actions that are in the best interests of the customer. That sometimes means when something has gone wrong. This is when identifying and acting upon potential frictions can help to promote positive emotions. Take a look at a couple of examples highlighted in the report.

  • Delta Airlines can match the caller ID field to a mobile number when the customer calls following receipt of a text about a flight cancellation. The IVR system is then able to bypass the standard menu, instead asking if the customer is “calling about the text message we just sent you?”
  • When a Banana Republic customer who has recently been hit with a non-payment fee calls the company, the IVR asks if the customer is calling about the fee and offers a one off waiver.

Three main trends for 2016 have been identified.

Proactive engagement will increase.

Sears provides a great example of proactive engagement, reporting a 20 percent lift in revenue and 90 percent customer satisfaction scores, when they engage with online visitors that exhibit a propensity to buy. It is anticipated that ongoing learning from engagements of this kind will be used to improve future interactions, ensuring a more sophisticated approach that will connect the most appropriate company resource at the optimum moment of opportunity.

Feedback programs to be strengthened.

While the use of customer feedback is commonplace, its measurement can be haphazard and, as a result, has inconsistent effectiveness. The report suggests that journey analytics, in particular sentiment analysis and real-time speech analytics, will be used to gain a better understanding of the customer service process. Better understanding allows for a more personalized service, and hopefully a stronger emotional bond with the customer.

Agents will be empowered to be more human.

Rigid scripted processes that agents are often obliged to follow can de-humanize the transaction, for both customer and agent. Organizations will empower agents to focus more on solving issues, and less on struggling with an inflexible set of tools. Simpler, automated, task based interfaces will be deployed, releasing agents to use their experience and knowledge to make better decisions for customers.

These three elements of ease, effectiveness, and emotion should be the starting point of every customer service strategy. One that should be underpinned by technology that enables consistent replication of best practice in the areas of queuing and routing, CRM, and workforce optimization; all software areas that the report considers will undergo consolidation to better facilitate customer service delivery.

Providing an exceptional customer experience should no longer be an add-on or an aspiration. Customer service needs to be placed firmly at the center of everything an organization does so that customer expectations can be met. Only then will those that get it right be able to differentiate themselves from the rest.

Do you think that it’s all about ease, effectiveness, and emotion? I would be interested to hear your views on the future direction of customer service.