For customer support organizations in 2020, the challenge is bold: to take increasingly sophisticated technologies and advanced customer expectations, and render a simplified, friction-free experience for each and every customer. In other words, don’t let ‘em see you sweat.
The customer service trends shaping this challenge include increasing automation and digitization, an emphasis on empowering the customer and a shifting role for customer support representatives. Trend #1 oversees most of the other trends: a digital approach to customer service is mandatory today.
Read on for more about that and some of the other customer service trends we’re seeing dominate the market in early 2020.
Customer service trend #1: It’s all about a digital approach
According to IDG research, 44% percent of companies started implementing a digital-first approach to customer engagement as far back as 2018, and Gartner says that 56% of CEOs report digital improvements already boosting profits. Modern customer service is digital customer service. Delivering digital customer service across channels helps weave together the customer experience over the lifetime of their relationship with your brand.
Customer service trend #2: Automation is taking hold
Automation is changing the job market and the experiences of consumers and workers alike. But while Forrester reports that automation will replace a net 1.06 million jobs from certain areas of business this year, jobs that require human-only traits such as intuition, empathy and mental agility will add 331,500 net jobs. Customer service jobs that depend upon suchs skills will drive customer experience across most industries and markets.
For customer support operations, finding the right balance between automating certain functions and keeping others human will be the mission. Organizations may find themselves, for instance, with fewer call center employees. The ones they do have must be better supported with technology to help them find task-critical information and route issues correctly the first time. Using automation intelligently will support these tasks and many others.
Customer service trend #3: The role of the customer service rep is shifting
Although real people will continue to be important to customer service because of the very human traits they exemplify, with automation and self-serve options taking hold, their roles will shift. While self-service channels can resolve simple challenges or inquiries, reps are left to solve the more complex and delicate issues. Organizations must hire smart, engaged troubleshooters with excellent soft skills, and support them with streamlined workflows that use automation to deliver the right information at the right time.
Whether a customer reaches a live representative by pushing buttons on a phone or starts out in a chat interface, the representative should have all the information they need to serve the customer the moment the conversation starts: name, product, issue, etc. The agent should be able to enter the conversation seamlessly, provide a solution effortlessly and then, if necessary, invoke a bot again in order to, for instance, email a receipt or confirmation number as a follow-up.
Customer service trend #4: Self-service is a critical asset
Customers love to solve their own problems, and one particular aspect of automation, self-service functionality, is essential to customer support in 2020. Gartner lists it as one of the top three priorities for customer service leaders right now.
Self-service functionality relies on technologies such as chatbots that surface information for people based on keywords and machine intelligence. It requires a strong foundational knowledge base that’s robust, organized, and easily accessible by automated technology.
This is good news for customer support operations, since putting self-service technology in place is less costly than ongoing live support in the long run. But while self-service functionality can certainly decrease costs, the real value lies in how well it supports elevated customer experience.
Customer service trend #5: Mobile is unstoppable
With a smartphone in the pocket or purse of 81% of U.S. customers, mobile has become the main mode of operation for consumers and companies alike. Even for shoppers in physical stores, 80% use their phone in-store to check product reviews, compare prices or find other store locations. And customers are now accustomed to being able to reach brands on any platform that’s convenient — the phone, email, in-app chat, and social media being just four.
Cross-channel support is invaluable here, too, allowing customers to reach out via whichever channel makes sense in the moment. For many companies, in-app support is essential here, so customers do not have to exit the app experience in order to make contact with a brand. In-app messaging also allows for asynchronous communication, which enables customers to handle conversations on their own time versus having to wait on hold.
Customer service trend #6: Social media is now a bona fide customer service channel
Nielson says that 33% of users prefer to contact brands on social media versus the telephone. And since a social interaction is far less costly than a phone interaction, companies can use the social preference to their advantage.
However, problems arise when customer support organizations have siloed support efforts — for instance, a call center handles incoming phone calls, but the marketing department handles all social media communication, with little cross-over between the two. In order to integrate social media communication into the dominant customer support paradigm, companies must take a proactive approach to the way they handle customer inquiries on social media. It’s also critical to solving customer problems before they become a source of public venting on social media.
Customer service trend #7: Values matter
More and more, consumers are making their purchasing and brand loyalty decisions based on their values, aligning what they buy to what they believe. Forrester reports that more than 55% of consumers now consider company values when making buying decisions, a number that has grown in recent years.
Consumers are looking for “values alignment” across every interaction they have with a company, and that includes with your customer service. They want to feel like your customer support operation has their best interests in mind.
Customer service trend #8: Privacy is integral to trust
Consumers are increasingly worried about their data. With privacy laws, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act, gaining traction around the world, companies must assure their customers that all private and financial information is held in highest confidence and that they’re doing everything they can to avoid the risk of a data breach.
Forrester predicts that privacy class-action lawsuits will increase by 300% this year, and that as privacy concerns ramp up, a lot of companies will move away from personalization efforts within their marketing and work on connecting with customers in more authentic ways — such as premium customer service.
Customer service trend #9: The gig economy is impacting customer service
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 35% of the U.S. workforce consists of freelancers and other gig workers. Customer service organizations are learning to join them instead of beating them, folding in gig workers instead of losing employees to the allure of outside gig work. For instance, brands like Apple rely on the expertise of user communities to provide customers with peer-to-peer support. Other companies are hiring freelancers for field-service repairs and other types of customer-service teams.
The ability to use gig workers for customer service support is closely tied to automation efforts, which enable an organization to accurately and efficiently streamline routing and provide new and temporary workers with the information they need to solve customer problems quickly.
Customer service trend #10: Hybrid approaches to customer service will dominate
More and more, companies are taking their customer service eggs out of one big basket and distributing them in order to serve customers in sophisticated ways. They’re enabling customers to reach out on multiple channels, but linking those channels together to provide a seamless transition from one to the other. And they’re enabling bots and agents to work together to correctly identify, route and solve customer inquiries and challenges. This hybrid approach to customer service facilitates a streamlined customer experience and also allows the customer to control the way they contact a company.
With all of these customer service trends, there is a common theme: a simpler but more highly enabled experience for the customer, allowing them to reach out in the ways they’re most comfortable, and ensuring a fast and personal response. Companies that get in step with customer expectations in 2020 will be better prepared to compete for customer trust in the coming decade.
Want to learn more?
- Customer Service Glossary Article: What is Social Support?
- Blog Post: Today’s Self-Service Tools Put Your Customers First