If you’re going to grow and maintain your customer base through the 2020s, you’ll need to innovate. Technology will be key, but it needs to support — rather than sideline — your customer-service staff. Before the new decade begins, be sure your team knows the difference.
Customer service isn’t static. Phones replaced house calls. Email edged out phones. To keep existing customers and attract new ones, you need cutting-edge customer service. Consumers are four times as likely to buy from a competitor after a service issue than they are after a product one, according to research by Bain & Company. Still, customer-service overhauls aren’t cheap. Invest wisely by considering these five predicted trends that will shape customer service over the next five years.
1. Social media will become default channels.
Just 13 percent of consumers over the age of 55 have used social media for customer-service purposes, a Microsoft study showed; on the other hand, 55 percent of those aged 18-34 have. As millennials and Gen Zers make up a larger and larger share of your market, social-media outreach is likely to make up more than half of your customer-service requests.
Soon, putting a social-media intern in charge of your Twitter account will no longer cut it. Those running your social accounts need to understand your product or service like veteran members of your customer-service staff. Use chatbots to field common questions, freeing up time for your human service people to tackle more complex ones.
2. Automation will get the human touch.
Automation and AI are hot topics in every sector, and customer service is no exception, but when customers hear “customer-service automation,” they think of automated menus and spammy robocalls. From the user’s perspective, that sort of automation is worse than none at all.
Used well, customer-service software can lighten an agent’s load without erasing the human touch. Contact center software provider Five9 suggests agents use real-time transcription services, which can achieve 95 percent accuracy with custom tuning, so they can focus more on the customer and less on transcription errors. Automation will be a must, but it’s best used to augment human workers.
3. Customer reps will give more product demos.
As more services become strictly online, your customer-service capabilities need to keep up. Customer-service platform Acquire points out that nearly half of users will leave a website if they can’t find what they’re looking for. Customer-service people need to meet them there, regardless of what the product problem is.
Lean on co-browsing tools, which let customer-service agents share their screens with clients in real time. If a customer still isn’t getting it, video-conferencing solutions can improve communication via nonverbal cues. Repeated videoconferencing or screen sharing around the same issue could indicate a user-interface problem.
4. Customer-service teams will develop disaster plans.
Whether due to technological complexity, natural disasters or bad actors, service outages seem to be happening more frequently. Cyberattacks are a particular problem. Three-fifths of firms experienced one last year, up by double digits from the year prior. One way or another, your customer-service staffers will eventually face a catastrophe. If they can’t field calls or use the internet for days, you can bet some customers will take their business elsewhere. The Small Business Administration offers checklists and safety tips specific to each type of disaster. Fill out the ones relevant to you, and share them with your team before a disaster strikes.
5. Customer-service training will be companywide.
Employees like engineers and marketers may not interact directly with customers, but they need customer-service skills all the same. The reason is the rising importance of your UX. To deliver a better experience, everyone needs to know common customer pain points and solutions. Encourage people to think beyond their immediate role and subject area. Marketing software firm HubSpot trained its content team not just on marketing or writing, but also on how to represent the company online. Ensure everyone knows how to refer to your product and brand. Develop a “top 10” list explaining how to address common customer questions.