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Innovation in Customer Service — Top Trends to meet consumers demands and expectations in 2017

Customer service is changing as traditional capabilities aren’t always responding to new customer needs and demands

Data from a recent study by Forrester shows that 72% of businesses believe improving their customer (and in particular Millennial customer) experience is their top priority.

Customer expectations and competitive offerings are on the rise, and plenty of recent technological innovation is developed to satisfy new consumer needs. Most of the focus of this new technology is in bringing customers more digital and curated experiences, as well as decreasing company service costs through automation.

It’s easy to see the benefits of these 4 key customer service trends outlined below.

A multi-platform digital experience keeps impatient customers engaged

Recent technological developments are changing the face of the world around us, including customer demands and expectations. Always-on connectivity and increasingly complex and interactive touchpoints show that digital is at the core of…well, everything.

So how can companies leverage this digital disruption to better engage consumers?

A multitude of touch points are changing the way customers interact with companies and brands

A good place to start is ensuring all of your touchpoints are on point (pun intended). Websites are important. Akamai and found that almost half of web users are likely to abandon a site that doesn’t load within 3 seconds, and 79% of of those users won’t return to the site. Users no longer solely use a single device to browse a website to learn about a company. Computers, tablets, smart phones, watches and even car operated devices can all access the digital presence of a brand. Fortifying your website with responsive design and ensuring your product or service runs smoothly on multiple devices has become essential.

In another study, 90% of consumers claimed to have made deal-breaker decisions when using a mobile device to search for customer service information. When consumers are annoyed or frustrated with their digital experience they are one step (or click) away from aborting mission at all times. The cost of not delivering a polished experience in 2017 is therefore incredibly high.

Take Uber. Known for an awesome digital experience that focuses on ‘removing friction and offering transparency’. All of their online presence is tailored to the mobile experience, and integrates well across multiple channels. Customers seeking support submit their claim to an easy-to-navigate feedback section within the app and hear back within a few hours.

The Uber example of service is becoming more and more common and will soon simply be the table stakes for running a successful business.

A seamless customer journey, and better yet one that is tailored to the individual, is what companies are aiming for and what customers are coming to expect.

A custom(er) curated experience

In today’s digital environment brands and companies have the opportunity to collect more insights on consumer behaviour than ever before. In 2013, the total amount of digital data stored globally reached 4.4 zettabytes, equivalent to about 4.4 trillion gigabytes (aka a boat load of bytes). IDC predicts that by 2020, when 5.5 billion people will own mobile phones, that number will explode to 44 zettabytes or 44 trillion gigabytes (aka just heaps and heaps of data).

Increasingly sophisticated data collection methods are able to collect insights on consumer behaviour before, during and after an interaction with the company. But just collecting data isn’t enough. How do companies gather and use it in a meaningful way that translates to a more personalized and targeted customer experience?

Increasingly sophisticated data collection software drives today’s marketing efforts

In the past, data was mainly collected by cookies accumulated from browsing the web. Now, individuals sign onto accounts via various devices that connect with one another to send information back and forth. The data trail doesn’t end when a user closes their laptop, but collects all day as they use their phones and watches on the go. This incredible leap in data collection has given way to a new form of marketing: personalization marketing.

Personalization marketing is essentially a strategy where companies use data they acquire on prospects and customers to deliver custom messages and experiences. From personalized dynamic messages (such as greeting a user by their name upon signing in), to custom product recommendations, displaying an ad at just the right time, to even increasing form effectiveness, the use cases of such data in successful customer service is virtually limitless.

Personalized messages on their own can have a big impact on customer experience. Experian found that personalized marketing emails received 29% higher open rates and 41% higher click-through rates. Even something as simple as segmenting customers by business size can lead to a way more relevant advertising process.

Manually searching through individual users to create customer profiles is not a feasible time commitment for every company (if any company) which is why companies look to automate or outsource. Companies like Demand Base and Pretio provide the technology to effectively develop and act on these customer profiles.

Encouraging customers to provide feedback is another valuable way of gathering data about customer needs and wants. Setting up customer surveys and having your whole team participate in understanding the results (including your dev and engineer teams) can bring a better understanding of customer needs and wants to your company as a whole. Using tools that encourage and track customer feedback automatically can be a valuable to a company. Applications like Quibble and Benbria assist businesses in the retail, hospitality, and restaurant sectors by requesting customer feedback via multiple touchpoints. Pro-tip: Don’t forget to always provide customer incentives or rewards when asking for feedback.

Save time and cut costs with customer service automation

Automation is another trend that is becoming prominent in both small and large companies, where the greatest constraint on business is often time. When it comes to customer service, artificial intelligence (AI) can now take over the human function in assisting customers. This is a huge time and resource saver. While AI tools are still being developed and perfected, however, businesses can opt for Intelligent Assistants (IA) that assist and enhance your support team, rather than take over.

The future is here: artificial intelligence is proving a must-have for customer service support

Tools that assist with automation can be found almost everywhere. Whether you have an online storefront of physical presence, Shopify assists in automating payment processes. If you own a franchise or a multi-location business, tools like The Better Software Company can help you integrate functions such as email marketing, lead generation, opportunity management all in one place. Sprout Social and Hootsuite share and distribute content to your various channels without you needing to. There are a plethora of tools to be found that help automate and streamline slower practices.

Even the hospitality industry has identified technology that helps automate and streamline processes that were once considered inherently human. CRM tools react to guest habits, messaging apps optimize communication with guests, and though 25% of hotels still use pen and paper to manage their properties, most are using software and tools dedicated to guest management.

Automation is especially popular when it comes to customer support. Chatbots are utilized as customer support software programs that include AI components to interact with people over messaging apps. The recent rise of AI technology is bringing chatbots to a new level of 90% accuracy when it comes to understanding human requests. Chatbots are also often programmed to recognize when a customer is confused or becoming frustrated and seamlessly hand off the conversation to a customer support representative.

These trends and tools are shaping the future of customer service, and can be employed to give your business a competitive edge, and provide a more appreciated experience for customers.

Consumers still want the option of choosing human over a digital capability

While alternative customer support channels like chatbots, social media customer care, support tickets, in-app self-service, etc, are becoming more norm than exception, it is unlikely that phones will ever be completely replaced as a means of connecting with a company. In 2016, Accenture found that 73% of consumers will choose a human over a digital capability when seeking advice or looking to resolve a service issue or complaint.

73% of consumers will choose a human over a digital capability when seeking advice or looking to resolve a service issue

Reporting cases via tickets and email is popular, but there is an ever growing demand for live chat with real humans. Like tickets and support emails, live chat provides a very low friction way to interact with agents, but adds real-time human touch into the equation. Real-time chats can also start and close cases in one touch, resulting in a lesser overall time requirement per satisfied customer. Talkative Web-calling offers a customizable widget that can be integrated into a website or mobile app, and allow customers to call a customer service representative right from their browser without having to reach for a separate device.

Some companies have even gone a step further by introducing live real-time video chats where written text just isn’t cutting it. Mumbai based IndusInd Bank acknowledged the need for extra human touch when it comes to making financial decisions and launched video branch, a service that provides video conferencing with branch managers.

Another company that opted for this human touch is Amazon Mayday, which connects Kindle Fire HDX users to customer service teams via webcam. Live chats lead to shorter conflict resolution times, thereby positively influencing customer loyalty and retention.

While there are plenty of new developments and signs of progress around customer service technologies, what remains a fundamental aspect of customer service is largely human and can’t be automated. Being listened to, valued and respected as a customer are what drive the “feel good” relationship between customer and service.

Invest in both digital and traditional customer service strategies to surpass competition

So what’s the best way for brands to build their consumer facing strategies in 2017? It’s clear that creating a polished digital experience is a must. Finding ways to automate processes and collect user data in a meaningful way for personalized customer out reach is also crucial.

One aspect of traditional customer service still remains important, however. Accenture found that 77% of US consumers still prefer dealing with human beings for advice, and of customers that left companies, 83% said that live or in-person customer service would have impacted their decision.

Despite the obvious advantages to adopting new technology, what remains a fundamental aspect of customer service is largely human and can’t be automated. Being listened to, valued and respected as a customer are what drive the “feel good” relationship between a customer and service.

To truly capture and retain the attention and interest of millennial consumers, companies and brands need to adopt a mix of the strategies outlined in this article.

A polished digital experience, seamless touchpoint integration, custom curated content, easy to use support and feedback channels, automation tools, all while maintaining at least some form of human interaction may just prove a golden ticket to a successful customer service strategy for 2017 and the near future.

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