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Connected customers are upending traditional approaches to service operations. At its core, this shift can be attributed to the powerful omni-channel communication device every customer now carries in her pocket — a mobile phone. Always-on connectivity has redefined customers’ expectations of the companies they do business with, causing major disruption to decades-old service strategies and consequently the roles and expectations of customer service agents, teams, and their resources. Customers want to feel immediately understood, individually valued, and consistently recognized no matter the channel of engagement. What’s more, customers are holding companies accountable to these elevated standards, thereby elevating customer experience as the key competitive differentiator.

Previously, customer service was often seen as a costly, reactionary cost center — but now it’s increasingly viewed as a way to proactively engage customers, to not only meet but exceed their expectations, and to create loyalty that fuels revenue. This ignites an unprecedented opportunity for service teams to take a leading role in their businesses.

Based on trends from the second annual “State of Service” report, here are three big customer service strategies teams will want to focus on in 2018 to revolutionize customer experience across every channel.

 

1. Ramping up the use of artificial intelligence in customer service

Customer service organizations will adopt artificial intelligence (AI) on a grand scale in 2018 in order to connect with customers in new ways. Rather than replacing human contact, however, service organizations will look for ways to enhance agent and customer experiences by supplementing interactions with intelligence. They may, for instance, use machine learning to analyze incoming customer case issues so as to understand what their customers are asking, predict the solutions that are needed, and triage cases to the right agents to accelerate case resolution. Already, 77% of top service teams are excelling at delivering intelligent service — a rate that’s 2.2x higher than their underperforming peers.

Most notably, cutting-edge teams are paving the way by developing real-time conversational intelligence, which can leverage behavioral signals during conversations to gain customer empathy and build rapport. Paired with natural language processing (NLP), service teams can seize these technological breakthroughs to build customer service chatbots deeply connected to customer data and existing business process. For example, chatbots can deflect common or routine issues allowing human agents to focus on more complex issues that require emotional intelligence — something a machine cannot yet master. This pivot toward intelligent service will drive scale and productivity while boosting both agent and customer experiences, so expect much more in the coming year.

 

2. Expanding service coverage on rising digital channels

We usually think of millennials being glued to their phones and demanding online services, but mobile-first and omni-channel expectations bridge the generational divide; everyone wants service that’s both instantaneous and ubiquitous. In this reality, relying solely on telephone calls and email is not going to cut it anymore.

Already, more than half of teams extensively leverage five or more service channels, reflecting massive adoption trends over the past several years. For example, from 2015 to 2016, there was a 196% jump in service teams’ use of mobile apps. Other rising support channels such as mobile video support, live chat, customer portals, knowledge bases, text/SMS, messaging apps, and social platforms let service organizations connect with their customers on their everyday devices and channels. Done correctly, companies can create seamless, low-effort experience for every single one of these connection points. Additionally, self-service outlets will take a greater share of inquiries as customers seek quick answers on their own, and service organizations seek to create greater efficiency.

The Internet of Things (IoT) will create even more opportunities to connect with customers and deliver proactive service due to the massive amounts of streaming product and device data, building upon the 98% increase in its use from 2015 to 2016. The proliferation of connected devices and the volume of data they produce — such as product usage trends, diagnostic information, and contextual location data — will only further transform how service organizations operate in 2018.

 

3. Investing in and empowering service agents

While customers want service that’s personalized, omni-channel, and mobile, the reality is that many teams still struggle to meet these expectations, and the culprit is often their ability to properly equip agents for new and ever-changing standards. Case in point, 41% of service teams cite a lack of agent training as an inhibitor to providing personalized service. Top service teams are empowered not only with the right technology and tools at their disposal — they’re set up for success with training. While 71% of service professionals use coaching and training tools to enhance their teams, not all teams feel that they receive an adequate amount of training to best perform their jobs and make customers happy: only 48% of underperforming teams say they have the right amount of training to do their job, versus 90% of top teams.

In 2018, service leaders will increasingly recognize the importance of education and empowerment of all employees (including agents, managers, and field technicians, among others) in driving customer success. As a result, we’ll see increased investment in service organizations’ most important resource: people. In fact, 66% of teams expect increased service budgets over the next two years. Companies will also recognize that technology and tools alone can’t truly empower agents; soft skills that foster deep customer relationships are indispensable. Learned skills like active listening, confidence, empathy and attentiveness that let agents go off script to create better customer experiences will see a big boost. Metrics that track such educational efforts (for example, agent impact on net promoter score, which saw a 100% increase from 2015-2016) will gain continued popularity in 2018 as teams increasingly look inward.

The customer service sea change is already in full swing. By fine-tuning your service approach to focus on one, two, or all three of these strategies, you’ll be a step closer to delivering the standout service that customers want in 2018 and beyond.

Interested in delivering smarter, more personalized support anywhere across the platform with Service Cloud? Watch the demo video for a quick overview.