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Industry Leaders Highlight the 3 Trends in Customer Service You Need To Know Now

Workers don face masks in their office

Elevated customer expectations, a bump in digital investment, and a concentration on customer service as a career path are changing the industry forever. These Trailblazers are refusing to be left behind.

The fourth edition of our State of Service report reinforced that today’s customers face
new challenges and unique pressures, and their resulting expectations for service teams
are at an all-time high.

Service agents must employ new tactics and technologies to resolve increasingly
complex cases with hyper-focused, customer-tailored solutions. The rapid shift toward
digital service channels and hybrid workforces requires many teams to rethink their
service practices and adapt to the new ways of customer care.

In particular, we identified three trends that will shape customer service in 2021:

  • Changing customer service expectations require new strategies
  • Service teams scale support with digital investments
  • Customer service career paths come into focus

Insights from our Service Trailblazers

To explore what these trends mean for service team leaders and how they will shape
service priorities this year, we turned to these Salesforce Service Trailblazers to get their
feedback on the latest survey results and hear what changes they’re making at their

  • Julie ODonnell, customer success team lead at connectRN. ODonnell manages a high-energy team of service agents and optimizes their Salesforce implementation. She makes sure agents have everything they need to overcome challenges and provide exceptional service. 
  • Simon Walsh, chief operating officer, retail annuities at New York Life. Walsh and his team launched a new CRM platform that will support 300 banks and broker-dealers’ service and operations.
  • Christina Nava, senior Salesforce administrator at Nava’s team helps hundreds of K-12 school districts manage student safety on school-provided technology.  
  • Shonnah Hughes, global product growth and innovation evangelist at GetFeedback by SurveyMonkey. Hughes is passionate about tech equity, accessibility, equality, and customer experience.
  • Jeanette Jett, senior implementation specialist at Cloud Theory. Jett helps Salesforce customers optimize business processes and differentiate service. 

Service teams scale support with digital investments

As more customers adapted to remote work, online usage expanded across all aspects
of daily life, including customer service. Eighty-seven percent of service professionals
said customers have increased their use of digital channels during the pandemic – and it’s only going to increase.

Customers estimate that 60% of their interactions with companies during 2021 will
take place online — up from 42% in 2019, according to the Salesforce State of the Connected Customer report. Further, the shift to more remote-based work continues to impact technology needs, increasing the importance of integration and automation capabilities.

81% of service decision-makers say they are accelerating digital initiatives.

Salesforce State of Service, 4th Edition

It’s no surprise that 81% of service decision-makers say they are accelerating digital initiatives. Here are some of the digital initiatives service leaders are prioritizing for 2021:

Automate documentation workflows to support agent self-service

“I see two things in my role dealing with automation right now,” said ODonnell. “One is taking historical bits of automation and modernizing them. There’s also this whole piece of streamlining workflows, partly so that the next admin who comes along someday doesn’t have to wonder how everything is connected. We also started building out admin tools as screen flows so that people can just run them themselves. The best part is they don’t need a Salesforce admin to get in there for them.”

Integrate proprietary software for a 360 customer view

“One of my first big projects will be integrating our software with Salesforce because right now, all the reps must look at both screens when talking with customers,” said Nava. “We have to be in our software to see everything coming in, and then log into Salesforce and see who the contacts are and their history.”

Changing customer service expectations require new strategies

As customer service interactions swiftly moved to digital channels, customer experience expectations increased faster than some service teams’ abilities to meet the increased demands. Customers expect quick issue resolution. Eighty-three percent expect to interact with someone immediately when they contact a company, and 82% expect to solve complex problems by talking to one person.

However, internal processes, including extensive intake forms and multiscreen problem-solving prompts, can slow agents down and get in the way of a great customer experience. Less than one-third (29%) of service professionals said their organizations excel at response times, and even fewer give themselves top marks for handle times (26%), first-contact resolutions (22%), and hold/wait times (20%). 

Here’s how our Trailblazers are adapting to address these challenges.

Streamline internal processes to let agents focus on customer relationships, not data entry

While automation is often seen as a productivity boost for an organization, it’s also an employee engagement driver. Seventy-seven percent of agents said automating routine tasks (for example, updating payment methods or password resets) lets them focus on more complex work. 

“Customer service agents want to make their work more human-centric. They want to focus on the relationships they have with their customers, rather than clicking around through the knowledge base or typing in service screens,” said Jett. “One of the focuses for the next year is more scheduling process automation. By taking some of that burden off of agents, they can make sure they are giving customers the attention they need without having any impact on the rest of the job.”

77% of agents said automating routine tasks (for example, updating payment methods or password resets) lets them focus on more complex work.

Salesforce State of Service, 4th Edition

Turn service into a business builder instead of a cost center

“Service is not a cost center; it’s a business builder,” said Walsh. “As we increase our automation and capabilities, service agents can stop doing things like copying and pasting and paper-based administrative work. It allows them to become problem solvers. And if they’re problem solvers, they can build new skills, broaden potential career paths, and create business opportunities for the organization.”

Customer service career paths come into focus

Even with constant change in customer expectations and the need to quickly adapt to new technologies and processes, agents are thriving in their evolving, more strategic customer service roles. Seventy-seven percent of agents said their role is more strategic than two years ago; up from 71% in 2018. This underscores the increased importance organizations are placing on customer experience and the resulting customer service role.

77% of agents said their role is more strategic than two years ago, up from 71% in 2018.

Salesforce State of Service, 4th Edition

As the customer service agent role expands and companies invest in training, agents see a path for their careers to grow without looking outside the company. Sixty-seven percent of agents see a clear career path, up from 59% in 2018. 

Here’s how our Trailblazers are leading the way to transform and shape customer service career paths.

Invest in inclusive service training

“Customers who call in are often angry, upset, or having some type of difficulty,” said Hughes. “Organizations need to provide their agents not only with the skills to de-escalate and track that information in a system, but also to decompress and really digest the information they’ve received. Organizations also need to invest in empathy and unconscious bias training for their reps — personalized, individual training.”

Encourage ownership — not silos — as the organization grows

“I’ve always been a doer,” said ODonnell. “You fit in really well at a startup that way because startups need doers. There’s too much to get done for anybody not to be. As companies grow and silo people or start to strategize differently, they often fall into an old-school style of division. That’s when you start to lose that sense of championing and owning things. You can combat this by asking, ‘Who’s going to champion it?’ or ‘Who wants to be the champion and get it done?’. Then, you move forward because you feel like you own it, and you are empowered to do what you need to do to get there.”

What do you think will be an important customer service trend for 2021? Join the conversion on social using #StateofService.

Gain insight from our State of Service report

What do 7,000+ service professionals across 33 countries have to say about the strategic role of customer service today? Read the Salesforce “State of Service” report for an in-depth look at the findings.

All statistics cited in this post are from Salesforce State of Service, 4th Edition unless otherwise noted.

We invite you to dive into our Heart of Service series:

Allison Johnson Bryan Product Marketer

Allison is a product marketer and she leads Trailblazer Marketing for Service Cloud. When she’s not sharing inspiring stories, she’s focused on emerging industry and product trends. While away from work you can find Johnson Bryan spending time with her family in San Francisco.

More by Allison

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