Businesses (indeed, entire industries) around the globe have experienced customer behaviour and market shifts at a near-continuous pace over the past year. As customers continue to increase time spent online and adapt to digital transformation, their expectations of online interactions with brands are shifting, too. 

In our most recent State of the Connected Customer report, Salesforce found that 66% of customers say that they are now online more often than not. This is a trend we expect will continue beyond the pandemic. 

How can businesses pivot and adapt to changing customer behaviours at this pace while keeping excellence top of mind? While the strategy for your business will be as unique as the business itself, the broad strokes answer is personalisation and service experience. These are two valuable avenues by which you can differentiate your business from the competition. 

In this article, we’ll explore what service excellence means to consumers today, and provide insights on delivery. 

 

Creating customer service excellence

It probably comes as no surprise that 91% of customers globally agree that a positive customer experience makes them more likely to make a subsequent purchase. What is new, however, is that more than half of global customers (58%) also report an increase in their standards over the last year. 

In a time when change has become the new normal, not only are customers demanding more channels to engage with businesses, their general expectations of customer service expectations are rising. So, in a time when consumers are demanding more and better, what makes for great customer service experiences

Personalisation, seamless engagement across departments (and channels), speed, and convenience make the must-have list. Of course, business leaders and strategists understand that consistently delivering service excellence is no simple feat. Companies, both those in the business-to-consumer and business-to-business spaces, are falling short of customer expectations. 

In B2B relationships, sales reps are struggling as their customers believe that their priorities are pushing products over solutions, without an understanding of customers’ unique circumstances. 

In fact, there is a significant gap between expectation and reality, with 85% of business buyers expecting sales reps to demonstrate a firm understanding of their business, but 57% saying sales reps often lack adequate knowledge. B2B companies have considerable work to do to support their teams to meet and exceed heightened expectations. 

Meanwhile, in B2C, even larger gaps exist between customer expectations and their perceived reality. As customers struggle through uncharted and evolving circumstances, they expect the businesses they deal with to take account of that reality in their engagements. 

Customers expect to be met with an understanding of their unique needs and expectations (66%) and for brands to demonstrate empathy (68%). However, the reality perceived by customers presents an opportunity for vast improvement, with only 34% of customers believing they are treated as unique individuals and 37% of customers saying that brands generally demonstrate empathy.

 

The demand for personalisation is pervasive

We’ve seen the expectation of personalisation rise in recent years now, customers have begun to take it as a given. More than half (52%) of customers expect personalised offers, up 3% from the previous year. This is even more important for customers in Belgium, 66% of whom expect personalised products and services.

Demonstrating an understanding of your customers’ unique needs, and doing so in an empathetic way, must go beyond the one-to-one interactions between customers and your team. Increasingly, customers are making more of the things they can do within a CRM

By way of a simple example, let’s say you have a car dealership. Your customer has lost their job, and your business knows this — at least, one facet of it does because the finance department reached out and learned about this job loss when the customer missed a car payment. 

With a holistic view of your customer and empathy for their situation, your marketing department would be sure to avoid any outbound sales offers for upgrading their vehicle to a newer (more expensive) model. 

This kind of integrated view can be supported by artificial intelligence, but that in turn presents another conundrum for businesses. Ideally, employees will be supported in making good decisions and personalising the customer experience using AI, while protecting and retaining that high-touch service customers have come to expect.

 

Convenience remains king

As organisations shift to digital business models, even the most established brands can falter if they fail to deliver the kind of digital convenience customers expect.

Customers in Belgium are using all kinds of channels to interact with brands. Voice assistants and video chat are least utilised of the 13 channels in our Connected Customers survey, with 16% and 19% of customers using them, respectively. 

Used by 51% of customers, social media is an important channel but by no means the preferred method of communication; email (97%), phone (84%), and in-person (73%) are most popular among customers from Belgium. 

Still, you would not leave those 51% of social users unattended, nor would you ignore the 59% who are looking for chat support. 

Being present and responsive in each channel is key.

Alongside established channels, consumers are increasingly experimenting with emerging ways to simplify their interactions — such as contactless buying

In a time of physical distancing and virtual engagements becoming the norm for one-to-one connection, the ongoing pandemic is certainly contributing to this trend and fully 83% of customers now expect flexible shipping and fulfilment options. 

They’re looking for options to buy online and pick up in-store (BOPIS), have all kinds of products delivered, conduct appointments virtually, and make use of self-service options (such as those popularised by retail banks) whenever possible.

If your business hasn’t evolved to offer digital and self-service options to your customer base, you could be missing out on incredible opportunities to connect driven by customers’ desire for convenience in a complicated time. 

 

Conclusion

Your customers are craving personalised and empathetic engagements. They understand the importance of data and insights and they expect it to be put to work for their benefit. 

What’s more, customers’ expectations of a service standard have increased, and they believe that the majority of businesses are simply failing to meet the mark. 

This disparity between expectation and reality presents an incredible opportunity for businesses to evolve and deliver service excellence. Incredible experiences are created by meeting and exceeding the unique needs and wants of your customers. This is the most compelling opportunity right now to differentiate your brand. 

Businesses that leverage data and insights on consumer behaviour to re-strategise for the new normal, putting digital at the forefront of their thinking, will be the ones that more than survive will in fact thrive. 

Are you up for the challenge?  

Read our complete State of the Connected Customer Report.