In my last blog post, "Retailers Beware, 43% of US Online Shoppers Will Abandon Online Purchases If You Don't Give Them Immediate Answers To Their Questions", I noted the trending directions being taken by retailers to meet the challenges of delivering impeccable customer service and to lower the costs for customer service that hadn't been good in the past. In the report, 40% of the retailer respondents said "improving the customer experience" was their #1 customer service goal; another 40% of the respondents said it was their second most important goal. Here are some of the trends identified in Forrester's Navigating The Future Of Customer Service:
Trend 1: Customers expect to receive efficient, effortless, personalized service.
Trend 2: Good service is hard to deliver. While customer service is one of the most important, it's also most difficult to navigate because technology is becoming more complex.
Trend 3: Changes in channel preferences are taking place. Customers expect to use a broad variety of communication channels to interact with a company (including self-service, voice, digital, and social).
New methods of customer service communication include click-to-call, online forums, community with other customers, screen sharing, sending mobile/SMS messages to the company requesting assistance, and contacting a company using Twitter.
Trend 4: Mobile solutions are a must. Last winter more than one-third of US online adults owned a smartphone, which they used for information, research, commerce, and service. Customers will demand greater ability to interact with customer service organizations via mobile devices. They will also demand multimodal capabilities — such as reading an FAQ while speaking with a customer service agent.
Trend 5: Customers expect service to be consistent and agile. Customers expect consistent service experiences at mobile, websites, kiosks, and in-store; and agility in being able to start an interaction in one communication channel or touchpoint and complete it in another. For example, a customer should be able to start an interaction over the phone and follow up with an email containing more detailed information, then walk into a store to complete the interaction.
Trend 6: Outbound communication from retailers should be proactive. In the old days, i.e. today, proactive outbound communications serve to notify customers of key events of interest to them such as flight schedule changes, bank balance changes or the availability of a new bill to be paid. Now organizations will continue to adopt proactive outbound communications and rely on vendor expertise in specific verticals to help personalize service.
Trend 7: Voice of the customer is important. It's critical for a company to receive feedback about its products, services, and organizational processes so that it can optimize the customer service experience. This can be done via traditional channels like surveys and by social listening.
Trend 8: Customer service is moving from cost center to competitive differentiator. Companies will continue to slowly move away from treating their customer service operations solely as very costly cost centers.
Trend 9: Customer interactions will be more personalized. Customer service agents must have access to a customer’s profile, current situation, and prior purchase and interaction history in order to deliver personalized service. This information also allows the agent to quickly add value during a new interaction.
Trend 10: Knowing the answers is the key to customer service. 67% of consumers use web self-service to find answers to their questions. Agents will use knowledge management to provide standardized answers to efficiently answer customer inquiries.
Trend 11: Next best action solutions and targeted offers will be used. Customer service organizations will continue to investigate methods to recommend agent next best actions during the service resolution process as well as to offer service tailored to the customer’s unique needs and past purchase history.
Trend 12: Sophisticated rules-based predictive analytics become important in decision-making. This is what we have in pricing intelligence solutions as well as in customer service anticipation.
Trend 13: SaaS solutions for customer service are becoming more popular. Whether for customer service or competitive pricing intelligence, the main benefits of SaaS include increased business agility and speed of deployment. Customer service organizations will continue to mature their skills that address emerging needs around SaaS and cloud initiatives.
Trend 14: Expect outsourcing to gain market share. Outsourcing via both global outsourcers and newer boutique firms will slowly gain market share as each outsourcing model finds its niche.
Trend 15: Analytics improve end-to-end customer experiences. Customer communication channels and touchpoints are often managed by different functional organizations within a company. Measurement through analytics is critical in any endeavor, customer service or competitive pricing intelligence.
Bottom Line For A Retailer's Bottom Line:
Cloud computing, analytics, and social media all provide new opportunities for better, more cost-effective customer service. Customer service organizations are moving toward more holistic measurement programs for communication channels and touchpoints. Customer service analytics will better understand customer journeys, gain insights from customer behavior; pinpoint areas of customer pain such as tracking, understanding (and avoiding) escalations from a mobile self-service session to an agent-assisted call. The goal is for stronger bottom lines based on costs saved and success with customer satisfaction.