In recent years, we’ve seen a major shift in brands’ approaches to customer service delivery and contact center performance management. With market realities closing in, more and more brand leaders are having serious discussions about how to define, prioritize, and deliver service excellence in the face of unrelenting consumer demands.
What will brands’ biggest concerns be in 2018? How will emerging and growing trends change the customer service equation?
Below, we’ll share our predictions and explain what customer service and contact center leaders must factor into their plans.
1. More Companies Will Make Customer Service a Strategic Priority
“Assume that customers won’t give you a second chance. One strike and you’re out. Customers know what good service is, and they expect the companies they do business with to deliver it.”
In the eyes of consumers, the gap between excellent customer service providers and everyone else continues to widen. This puts brands at increasing risk of losing customers after a single lackluster service experience. With the likes of Brooklinen, Jet, Warby Parker, and other industry disruptors making customer service their lead differentiator, more legacy brands will look to emulate that model.
How brands should respond
If you want to make customer service your primary loyalty builder and revenue driver, you can’t rely solely on internal definitions and measures of service quality. You must continuously gauge customer sentiment to ensure you’re delivering exactly what customers expect, and you must actively manage front-line performance using that same feedback.
According to a 2009 Booz & Company report, customer feedback is “one of the largest untapped resources for companies”—a veritable gold mine of business intelligence. Nearly a decade later, few brands have moved to capture that value. By virtue of their exceptionally high response rates, front-line VoC data programs can be used to inform core business functions, from product development to marketing to operations. By making customer service a “cross-functional hub,” you’ll align the entire organization with your customers’ interests.
2. Growth in Self-Service Technologies Will Increase Demands on Customer Service Teams
In 2018, self-service tools will continue to change the way consumers interact with brands. As companies increase their investment in self-service offerings and further empower customers to solve their own problems, customer service contacts will become increasingly complex. Frustrated customers, or customers who want to connect with someone who can help with purchase decisions, will consume more of agents’ time on the front line.
“I think chatbots will really help to improve self service, but then the thing that people aren’t talking about is what then happens after a chatbot isn’t able to solve an issue – that then will get escalated to a CS rep who now has a much more difficult question to take on. So, I believe people will double-down on tools that help their support teams understand the context of what is happening better and allow them to scale the human touch.”
–Derek Homann, Co-Founder, Median
How brands should respond
It’s time to update your performance management program to reflect the changing role of the contact center. Tailored, in-the-moment micro-coaching, for example, is by far the most effective way to improve individual agents’ service performance; VoC-powered QA programs allow contact center leaders to instantly identify and address individual and collective performance issues. (We describe how the process works in our recent eBook, “Doing Contact Center QA the Right Way.”)
Regardless of how your performance management program is structured, every coaching, QA, and customer service training session should advance the goal of creating brand, policy, and product experts (aka “brand superheroes”) with the authority and confidence to resolve any customer issue.
“Instead of the traditional tiered approach where simple questions were answered quickly and the more difficult questions were passed on to the experts, many contact centers are following the example of hotel concierges by giving agents the power to follow any question through from start to finish. The concierge approach . . . is a better fit for more complicated, high-touch customer questions, like what most contact centers are receiving these days.”
3. Consumer Expectations for Omnichannel Will Soar
A recent study about the shopping habits of 46,000 customers of a major U.S. retailer showed that from 2015-2016, just 7% of the brand’s customers shopped exclusively online and 20% shopped exclusively in store. The other 73% took advantage of omnichannel offerings such as digital apps, interactive catalogs, click and collect, and/or in-store purchases with home delivery.
Omnichannel offerings such as buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) and buy online return in store (BORIS) are here to stay. Consumers want a seamless omnichannel experience across all touchpoints and, based on their experiences with leading omnichannel retailers, they expect nothing less.
How brands should respond
“I think most businesses know that they’ve got to offer multiple channels with which customers can interact with them. But far fewer have mastered how to make the entire channel ecosystem experience effective; they haven’t made it a priority to integrate the experience across all those channels.”
A 2017 report from Retail Systems Research suggests many brands are still struggling to meet consumers’ omnichannel demands. The report also identifies several best practices that distinguish omnichannel leaders: stronger supply chain partnerships, cultural alignment, and greater brand awareness across all channels.
All of these practices are important, but everything hinges on awareness. Brands need a more integrated stack for a single view of the customer and a real-time view of product inventory. Call center agents need to be trained and have access beyond the ecommerce side: the specifics of click and collect and BORIS, omnichannel policies, and other unique features of the omnichannel buying journey. And the omnichannel experience must be measured regularly so brand leaders don’t overlook or unknowingly introduce friction in the customer journey.
4. Fragmentation Across Customer Service Channels Will Accelerate
Several years ago, a big topic of conversation among customer service leaders was the movement from email to chat. This transition is continuing apace, with social media channels becoming an increasingly important part of the mix. Meanwhile, for many of our clients, phone remains the highest-volume channel. Consumers now expect to see all options on the table, forcing brands to become even more nimble and flexible in terms of the service channels they provide.
How brands should respond
With an expanding menu of service channels and limited resources, contact center leaders must focus on improving efficiency on the front line—not just in terms of customer wait times, first-call resolution, and related service quality measures, but also in terms of performance management. Coaching and training must be delivered strategically to drive progress among the greatest number of agents and ensure all agents realize their full potential.
You might also need to reconsider how your digital customer service channels are managed. According a 2016 contact center benchmarking report, the “lack of clarity around who ‘owns’ digital channels” is negatively impacting customer service performance. Should social media channels be managed by marketing teams, or by customer service teams? How might they share that responsibility? In 2018, these structural nuances will need to be addressed.
“Simply put, Swim Lanes are documented definition of departmental responsibility based on the content of a social media conversation and/or post. For instance, individuals needing help to get information about their billing balance might be in the Swim Lane of the Customer Care team, whereas individuals interested in learning about a new product might fall within the Marketing Swim Lane. [ . . . ] What’s important is that all parties involved have a hand in developing and approving the operating document. This ensures optimal buy-in and reduces the likelihood that a specific communication . . . gets missed.”
–Execs in the Know, “Social Customer Care Guide: Corporate Strategies for Operational Readiness”
The Bottom Line for Customer Service and Performance Management in 2018: Let Your Customers Be Your Guide
What is your brand’s customer service ideal? How are you managing performance in the contact center? How are you measuring success?
If customer feedback from the front line doesn’t factor into your customer service standards or call center operations, you’re likely relying on faulty assumptions about what should happen, and what’s really happening, on the front line. That’s a big risk to take in 2018.