10 customer service trends to watch for in 2016

It's easy when being asked about trends to talk about innovative technology and features you know will make a splash – but instead we wanted to focus on what we see the thought leaders of the customer service industry concentrating on.

With customer service and customer experience beginning to overtake price and product as brand differentiators, now is the time to really empower and embrace the age of the customer…

  1. Mobile

    The integration of mobile technology into the overall experience equation for business will have a significant impact.

    Mobiles has been viewed and built into many companies as its own silo. When merged to be a part of the customer engagement solution across channels, across touch-points, it will bring a way for companies to be both proactive and responsive in delivering the "one-company" customer experiences. It would be proactive for organisations to merge mobile information and usage with operational data to enable them to reach out before customers reach out to them, to build brand stickiness and to rescue customers at risk.

  1. Talent

    Leaders of organisations who are serious about service are going to start focusing on developing talent plans for service and support, looking at:

    • Understanding the shortcomings of the current service workforce
    • Identifying training strategies and told to better support the current workforce
    • Developing the knowledge strategies to retain the insight and information of the top performing workforce
    • Building recruitment and training plans to develop the next service workforce

    The demands for service and support continue to increase. Most organisations see the strain on their current service resources as businesses continue to diversify and expand to uncover new revenue streams. In addition to ensuring coverage for service requests, organisations would also like to differentiate via the service experience that is delivered, which is substantially impacted by talent.

  1. Journey Mapping

    The customer journey map.

    Why? Because you can't transform something you don't understand. Journey maps, when designed and use properly, help the entire organisation understand what customers are going through as they interact with your organisation. You can't improve customer service if you don't know where things are going well and where they are breaking down.

    One of the key learnings as a result of mapping the journey customers take when trying to contact or interact with service or support reps is that the customer service department is not the only department involved in a service interaction. When we can identify ownership of steps along the journey, we learn that other departments are also integral to customer service interaction. We need to get to that level of detail in order to design a better experience.

  1. Focus on Customers

    Keeping it simple for customers is critical. We all know the customer is the focus. When, and if, we lose sight of that is when the problems start. Keep your eye on the customer. Keep it simple. Keep it fair.

  1. Social Media

    Customer service will see increased demand and growth in digital channels, especially via social media and self-service via mobile apps.

    Mobile continues to evolve and improve in so many ways. Bandwidth is getting larger, smart phones are getting bigger, and tablets continue to outpace laptops in innovation and execution. With the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable devices, the demand and growth becomes nearly undeniable. Customers increasingly want support to be on-demand. Social media networks provide that asynchronous support with a human touch, while self-help apps and forums provide information on the go.

    Organisations need to embrace the idea that customer service is not a cost centre, but a profit centre. In most cases, it is cheaper to retain a customer by providing excellent customer support when needed than to acquire once with traditional marketing.

  1. Self-Service

    The trend towards self-service solutions is gaining in popularity. The phone may still be the number one way customers interact with the companies they do business with, but self-service is still strongly trending. This can be in the form of something as simple as a "frequently asked question" page on a website.  

    One of the best self-service solutions is video. Simple "how to" videos on YouTube or on a company's website can be like having the customer support rep personally helping you at the pace that's convenient to you.

    People want information quickly – if you have to go to a company's website to look up a contact number, you may as well look around and see if there is a self-service solution offered. And the millennial generation seems to be into the self-service option more than others, and that is a big part of our customer population.

  1. Internet of things

    The ability to bring the Internet of Things in to the forefront of customer service engagement and issue resolution.

    Today, many of the leading brands are good at providing rich knowledge answers through the self service options, which creates more effortless experiences for customers. As the Internet of Things becomes part of the mainstream customer service reality and many of the issues that require proactive service today will be eliminated, with the ability to provide predictive service and empower brands to take pre-emptive action.

    It will also give brands the opportunity to engage with their customers in a more personalised way with useful insights based on awareness, patterns, and trends.

  1. Convenience

    Customers want what they want, when they want it. Smart companies are demonstrating there is the monumental business model shift in empowering customers with more control over their services, and with the timely and always-accessible customer service to support it. Web and mobiles apps and front line staff must be ready.

    The bar for customer service expectations continues to rise, so providing service that saves time and is easy to use is exactly what people want – but not all companies are leveraging this today.

  1. Knowledge

    The availability and accessibility of knowledge, both internally and externally, is vital.

    Many brands and organisations are jumping ahead and making big investments in items such as personalisation and customised customer journeys before they get the basics right… but this is like building a house on the sand. If you don't have a solid service foundation, the beautiful front door and the foyer painted in the customer's favourite colour won't keep the customer relationship standing for long.

    A recent Economist Intelligence Unit report supports this theory. In a survey of more than 2000 global consumers, when asked which parts were more important in an ideal customer experience, respondents listed fast response to enquiries or complaints (47%) as their top choice, with personalisation (12%), relationship building (10%) and customised offers based on preferences (7%) all landing near the bottom. The availability and accessibility of knowledge matters.

  1. Customer Engagement

    Companies will need to evolve from customer service to customer engagement – and learn how to change during that very experience.

    Imagine a barman asking you, as a first time customer, what kind of gin would you like for your martini and then, remembering you, making it exactly as you like it every time thereafter, asking first if you would like the same or try another brand. To be that focused on each customer's preferences, companies will need to rely on technology to store that information and to have it readily accessible for everyone in the company who interacts with the customer for subsequent interactions. Only then will the customer truly be served and remain loyal.

    Not only will the experience have to be engaging, it has to be personalised too. A company could have thousands of customers being served by hundreds of employees. But no one customer cares about the other customers. All he cares about is himself. And when he is speaking with one employee, he is asking "Does this employee care about me?" – you have to take the time to make your customers feel important.

Driving forward

If you're interested in how Microsoft Dynamics CRM can help you deliver intelligent customer service, get in touch with Technology Management today.

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