How Technology is Changing Customer Service

In today’s business landscape, customers are more connected than ever. Technology has not only significantly changed consumers and business buyers’ expectations, it has made it easier than ever for them to take their business elsewhere, faster than you may realize.Customers are no longer willing to call a 1-800 customer service number and wait for the “next representative” to help them; they now expect to engage with companies across every channel of service and any device—anytime, anywhere.

A 2016 study found that only 17 per cent of Canadian consumers posted negative comments online, below the global average of 28 per cent. The lesson is clear: dissatisfied customers aren’t likely to let you know they’re leaving, they’ll just fade away and even take their business to a competitor if their needs are not met. Business leaders are now starting to see the customer experience as a key competitive differentiator, and believe that customer service is the primary vehicle for improving the experience.

While the impact of connected customer expectations are only beginning to unfold, customer service teams—if they’re agile enough—are uniquely positioned to meet the demand for speed, personalization, and proactivity.

Here are some effective ways that service teams are shifting to accommodate this new normal.

The untapped potential of customer service

There are no shortage of business functions that would claim to “lead” the customer experience. In my view, however, none are as as well suited as the customer service team. They have a unique 360-degree view of the organization’s impact on the customer. By the very nature of the role they are skilled diplomats, and are able to navigate between many internal departments to make improvements on behalf of customers.

In many ways, service is the voice of the customer—so it’s encouraging that forward-thinking service teams are aligning with sales to meet customer needs head-on.

According to the “Second Annual State of Service” report by Salesforce, which surveyed more than 2,600 customer service professionals worldwide, more than two-thirds (69 per cent) of Canadian service professionals say they proactively provide sales with intelligence on customer issues and needs. Additionally, three in four (68 per cent) believe they share common goals and metrics with marketing, and 70 per cent feel their organization’s marketing and service teams are empowered to collaborate.

Shift to mobile support well underway

Customer service teams are also moving beyond their “traditional” mandate, and breaking ground into new areas—building consistent cross-channel experiences and finding ways to strengthen customer relationships. In today’s highly competitive marketplace, service must be social, mobile, and accessible anytime, on any channel.

For example, cloud-based customer relationship management solutions can empower service teams to scale and combine with sales and marketing to deliver connected, faster, and smarter experience while providing a single view of the customer.

Connected customer expectations are also having a ripple effect on the number of channels that service agents are covering. Teams providing service via mobile apps grew in the past year, and well over half (58 per cent) of Canadian service professionals now provide mobile apps for service agents. Chatbot technology is also gaining traction, letting companies provide support on a 24/7/365 basis.

Reap the rewards of a performance-based culture

“Empowering agents” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in the customer service industry, but what does it really mean? In my opinion, it’s much easier for companies to adopt a culture of empowerment if there’s accountability and a data-driven set of processes that measure business results and outcomes aimed at delighting customers. And speed is the new currency in the digital service era.

An airline, for example, can arm its sales teams with information to help them proactively design the best possible packages for its commercial clients, to help “humanize” the company, build closer relationships with clients, and help give its sales teams the tools they need to succeed.

Taking a wider look at the results from the Salesforce “Second Annual State of Service” report, my biggest takeaway is that top teams are giving agents world-class technology and continuous training—both of which set them up to create a better customer experience. Globally, top service teams are 2.9 times more likely than underperformers to excel at promptly solving customer needs with the right information on the first touch.

It’s clear that service teams need systems of engagement, reporting, and intelligence to create transparency, accountability, recognition, and continuous improvements.

Proactivity has never been more important

Predictive intelligence is the foundation of proactive service—and it’s key to winning customer loyalty. Just over half of consumers (51 per cent) globally expect that, by 2020, companies will anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions before they initiate contact.

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence in the Age of the Consumer

The ability to address a customer’s issue before they’re even aware of a problem will be a game changer, and Internet of Things (IoT) service applications are nearly endless. For instance, if a service agent had IoT data coming from a customer’s water filtration system, they’d know if the water pressure was too high and could alert the customer before it caused a leak in their home.

Apart from the IoT potential, artificial intelligence (AI) is already helping companies provide smarter service. Rather than replace human contact, AI enhances the experience by adding human-like intelligence to interactions—for example, machine learning analyzes a caller’s word choice to understand emotions and recommends what an agent should say next.

According to the Second Annual State of Service report, high-performing global service teams are 3.9 times more likely than underperformers to agree that predictive intelligence will have a transformational impact on their customer service by 2020, 4.1 times more likely to expect a transformational impact from IoT/connected devices, and 2.2 times more likely to excel at leveraging AI.

It’s easy to take customer service teams for granted. But as they prepare to compete in an increasingly uncertain economic environment, Canadian business leaders would do well to re-examine the role they can play in the organization.

If they do, they may find a wealth of untapped potential and news way to build connections with customers.

Vala Afshar is chief digital evangelist for Salesforce.