MyCustomer.com spoke with a panel of experts to nominate their key customer service priorities for the coming year.
Recent studies have painted a gloomy picture of customer service. A new YouGov survey, for instance, indicates that most UK homeowners think that service is failing to improve, with two-thirds of respondents indicating it had stayed the same or worsened in the last three years.
So it’s little wonder that while 2012 is shaping up to be another financially challenging year for organisations, they are being warned against targeting their service budgets for cuts.
Amid warnings of a second recession, businesses face a tough period of trading as consumers continue to tighten their belts and shop around more for the best deals, and service remains a critical market differentiator in this competitive climate.
“We’ve cut all the costs out already, so how are we going to differentiate ourselves? The only way to differentiate yourself in the marketplace is through service and experience,” emphasises Jo Causon, CEO of The Institute of Customer Service. “And there are a growing number of organisations that understand that.”
So if service is going to be a key battleground during a turbulent 2012, what service trends in particular should brands be focusing on? MyCustomer.com asked a panel of service experts for their thoughts on how businesses and service departments can prepare themselves for the coming year.
Video will become a mainstream customer service channel
“The massive popularity of online video sites such as YouTube (with over 30 million UK users), is driving the use of video content to support customer service operations – either through dedicated ‘how to’ videos that extend the power of self-service channels, the integration of QR codes into websites, or through direct agent-to-customer video interactions to help streamline problem resolution,” says Stuart Dorman, head of consultancy practice at Sabio
“A good example of such a new-style video-enabled customer service solution is Kiddicare.com’s new mobile app that allows in-store shoppers to scan a product’s barcode for competitive prices, stock availability details and video demonstrations. Customers can view videos and, if they want to buy, order through their app and arrange delivery. It’s an impressive solution that contributed towards Kiddicare winning the ‘Best Use of Technology’ at the recent European Call Centre Awards. I expect more organisations to be putting video to work to support their customer service operations during 2012.”
Customer service can no longer work in a silo
“Sound customer engagement strategies are no longer about service alone, and are certainly not about reactive support. Siloed customer relationship solutions won’t cut it in 2012 - it’s now about demonstrating the profitability of delivering relevant experiences to customers, as opposed to simply extracting data from them,” says Dennis Fois, sales director, UK and Northern Europe, at eGain
“Sales and marketing initiatives will start working in closer conjunction with customer service to remain competitive. Timing and customer knowledge is everything in order to not ‘turn off’ today’s empowered customers with sales and marketing offers. It’s obvious really, without good customer service experiences as standard, relevant and timely opportunities to extend the relationship with the customer won’t come along, and selling in any other way means they’re more likely to go elsewhere. The consolidation has started of course, but this year we’ve already seen more and more organisations striving for consistent and joined-up customer experiences, across all departments and touchpoints.”
More organisations will take stock of their multi-channel customer service strategies
“For the last few years there has been a lot of talk about channel shift, as more organisations move their customer service operations to online channels,” says Helen Rutherford, director at 2e2.
“The benefits of this are that it is both more convenient for the customer and cheaper for the service provider. However, in some cases there is a danger that the pendulum is moving too far in this direction. As a result, in 2012 we’ll likely see more organisations take stock of their multi-channel customer service strategies.
“Nothing can replace human interaction (whether it be face-to-face or on the phone) when it comes to resolving customer issues quickly, as online channels such as email and IM can sometimes lead to misunderstandings which in turn extend the time taken to deal with customer enquiries.
“The key for organisations in 2012 will be ensuring that they apply the right channel for the right need at the right time. For example, in this day and age filling out an online form and then waiting up to 10 days for a response is unacceptable. This means organisations need to clearly advertise how to contact them for different products and services. They must also make it as easy as possible for a customer to get through to an actual person in real-time (whether it be on the phone or IM) if they really need to contact someone urgently with a query.”
Brands must acknowledge customer expectations of social service
Lithium recently surveyed 120+ marketers and 1,300+ consumers globally as part of a research project with the Chief Marketing Officer Council and found there was a clear digital divide between businesses and what consumers expect of brand service on social media.
“The majority of consumers expect answers within 24 hours; only 12% are willing to wait days for resolution of support issues; and 19% are looking for resolution within hours,” says Katy Keim, chief marketing officer of Lithium
. “Unfortunately, social service is not high on the list of priorities for marketers still looking to solidify their social strategy. In fact, only 4% of marketing respondents are leveraging social media to provide faster handling and better customer care.
“2012 will be the year savvy businesses recognise that a gap exists between consumers’ expectations and their customer service through social media. We are leaving the experimentation phase of social and most brands now recognise the benefits of using the social media and we will see greater investment in creating customer experiences via the social web this year. Brands who provide their social customers with engaging online experiences, meaningful interactions with one another, and rewards for doing so will clearly gain a decisive competitive advantage in 2012.”
The contact centre should be at the heart of your corporate social networking
“Organisations increasingly need to be ready for their customers to connect with them anytime and from anywhere, and with sites such as Facebook (37 million plus UK adult users) and Twitter (15 million UK adult users), social networks will become a critical channel for consumers to talk about the service they’re receiving and interact with organisations,” says Stuart Dorman, head of consultancy practice at Sabio
“As the primary customer interaction channel, contact centres clearly need to be right at the heart of any successful social networking approach. The time for ‘dipping your toe’ in social media has now passed: instead companies should be monitoring relevant social media channels, leveraging them as powerful self-service knowledge bases, and moving towards being able to engage their customers in real time on key networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Inevitably this will demand equipping agents with the tools and skills necessary to take their customer service skills into the social networking space.”
The mobile workforce will meet mobile consumers on their turf
“Customers and employees continue to do more and more on mobile devices than ever before. In fact, the mobile revolution seems like an unstoppable force with more than 5.3 billion mobile subscribers worldwide (by the way, that’s 77% of the world’s population),” says Zack Urlocker, Zendesk
's chief operating officer.
“In 2012, the mobile consumer and the mobile workforce will rapidly converge. Officially sanctioned or not, many customer service employees will make use of their smart phones, iPads, and personal accounts like Twitter and Facebook to solve their customers problems because they can react more quickly and easily.