Your six customer service priorities for 2012

MyCustomer.com
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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.  

About Neil Davey

ND2

Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.

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30th Jan 2012 11:10

I really liked the summary you have pulled together on the trends for 2012, i completely agree. There seems to be a lot about the changing nature of customer service and business. Forbes recently published there three trends that will change business (http://www.forbes.com/sites/maribellopez/2012/01/28/three-trends-that-change-business-mobile-social-and-cloud/?feed=rss_home) and highlighted that Mobile, Social and the Cloud will shape the future. 

Capgemini have also released their six trends that will shape the future of customer service in 2020 following a 'blue sky' thinking workshop with customer service directors (http://blogs.uk.capgemini.com/ceblog/2012/01/30/customer-service-directors-capgemini-consulting-take-a-look-at-customer-service-in-2020/)

Its interesting to see that all are pointing towards the same things - just across different time periods!  

-- Scott Sinclair

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By Rbacal
07th Feb 2012 14:04

 Ever notice people don't actually engage on social media, da way they 'sposed to? Like this article. ONE comment among over 5,000 reads. Same on almost all social platforms.

 

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16th Apr 2012 17:26

It is frightening to see that many organizations are not taking pride in customer service. I think it is necessary for all business services to implement all of the things that you suggested in your article in order to provide great service to their customers. I also think that many companies are not able to implement these things without help from an expert. Especially brands acknowleding customer expectations of social service. I hope to see more businesses reaching out to customers on all of the platforms you have listed.

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16th Apr 2012 17:39

I'd question whether engagement in social media is measured in 'number of comments made on an article'? I'd say 2 things in response to the above comment re. engagement: 

- Is mycustomer.com the right place to have the conversation? Or is the conversation about customer service priorities happening elsewhere (like twitter, facebook, forums) and therefore our comments are in the wrong place? 

- typically only 2-3% of community members 'contribute', therefore (whilst i agree that 2-3% of 5k haven't commented here), you could also argure that the above post has prompted conversation elsewhere and doesn't need anyone to comment here

-- Scott Sinclair

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17th Apr 2012 09:16

Thanks for your comments! Some v good thoughts, Scott.

Researcher Jakob Nielsen refers to a Participation Inequality - that in online communities some people actively contribute more than others. He suggests it breaks down as follows:

90% of users are lurkers - they read or observe, but don’t actively contribute.9% of users contribute from time to time but by and large are occupied by other priorities.1% of users are “creators”, driving large amounts of the social group’s activity. More often than not, these people are driving a vast percentage of the site’s new content, threads, and activity.

The challenge is to break this participation inequality! In our next iteration of MyCustomer.com - coming soon! - we'll be doing our best to do just this! Watch this space!

 

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30th Jul 2012 08:28

Hey, 

Valid points you have raised in this article, I must say. "Service remains a critical market differentiator in this competitive climate" indeed defines every company's vital factor. Using a Helpdesk System such as HappyFox(http://www.happyfox.com) will definitely help deal with Customer Support. The priceless features that come with HappyFox equips the organization with the ability to master the art of service. 
Assigning tasks/tickets to the right team member, prioritizing tickets based on issues etc are very important. Using the Two Way Email Integration that HappyFox supports, queries raised by customers can be easily handled. HappyFox also has features that help customize statuses. It also has great automation features such as Smart Rules that helps Customer Support function smoother. Creating and reviewing reports on tickets has never been easier using HappyFox. Also, the ability to maintain Knowledge Base will help reach out to customers on their queries.

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