The Top Trends in Customer Service for 2016

January 14th, 2016 | Jeff Grundy | Customer Service | Blog Home
customer service trends 2016

We’ve collected some new trends for 2017 in the customer service industry. You can take a look and see how these trends can help with your customer service strategy.

If there is one thing that’s certain, it’s that modern consumers are much more tech-savvy than those from past generations. As technology continues to open new avenues for innovation and business transformation, so too will the shopping and buying habits of consumers. Consequently, as newer technologies enable more ease in performing business transactions, consumers will have higher expectations when it comes to customer service and sales support.

In recent years, consumers have placed greater importance on the quality of customer service than on the price and quality of products alone. As we enter 2016, it appears that this consumer behavior trend will continue through 2016 and beyond.

In order to stay on top as an industry-leader, it is more important than ever that businesses recognize upcoming customer service trends, and understand how to update their customer service strategies accordingly.

Mobility First – Thinking Beyond the Basics of Mobile

The use of mobile devices has been growing rapidly for several years now. Still, many companies have been slow to adapt their websites and infrastructure to accommodate this technological growth – however, this will change significantly in 2016.

A recent Vision Critical study shows that 84% of CIOs of customer-centric companies are focusing on improving mobile customer experiences.

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According to Forrester Research, 42% of the global population will own a smartphone by the end of 2015.

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A ComScore report shows that mobile users already outnumber PC users for Web access (approximately 2 billion mobile users versus about 1.6 billion PC users.) The ComScore report also states that in 2016, mobile search queries will outnumber those made from a PC by more than 27.8 billion.

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If the above data is not enough for you, eWeek adds even more insight into the growing number of mobile users with a study that shows that 63% of U.S. adults use their smartphone several times a month to seek customer service or sales support.

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As you can see from the numbers above, mobile is now king. Therefore, if you want your customer service and sales support offerings to be on par with other market leaders, you will need to adopt a “mobile-first” mindset when it comes to providing contact options for your customers.

Creating a mobile-first customer service strategy means more than just making your website mobile friendly; it also means making all your support channels mobile accessible as well. In fact, customers will demand it. So, if you haven’t already made the move to a mobile-first platform, the time to do so is now.

All Channels – All the Time

Gone are the days when companies could offer only phone and email options for customer service and technical support. These days, consumers expect easy access to customer service in every way possible. This consumer behavior trend has been evolving steadily in recent years, and will become the norm in 2016.

What does this mean for your company? Well, it’s simple. In order to capably compete in the modern marketplace, you must make customer service and sales support accessible across all channels and touch points (or at least as many as possible).

A Deloitte Point of View report states emphatically that omni-channel retailing is the future of business, and most experts agree. However, many experts also agree that omni-channel marketing requires more than just offering multiple channels or contact choices.

According to NanoRep, creating an effective omni-channel solution requires a business to combine and align call center, mobile, physical, social and Web presences coherently and efficiently. For instance, the NanoRep article points out that companies do not have “Facebook customers” or “Twitter customers” or even “Mobile customers”. The fact is, companies merely serve customers who happen to like using different communication methods.

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Depending on their personal preference, different consumers will choose any number of methods to communicate with any given company. In the end, though, regardless of the channel(s) which consumers choose to communicate with you, they should all be viewed as having the same needs and desires.

It is important to note that most consumers these days do not see communication methods when it comes to customer service – only solutions. Consequently, your company either satisfies customers’ needs or it doesn’t. Even if purchases are made primarily in stores, purchasing decisions are made primarily using digital channels. This goes double for customer service and sales support.

As consumers increasingly rely on digital channels to make purchasing decisions, they prefer to use those same channels to seek out customer service and sales support. If you rely on only one or two channels to provide any form of customer support, your customers’ satisfaction and experience are not optimized. As a result, you should create strategies to maximize the availability and accessibility of your customer service options.

Self-Service Tools – Good for Everyone

With the exploding number of mobile and Web users around the world, consumers have more instant access to information than ever before. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that many experts report that self-service tools rank among the most important priorities for companies in 2016.

Self-service tools such as how-to content and knowledge base articles allow customers to be self-sufficient in finding answers and solutions to common inquiries and issues. This type of tool is not only helpful to customers, but is expected by modern consumers.

NanoRep concludes that companies that provide exceptional self-service experiences will increase sales considerably across multiple channels because shopper confidence increases as well. As a result of these findings, Gartner reports that improving the self-service experience of consumers is among the top 3 priorities for companies that aim to improve customer experience and service.

Customers not only want access to immediate assistance, they also want instant access to tools that can help them perform research and fix problems themselves. Therefore, if you have not yet implemented self-service tools on your company website, then it’s time to get started.

Social Media Is a Powerful Support Platform

Despite all of the hype that has surrounded social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter, companies have been slow to adopt these platforms for customer service and sales support. According to a CellCentreHelper.com report, only 3% of companies used social media to communicate with customers as of May 2014.

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Since 2014, though, companies have made significant increases in resources they allocate to communicating with consumers on social media. This is primarily because more and more customers expect companies to address customer services issues on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

According to a Deloitte report, 95% of consumers use more than one channel when researching on products and services, or seeking customer support. Of course, one of those channels is social media. While social media is not yet the go-to channel it was expected to be, advertisement revenues for Facebook and Twitter continue to rise at staggering rates.

In a March 2015 report, eMarketer predicts that Facebook and Twitter will account for a full one-third of all digital advertising by 2017. Since it’s obvious that companies are pouring huge amounts of capital into social media advertising, it also stands to reason that these companies must increase their service support presence on these sites as well.

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Forbes has suggested that companies should begin using social media as a support portal as far back as August 2014. While companies have been slow to come around, 2016 will see companies jumping into social media in a big way.

However, you will need much more than just a Facebook page or Twitter account to provide effective customer service via social media platforms. To provide effective customer support on social media, you will need to entrust brand ambassador(s) to manage your accounts regularly, and provide immediate answers and replies to customer questions, concerns, and issues.

If your company has not yet established an active social media presence, you better start coming up with social media strategies fast, or you will lag behind the competition.

Live Chat Is No Longer Just an Option

For many years, truly customer-centric companies have been implementing live chat solutions on their company website to provide customer service and sales support because they understand that customers love the convenience which the platform provides. Nowadays, it seems that more and more companies are understanding the benefits of live chat software.

In a 2015 research study conducted by Forrester Research, live chat adoption among contact centers rose from 30% in 2009 to 43% in 2012, and 58% in 2014, and this number is still growing even to this day!

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While a large number of consumers have “gone digital” when seeking to make contact with companies, many still prefer to deal one-on-one with customer service agents. For a long time, this meant traditional phone support, but more and more consumers now expect a live chat option for real time customer service and sales support.

A 2015 WDS Report states that live chat is what modern consumers not only expect, but demand, from companies that want to earn their business. In fact, the report goes as far as to state that live chat will be the new “default, go-to” option for customer service instead of the traditional phone-based contact center.

Modern consumers prefer live chat over other contact methods because it is fast, convenient and immediate. With live chat, there are no tedious queues, hold times, menu options or toll charges.

Additionally, live chat breaks down language barriers that direct phone conversations cannot. A common feature included in live chat software is the automatic translator which enables consumers to communicate with a customer service agent in the language of their choice. This makes it easier for consumers to reach out, when they otherwise wouldn’t do so, due to the frustration that may arise from having to communicate in a language they are not proficient in.

Customer Patience – A Thing of the Past

It’s no secret that consumers have grown increasingly impatient over the last few years. However, it may surprise you that most consumers have absolutely zero patience anymore – especially when it comes to customer service and sales support.

According to Forrester, 55% of US online adults are likely to abandon their online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their question.77% say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good online customer service.

Accenture calls today’s modern consumer the “non-stop customer,” meaning that they access as much information as possible (across all channels) before making purchasing decisions. When researching products and services, these “non-stop customers” expect to find relevant information and have answers to questions instantly and easily. The same thought process extends to service and support.

The same Accenture report also reveals that consumers have more choices to choose from than ever before. A full two-thirds of consumers consider more brands and companies before making a purchase than they did 10 years ago. The report also indicates that the same number of consumers admitted to having at least one negative customer experience that led them to switch brands or vendors. What this means is that brand loyalty is harder than ever to achieve because your customers will no longer tolerate second-rate or slow customer service and sales support.

While poor customer service is always a problem, customers tend to complain more about slow or delayed support more than any other issue. Instant access to digital channels enables consumers to make instantaneous online purchases. However, this means that consumers also expect to receive customer service and sales support just as instantaneously when accessing digital channels.

If your company is not yet able to deliver immediate (or near immediate) results and solutions, you are, in fact, pushing them to do business with your competitors instead.

Don’t Wait for Customers to Make the First Move

The first-century Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca once said, “He who gives when he is asked has waited too long.” Seneca’s words of wisdom especially rings true when it comes to customer service and sales support.

The quality of customer service is what separates successful companies from the ones that are bound to fail. Consider that if you see a customer walking around aimlessly in one of your stores, looking confused and lost. In this situation, you may assume that the customer needs help, and immediately walk over to the customer to offer your assistance. Concisely, this type of proactive assistance is something which consumers are increasingly expecting as the norm these days.

A WDS report states that proactive customer support have become the norm by the end of 2015 for companies that want to compete in the modern marketplace. As the data suggests, the time for companies to move to proactive support methodologies is now.

Airlines have been providing this type of help for many years now. If a customer misses a connecting flight because of bad weather or airline-related delays, an agent will rebook the ticket proactively without any prodding whatsoever.

In the digital world, Amazon is a great example that takes proactive customer service even a step further. With many Amazon orders, customer care agents engage customers proactively and provide estimated delivery times. They also introduce themselves and make sure that customers know that they are always available to help if and when needed.

If you want your company to thrive in the modern digital marketplace, you must stop waiting for your customers to come to you with their problems. Instead, you have to find ways to “read the minds” of your customers and reach out proactively.

Read more: 8 Proactive Chat Best Practices with Ready-to-Use Scripts

Be Ready to Spend More on Customer Service

According to Deloitte, 62% of brands and companies are progressively understanding the importance of customer service as a key competitive differentiator, and are finally investing more money to improve the customer experience.

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For far too long, companies have sought customer loyalty, but have not invested enough resources to make a significant improvement in the customer experience. However, a Gartner survey confirms that this practice will change a lot in 2016; by 2017, at least half of all product investments will be put towards innovations that will enhance the customer experience. Simply put, this means companies will invest more resources in technologies such as live chat solutions, which allow faster interactions with customers on a more personal level.

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Customer Service Becomes an Obsession

A Fonolo whitepaper states very articulately that “customer service is not a department. It’s everyone’s job.” This philosophy is finally catching fire, and companies are starting to listen.

Companies are finally starting to realize that customers place a much higher importance on a positive customer experience than on price or even product quality. VisionCritical states that by 2020, the customer experience will overtake price and product quality as the key brand differentiator. As a result more companies will become “customer-obsessed” in 2016.

According to VisionCritical, customer-obsessed companies share 7 habits in common:

  • Make it easy for customers to get help from real people;
  • Obsess over every detail of the customer experience;
  • Be proactive, and don’t wait behind a desk for customer contact;
  • Make sure that a “customer-obsessed” culture exists throughout the company;
  • Align marketing and customer service departments on ROI metrics;
  • Value quality over quantity;
  • Leverage customer satisfaction ratings to determine employee compensation and bonus plans.

Conclusion

Companies are beginning to place a much higher priority on improving the customer experience, and the quality of customer service they offer. This is beneficial for all the stakeholders involved, as it strengthens confidence in the markets and companies that serve them. Great customer service is also, in the end, much more profitable than quick, hit-and-run business models.

If the goal of your company is to compete with “customer-obsessed” competitors, the simple solution is to become more obsessed with providing world-class customer service and sales support. There are many aspects to providing great, proactive help to your customers, and the process will take a significant amount of planning and hard work.

2016 live chat benchmark report

[Free Download] 2016 Live Chat Benchmark Report

Data speak. When you are trying to measure your own customer service success, it is significant that you look at what others are doing. This is the reason why we are producing this benchmark report based on real-world data for your reference.

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About 

Jeff Grundy is a senior content writer at Comm100. He has been writing computer-related articles and tutorials since 1995. Since that time, Grundy has written many guides to using various applications that are published on numerous how-to and tutorial sites. Born and raised in South Georgia, Grundy is a former Microsoft code geek on the Access project and holds a Master of Science degree in mathematics from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Find Jeff on Google+

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