The future of customer service – conversational, intelligent, personalized

SUMMARY:

New research shows the customer service function is embracing a future that’s conversational, intelligent and personalized, writes Salesforce’s Gavin Mee

Gavin Mee, Salesforce

Every day I meet with customers and talk through the challenges they face. These conversations have shown me that companies today will either win or lose based on the quality of service they provide. I was really happy to see our recent State of the Connected Customer report backs this up – 58%of consumers and a whopping 77% of business buyers say that technology has significantly raised their expectations of how companies should interact with them. Quite simply, in our connected world, customers expect seamless, personalized experiences, across channels and devices.

We’ve also just released our second annual State of Service report. Reading through it, it’s clear to me that businesses are responding to this shift.  In fact, 85% of execs who are responsible for customer service believe the customer experience they provide is a key competitive differentiator.

The report gives some great insights into the ways companies can improve service and support growth. Here are what I think are some of the most useful takeaways:

Customer service teams are adapting to keep pace in our mobile, connected world

The strongest customer service teams recognize the shift we’re seeing in customer behaviour and attitude, especially as people become more connected. They’re responding to this and are modernizing to make certain they offer customers a seamless experience across all channels. For example, half of all service teams surveyed now support customers across at least five different channels, while teams offering service via mobile apps grew an incredible 196% last year.

At the same time service teams are also tuning into the fact customers are getting much more demanding and expect 1-to-1-type experiences.  In fact, personalizing service interactions has been one of their top three priorities over the past 12-18 months. This underscores the fact that customer service is relying more and more on data. It’s absolutely critical that service teams understand customer preferences, needs, and existing relationships and in order to do this they need access to accurate customer data, at their fingertips.

Customer service teams are collaborating across divisions

Organizations are also realizing that delivering the personal, seamless experience their customers want requires collaboration across the entire organization. Of the service teams we surveyed, 78% believe every employee is a customer service agent. More importantly, the majority of teams are putting this attitude into practice: 63% have a formal process in place to collaborate with sale; 62% collaborate with marketing to manage and respond to social inquiries and issue; and 60% incorporate customer feedback into product development and feedback cycles.

I think this cross-organization approach is going to gain traction rapidly over the next few years. This is for three reasons:

  • First, more and more businesses are adopting cloud technology and in doing so are breaking down data and process silos within their organization. This makes pan-organization collaboration a whole lot easier to achieve.
  • Secondly, collaborative customer service increases cross-selling and up-selling opportunities. That’s a strong business imperative!
  • Thirdly, and most importantly, customers are demanding this approach. They see no difference between customer service, marketing, maintenance or sales. To them, it’s all the same organization, from which they expect the same service. If businesses don’t meet this expectation, their customers will walk away.

High performing companies are already thinking about what’s next – predictive intelligence

As customer expectations continue to go in one direction only (clue: it’s through the roof), companies have to move beyond knee-jerk reactions to changing customer needs – and actually start anticipating those needs.

With the advent of predictive intelligence tools, this ability is no longer stuck in the realm of science fiction. It’s real, and it will soon be the only way to win the customer experience game. Using tools like Salesforce Einstein to provide insights that are not only timely but also contextual and highly actionable, companies are quickly catching on to the tremendous benefits of predictive intelligence. The use of service analytics increased 166% between 2015 and 2016.

To me, predictive intelligence is the foundation of proactive customer service. For example, 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.

With the introduction of predictive or artificial intelligence, service agents are able to predict and personalize interactions like never before. For example, machine learning could analyse a caller’s word choice to understand emotions and recommend the next best thing for an agent to say. Today, two thirds of high-performing teams use this type of real-time conversational intelligence to build better relationships with their customers. I believe intelligent service will be one of the hottest customer service trends of 2017 as businesses realise predictive intelligence and AI tools are within their grasp.

The bottom line

Service is now the key means of differentiation and as a result, leading companies are empowering their service teams to be truly customer-centric, and to collaborate within their organizations to support the overall customer journey.  The future of customer service is conversational, intelligent and personalized and it’s the companies that prioritize this approach – by empowering service agents with the necessary tools and technology – that will succeed. In today’s world, and tomorrow’s, customer experience is the defining line between companies that will struggle – and those that will thrive.

Image credit - Feature image - Customer experience hands on digital globe © photon_photo - Fotolia.com; portrait by Salesforce