Customer service on the front line - the business differentiator?

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan January 4, 2017
Customer service as a competitive differentiator working hand-in-hand with sales and marketing - or that's the theory at least, in Salesforce's new State of Service report.

customer service
Customer service is the primary vehicle for improving the customer experience with the balance of power shifted from sellers to buyers.

That’s one of the top line findings of the second annual State of Service report from Salesforce, based on the findings from a study of more than 2,600 customer service professionals worldwide.

Customer service is no longer seen as a costly and reactionary function, but one which interfaces and collaborates across organizational lines as a competitive differentiator. The report says:

There’s an overall sentiment that “everyone is in customer service,” with 78% of service teams saying they view every employee as an agent of customer service. Delivering an exceptional customer experience requires a unified front across company units —namely service, sales, and marketing.

Or that’s the theory. In reality, there’s still room for sales and services teams to work more closely together. According to the study, some 63% of service teams currently have a formal process in place to collaborate with sales, while more than 65% of service teams are able proactively to provide sales colleagues with intelligence on customer issues and needs.

There’s also a need to improve intelligent service capabilities across most organisations. The report finds that only 37% of service teams are good at gathering insights across the entire customer lifecycle (i.e., data and reporting across support, sales, and marketing transactions) and the same percentage is able to boast of  being good at performing next-step analysis that allows sales, service, and marketing teams to anticipate customer needs and prioritize tasks.

That’s important because those customers are becoming increasingly demanding:

Customers want to feel immediately understood, individually valued, and consistently recognized no matter the channel of engagement. For example, 79% of consumers (and 83% of business buyers) say it’s very important to be immediately routed to the agent most knowledgeable about their issue. More than half (52%) of consumers are likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t make an effort to personalize communications to them as an individual.

High stakes

The stakes are higher than ever. Some 68% of service teams surveyed agreed that one bad service experience can inflict more damage on a customer relationship than it would have five years ago.

There are also some pretty basic points that need to be addressed. The always-on customer is going to expect an always-on response from service agents. Some 60% of business buyers and 43% of consumers say it’s very important to receive in-app mobile support from companies they do business with.

That means spending money on service operations, personnel and tech, which appears to be happening. Over the past two years, 89% of service teams report having had an increased or at worst unchanged budget - 61% and 28% respectively.  The study suggests that over the next two years, 66% of teams can expect to see increased budgets.

This being 2017 and given Salesforce’s recent focus on AI, it’s of course unsurprising that the survey picks out this tech trend as a key priority. According to the report, 77% of top service teams already excel at leveraging AI, compared to 36% of underperformers.

Overall, the report argues that:

Predictive intelligence will have a transformational impact on…customer service by 2020. This aligns with our finding that 51% of consumers and 75% of business buyers expect that, by 2020, companies will anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions before they reach out.

Source - State of Service from Salesforce Research

The other ‘on trend’ finding is that the Internet of Things (IoT) will become increasingly important as a customer service tool, providing data on everything from product usage through diagnostics to location data and product failures.

My take

An interesting, if hardly revolutionary, set of findings. The main conclusion around the need for joined-up service thinking across the organisation is a familiar meme, but nonetheless important for its familiarity. It remains the case for me today that the ‘pushed from pillar to post’ mindset of all too many customer service operations is the thing that drives me mad. That and finding that when you get to the post, said post hasn’t a clue what you’re there for. If the IoT and AI can help predict that, then I’ll be over the moon.