Customer service is at the very heart of winning business. From flat white coffee to flat head screwdrivers, if you want customers coming back for more then service must be delivered to exacting standards.
And to meet customer expectations in an increasingly globalised marketplace, it’s imperative to ensure service standards change with the times too. Because if they’re not up to scratch then people will go elsewhere to get what they want, be it the next shop or overseas.
To get a feel for the direction of customer service, accounting firm BDO has commissioned the Economist Intelligence Unit to find out where customer service is headed over the next decade.
By surveying 479 business leaders across all industries throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific, they have identified 8 megatrends that will shape customer service over the decade ahead.
1. Global competition will drive up service standards.
As the global economy expands beyond raw materials and financial flows to day to day goods and services, businesses of every size and every industry face greater competition.
This increasingly competitive environment will make service an even more crucial differentiator than it is today.
“While quality is seen today as the key means of standing out from the crowd, especially for B2B firms, service will be the clear focus for firms of all shapes and sizes by 2020.” the report says.
2. Companies must maintain service standards in the face of the need for speed.
As technology fills every spare moment with instantly accessible information we’ve becoming more impatient than ever. Fast service is assumed.
However that has not lowered customer service expectations. This means businesses able to deliver star service, at speed, will become the customer service benchmark over the next decade.
“In short, speed has become a competitive differentiator. Firms that will be able to help their customers save time will leverage this to stand out from their rivals.”
3. Firms must learn to use the increased transparency brought by social media to their advantage.
Public scrutiny of customer service has exploded with the adoption of social networks over the last five to eight years. As these outlets develop, social media will replace the press as public watchdog.
This will bring increased transparency to businesses as every consumer is armed with an instant broadcast outlet for complaints. The aim for businesses is to use this to their advantage.
““You can’t control the dance floor, but you can go and dance,” explains customer experience futurologist Dr Nicola Millard of her company’s efforts to embrace such tools.
“Many others are dancing too: one-third (30%) of firms polled are using social media as a tool for enhancing client relationships.”
4. Companies must use new sources and types of data to rethink the way they track and personalise their service.
Social media, smart phones and other sources will reap a huge harvest of data about customers over the next ten years, on top of what’s accessible already.
The challenge for businesses is to recognise the value of this knowledge and use it to personalise and improve their customer service.
“Overall, the rapidly increasing volumes of data will provide new opportunities for firms to better understand their clients and personalise their services accordingly.”
5. Good employees will remain fundamental to good service but with technology as an enabler.
As technology automates everything under the sun, people will continue to play the most pivotal role in customer service delivery. They’ll just have better tools to deliver it and the focus for employees will shift to more complex or niche aspects of service.
““We’ve created a monster,” warns Dr Millard. “These customers are very well informed, they’ve done their homework and they now need reassurance about their choice, or advice. The implication is that the only queries you’re left with are the complex stuff, or the emotional stuff, which are very value sensitive.””
The challenge for businesses will be identifying which aspects of service require that personal touch and which can be automated.
6. More firms will outsource aspects of customer service to new kinds of specialists.
As the customer service function increases in importance, a lot of businesses will look to the help of external experts to deal with customer queries, complaints and services.
““What you need now are experts who can bring skills that firms don’t have,” says BT’s Dr Millard,”
An example given in the report is a pharmaceuticals firm outsourcing customer queries to medical professionals.
“Nearly four in 10 firms plan to outsource their service needs to an external partner, ideally in their home market, up from just one in ten today.”
7. The rise of the mass affluent and other customer segments will force companies to find new product or service niches.
The World Bank estimates there will be 1.2 billion middle class consumers around the world by 2030. This mass of new wealth will put new demands on firm’s service standards as a bigger demographic insists on premium service.
“For many, this will become a challenge of providing smart ways to deliver what looks and feels like personalised service, even if it is available to a mass audience.”
8. Customer expectations, including the purpose of the store, are evolving with new technology.
Mobile technology is rapidly changing consumer expectations as a wealth of information and product options have become accessible anywhere, anytime. And this technology is only young.
“By 2020, developed market firms may be learning new mobile tricks from their emerging market rivals. And by then, mobile devices will also help change the in-store experience.”
But brick and mortar will still have its place, but will need to provide customers with an ‘experience’.
“In the coming decades, firms looking for an edge will seek out relatively mundane processes and look for ways to make them visible and exciting again. By 2020, even a visit to the dentist may seem appealing.”
You can get a full copy of the report here.