It's the end of the year. The time when we all take stock of our lives and think about what we'd like to do differently. Did we exercise as much in 2015 as we'd planned? Or maybe we're regretting all the time spent listening to the latest Taylor Swift album (never!) or wondering if Jon Snow from The Game of Thrones is really dead. Next year we're really, truly going to take a vacation. And if you're running a small business, now is the time to take stock of your customer relationships and think about what's working and what can be done better. Looking back, here are some of the things we learned from our customers in 2015 and what they want from support in 2016:
Customer service roadmaps are essential to scale support.
Today's hyper-connected consumers expect fast, personalized support, and only love your product as much as they love the service you back it with. In 2016, service will no longer be an afterthought to product development. Launching a robust service offering on day one will be as important as getting products out the door. It may not be as sexy as designing new product features, but companies need a plan for self-service content, social support, and for expansion to new markets-especially if their plan to offer their product or service internationally.
Self-service is table stakes for even small companies.
According to Forrester, 72 percent of respondents check a company's FAQ first when they have a question. That's before emailing or picking up the phone. Even before tweeting. What does that mean for today's startups? Not only do companies need to make their support content available 24/7 on the web, but they also need a process for constantly keeping that content up-to-date, and if they sell around the world, for quickly localizing new content. If companies haven't already done this, they should make it a priority in 2016 to make a knowledge base available to customers. And if they really want to wow customers, add graphics or video that will make the support center even more helpful.
In-app support is the next frontier in customer support.
In today's hectic and overscheduled world, time may be the most valuable resource many of us have. Companies should show customers they value their time by making it easy to access support. They should make it part of their experiences. Organizations can start simply by adding links to relevant support articles in their web pages. Or if they offer a mobile app, add a button to phone support within their app. For an ever better experience, give customers the ability to log new cases (or check existing ones) from within an app. In 2016, supporting customers where they are will be a critical part of building stronger relationships.
Proactive service will be the next customer support game-changer.
The days when agents clocked in and waited for calls and emails from customers are long gone. We're increasingly seeing connected products and wearables that initiate their own service tickets. In the future, companies will know when customers are having trouble and can reach out before they even have a chance to pick up the phone (and sometimes before they even know there's an issue). Today, some small companies are already doing it. Bitium, a small business which provides single sign-on and identity and access technology for cloud computing companies, can tell when users are having trouble logging in and proactively reach out to help. See what processes to measure and begin adding levels of proactivity in 2016.
Connected service is the new black.
Customer service is no longer just that department down the hall; it's everywhere. Successful companies are training everyone on their customer service tools, so every employee from CEO to intern can pitch in to help with support during busy times. And more and more companies are integrating support with other parts of their companies so they can share data, collaborate more effectively, and build closer relationships with customers. Why shouldn't the support team be able to see a customer's billing and purchase history? Or a sales team see whether their best customers have had issues in the past? This isn't just a big company thing. In 2016 we'll see even small businesses integrating every aspect of their business in the cloud.
2016 is shaping up to be a banner year for customer support. Why? Because it doesn't matter what business you're in; improving the customer experience is paramount. Connect with your customers-hear their voices and let them get to know yours. Start 2016 off right with a customer service roadmap for the year, and be sure you ride the wave of the future.