A Peek Inside the 2014 Customer Service Toolbox

Customer Service
Customer Service
As companies look ahead to the coming year, many are in the process of establishing their "resolutions" for 2014. We explore the most impactful and innovative tools and strategies necessary for customer service success in the coming year.

Customer service and parenting are really quite similar. Just as parenting rarely ends once the child reaches 18, customer service seldom ends once the purchase is complete. Yet, while parents will be forever linked to their children no matter the mistakes each party makes, customer service professionals must constantly spice up their strategies to maintain loyalty and keep the relationship alive. But, as consumer demand creates higher expectations, companies and contact centers are more determined than ever to develop a customer service strategy that differentiates their brands from the competition.

"Strategically, we feel that customer service will continue to be a cornerstone of the customer experience-one piece of a broader set of interactions over the customer's lifecycle," says Joe Stanhope, chief strategy officer for SDL's campaign management and analytics division. "Customers expect consistency and continuity across all channels and touchpoints. Therefore, in 2014, firms will consider how to coordinate customer service with other customer interactions, such as marketing and in-store touchpoints."

Gone are the days of disparate data systems. In 2014, companies will focus on fusing customer service and the overall customer experience to build relationships, generate growth, and strengthen long-term loyalty. Yet, while data analytics and knowledge-based systems will be necessary to execute many of these goals, the real tools are something every agent possesses within, for great customer service success comes from listening and bringing such insight to action. Customer service stands as the backbone of the customer experience and, as the new year begins, companies will work to uphold an exceptional level of support and personalization to preserve customer loyalty.

Here's a look at the top three "resolutions" on every customer service professional's list of priorities for 2014:

Resolution #1: Bridge gaps to enhance the omnichannel experience

While consumers may engage with brands via every channel imaginable, most expect companies to gather every interaction into one single conversation. From Facebook and Twitter, to email and forums, bringing every interaction together can prove rather daunting. But, as 2014 draws closer, businesses are beginning to recognize that omnichannel customer service isn't just an ideal, but a necessity, as well.

"New channel adoption is on the rise and at the same time, competitive threats come fast and furious," says Matthew Storm, director of innovation and solutions at NICE. "Organizations won't be able to just sit back and trust in the techniques of the past to deliver a solid customer experience. Therefore, 2014 is about staying relentless with your customers. This means not allowing any touchpoint or part of the customer journey to go untouched or to reside in a silo. Customers will start to see more of the harmony created by monitoring the voice of the customer across all of these channels and doing something with those findings."

Yet, while most companies currently employ some form of social listening, customer service can no longer operate with just an ear to the wall. Instead, support teams must act upon the behaviors and preferences observed in order to keep customers engaged at every point along their journey. Scott Draeger, customer communication strategist at GMC Software Technology, highlights that, with the variety of channels and communication platforms available to the customer today, being able to communicate with each individual has certainly become more challenging. Winning strategies, he adds, include having channel- and context-specific communication capabilities that mix service, sales, and support effectively by understanding the customer's state of need.

Companies will put more effort into meeting customer expectations as they work to abandon the "one-size-fits-all" communications and service approach. No matter the interaction, consumers want to feel known, and demonstrating knowledge of their preferences and needs will add a higher degree of intimacy and satisfaction.

Resolution #2: Offer self-service options to empower the customer

From desktops and laptops, to tablets and smartphones, the Internet is never far from reach. But constant access also brings impatience. For today's connected consumers, waiting on hold for the next available service agent no longer suits their fast-paced lifestyle. They want to gain access to the answers they need and the products they want without assistance at the moment the thought strikes. And, while self-service tools have only grown in popularity and proliferation over the past few years, 2014 will see another push toward satisfying the self-sufficient customer.

Joe Schnaufer, global director of customer support at cleverbridge, emphasizes that people want to be empowered to help themselves. From purchasing a new product to requesting a refund, self-service tools allow customers to accomplish almost anything with independence and efficiency, ultimately reducing the number of customers the contact center has to handle via direct face-to-face, phone, or email communication. Self-service also promotes higher satisfaction rates, as such tools that enable customers to choose the support avenue they prefer.

By making basic information available for quick consumption, companies can simultaneously lessen contact center costs and strengthen customer relationships. As Dan Lee, senior director at Citrix, highlights, knowledge-based capabilities enable companies to implement the self-service features that may set them apart from the competition. By offering access to an intelligent, current FAQ page, or the quick ability to chat directly with tech support, companies provide the right information at the right time in the right place. Knowledge bases may also expedite employee training and onboarding, as support teams will gain the ability to share tips and insights gained from direct interactions with customers, further extending the level of customer service across the enterprise.

Resolution #3: Embrace personalized interactions to foster loyalty

Though Big Data may be the buzzword du jour, the incoming information offers little advantage if it's not leveraged to its maximum potential. Stanhope notes that customer satisfaction remains largely dependent upon the company's ability to provide relevant, personalized interactions. By using analytics to understand the behaviors and needs of customers, businesses will be able to determine the appropriate follow-up actions to provide even more pertinent, personalized information and offerings. Such tactics will drive efficiency and satisfaction in 2014, while also bringing improved customer loyalty management strategies to the fore.

In the coming year, loyalty efforts will become more granular as data-driven segmentation and targeting will allow companies to integrate personalization to create differentiated loyalty programs and customer service treatments. Brands will adjust their focus to encourage easier signups, generate more effective incentives, and carry loyalty marketing to all facets of the customer experience, including customer service. But, if businesses truly hope to foster stronger ties, they must bring this emphasis on personalization to every individual interaction.

"Your best strategy for dealing with customer loyalty is to acknowledge there really is no customer loyalty and you're only as good as the last customer experience you've had," says Aaron Fulkerson, CEO of MindTouch. "When you understand that every interaction you have can win or lose the business, you'll put the right things in place to ensure you're on your game."

Customer service professionals must put themselves in customers' shoes every step of the way, for loyalty doesn't depend upon getting the products right. Companies must ensure that the entire experience-from the consideration stage to post-purchase-stands firm upon a foundation of care and competence. Proactive knowledge may anticipate what customers will want and give it to them quickly, but only honest interactions and preferential insights that tap into the personalized nature of service and support will truly keep customer loyalty and the long-term relationship alive throughout 2014 and beyond.