With a primary focus on sales, customer service has long been considered a necessary evil that many companies reluctantly allocate scant resources to. But a new report indicates more companies are realizing that bigger investments in customer service aided by new technology can increase the bottom line.
The just-released second annual State of Service report surveyed more than 2,600 customer service professionals worldwide on how new technologies are impacting service protocols and how companies are responding to heightened customer demands for better service.
“We’re definitely seeing more of an emphasis on customer success and results versus the idea of let’s finish the service call as quickly as possible,” Keith Pearce, vice president of product marketing for Service Cloud at Salesforce.com, told eWEEK. “The traditional model of limiting time with the customer is being shattered to a focus on taking as long as you need to solve the case.”
While technology can improve the customer experience, it also is making it more difficult to retain customers. In the report, 70 percent of consumers and 82 percent of business buyers say technology has made it easier than ever to take their business elsewhere. But companies are turning to the latest Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools from Salesforce and others as well as so-called customer experience services to both attract and retain customers.
“The survey confirms a trend we’ve been seeing for a few years that the stakes for satisfying customers’ rising expectations are becoming greater every day,” Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of ThinkStrategies, told eWEEK in an email.
“Companies must invest in the latest customer service technologies and adopt new customer service methodologies to meet these escalating expectations or face significant customer abandonment in an increasingly competitive marketplace.”
The survey indicates companies are doing more to help customers than simply improving their call centers and service centers. For example, 78 percent of those surveyed said they believe every employee should be considered an agent of customer service. Salesforce promotes the idea of “collaborative customer service” across sales, service and marketing teams.
Not every company has processes or systems in place to enforce or effectively promote collaborative customer service, but many are making efforts in these areas. For example, the survey states that 65 percent of service teams have already established a formal process to collaborate with sales teams and 65 percent of service teams can proactively give their sales counterparts information on customer issues.
Without such collaboration, a salesperson trying to sell an established customer a new product might not know, for example, that the customer is dealing with an unresolved service issue and therefore less receptive than usual to hear a sales pitch.
The report also highlighted the growing use of analytics by customer service agents. The use of service analytics increased 166 percent in 2016 from 2015, according to the report.
Another trend is empowering service agents to sell to customers offering, for example, a newer version or accessory product designed to improve what the customer is already using.
“The ability for the agent to sell hasn’t been there before, but at the point the agent is helping a customer solve a problem, what better time to suggest there might something even better,” said Pearce. “It makes the service department a more strategic part of the company.”
Looking ahead Pearce says he expects next year’s report to reflect greater adoption of artificial intelligence tools like bots that answer questions online and mobile support apps.
“I think we’ll also be seeing more prescriptive solutions where the systems are smart enough to suggest the best time to reach out to customers based on real-time events and an historical understanding of what they’ve done in the past,” said Pearce.