Armed with technologies that give them on-the-go access to a world of information, day or night, people today expect fast, smart and responsive service from the companies they do business with. And if they don't get it, they'll take their business elsewhere -- and fast, according to new research from customer relationship management (CRM) giant Salesforce
Based on responses from 2,600 customer service professionals across the globe, Salesforce's second annual "State of Service" report identifies four key trends driving the customer experiences expected from companies today.
These trends include a new, company-wide focus on customer experience; an expanding range of tools and technologies for customer service agents; a new view of customer service as an opportunity for sales rather than as a cost center; and the growing use of artificial intelligence and other smart technologies to provide more "human" interactions with customers.
Such changes are helping customers and service professionals alike to become more knowledgeable and more empowered in the decisions they make, according to the Salesforce report. And companies that make the most of these trends are gaining competitive advantages, while companies that don't risk falling behind.
Customers Expect Service Consistency
"Customer experience has become the defining line between companies that grow and companies that fall behind," Adam Blitzer, Salesforce's executive vice president and general manager of sales and service clouds, said in a statement accompanying the release of the report.
In fact, customer service today is no longer just confined to a company's customer service team, the report noted. Every part of a business, from service and sales to marketing and beyond, plays a role in the customer experience, and the highest-performing organizations are those that do this best.
"High performers are more focused on improving service and support through enterprise collaboration," according to the Salesforce report, which added that this approach is taken by 80 percent of top teams, compared to just 45 percent of those deemed underperformers. "Top service teams are 3.4x more likely than underperformers to excel at connecting and collaborating across departments to drive a cohesive customer journey."
Providing consistent service to customers, no matter which part of the company they're dealing with, is especially important considering how easy it now is for consumers and business buyers to take their purchasing power elsewhere. According to the report, 69 percent of consumers and 82 percent of business buyers say their loyalty to a company is influenced to a moderate or major degree by how personalized the service is that they receive.
Predictive AI Enables More 'Human' CRM
For businesses, providing such personalized service is becoming easier, thanks to emerging technologies for smarter, more predictive customer relationship management, the Salesforce report found.
"While it might sound counterintuitive to say 'use technology to be more engaging in your service,' that's exactly the mindset of forward-thinking teams," the report stated. "Rather than replace human contact, AI [artificial intelligence] enhances the experience by adding humanlike intelligence to interactions."
For example, CRM tools with smart analytics can "listen" to the words and tones used during a customer conversation to recommend the best possible next steps an agent should take. In addition to helping to provide better, more responsive service to customers, such technologies also help service professionals to focus more of their time and energies on the most complex customer requests while making other interactions quicker and easier to manage.
Today's top customer service teams are more than twice as likely as underperformers to be putting such predictive tools to use, according to Salesforce. They're also far more likely than underperformers to believe that predictive AI will have a "transformational" impact on customer service by 2020.
"This aligns with our finding that 51 [percent] of consumers and 75 [percent] of business buyers expect that, by 2020, companies will anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions before they reach out," the report stated.