You probably know by now that the customer service landscape is currently in the midst of a massive transformation.
With customers engaging with your company anywhere from eight to 50 times between purchases, providing guidance and value at every step has become more complex than ever.
It’s no surprise, then, that teams are prioritizing customer service more this year — with 82% looking to increase their customer service budgets in the coming years.
That said, we’re going to be discussing the key ways customer service has evolved in recent years — and how you can change up your approach to continue exceeding your customers’ expectations as time goes on.
Understanding Customer Service in 2023
There’s no way around it:
By today’s standards, customer service must be a core part of your operations, and of your brand’s image.
And, as a core part of your operations, your customer service efforts simply can’t be seen as some sort of “extra” thing, separate from the rest of your business. Rather, it must be woven into the fabric of your organization, made inseparable from both who you are as a company and the value you provide your customers.
This, of course, raises the stakes in terms of what it means to deliver killer customer service. It’s no longer just about helping the customer get from Point A to Point B — but about maximizing the value they get out of every engagement they have with your brand.
Moreover, it’s about using your customer service efforts to differentiate yourself from your competition. If you can become known as the Zappos of your industry in terms of service, you’ll have very little trouble turning prospects into leads, and leads into customers.
Key Goals of Customer Service
Modern customer service has two key goals:
- To enable the customer
- To enhance the customer experience
1. Enabling the Customer
A core part of customer service is helping the customer accomplish whatever they’ve set out to accomplish at a given touchpoint.
There are actually two parts to this process in itself:
Firstly, customer service involves streamlining pathways and engagements for customers at all stages of their journey. The idea is to always make it easy for them to take the next step — and for them to be as informed as possible when doing so.
Customer service also involves being available to provide guidance and assistance whenever the customer needs it.
(As we mentioned and will mention again, “whenever the customer needs it” now means “at all times” — period.)
Whether via automated or human-to-human means, you must always be prepared to help your customers when they face a blocker of any kind. Whether they’re looking to make a purchase, facilitate a return, troubleshoot an issue — or simply learn more about a product — you need to have something in place to make sure they can get what they need and move forward in their journey.
2. Enhancing the Customer Experience
Beyond simply helping your customers do what they set out to do, customer service is about jampacking as much value as possible into every engagement you face.
It’s about opening up new pathways in their journey, allowing them to achieve more than they’d initially aimed for. And it’s about anticipating their needs, both in the present moment and as they make progress and grow more competent.
It’s crucial, then, that your approach to customer service be holistic and cohesive. In focusing on the big picture behind each individual touchpoint, you can use your customer service efforts to continually engage and nurture your customers toward their next milestone with your brand.
Customer Service Metrics
Measuring your customer service performance is the first step toward making ongoing improvements to your internal processes.
There are a few different ways to do so.
Customer Support Metrics
Firstly, you’ll want to measure your team’s and individual employee’s performance when providing support to your customers.
Some metrics to focus on here include:
- First Response Time: On average, how long it takes your team to respond to a support ticket.
- Average Handle Time: The average time it takes to resolve a support ticket.
- First Contact Resolution: The percentage of support tickets that are resolved within a single interaction.
Practically speaking, keeping these metrics in good standing is all around good for business. For one, it means your customers are spending less time working through a problem — and more time making progress in their journey. Secondly, it means your support staff is becoming more effective and efficient — and can begin focusing on empowering their customers even further.
Another overarching metric to consider here is Agent Utilization Rate.
Calculating your AUR for individual service reps and for your support staff as a whole can help you identify inefficient processes, underperforming employees, and other areas in need of improvement.
Customer Experience Metrics
Because customer service is so interwoven within the customer experience, you need to understand the impact it has on all of it.
Some customer satisfaction metrics to follow here include:
- Customer Effort Score: How challenging it was for a customer to complete a certain task with your brand.
- Customer Satisfaction Score: How satisfied the customer is with a given engagement or experience.
- Net Promoter Score: How likely your customers are to recommend your brand to others.
It’s important to also collect qualitative feedback from your customers regarding their responses, as this will allow you to home in on specific aspects of your customer service efforts. Similarly, it will provide more context regarding your customers’ experiences — in turn allowing you to better anticipate their needs in the future.
Customer Service Challenges
Providing top-notch customer service has always come with its fair share of challenges.
While these challenges may manifest in different ways for different companies, they ultimately boil down to the following.
1. Meeting the Customers’ Evolving Expectations
Across the board, consumers continue to raise the bar in terms of what “excellent” customer service means.
- 72% want immediate service when it’s needed
- 82% want increasingly more personalization within customer service instances
- 70% want customer service instances to be fully contextualized to their situation
(To make things worse, over half of customer service representatives report having a tougher time managing upset customers than in pre-pandemic times.)
As research from Shep Hyken shows, staying ahead of these expectations is essential to winning — and keeping — high-value customers in 2023 and beyond.
2. Improving Workflow Inefficiencies
As we’ll discuss momentarily, efficiency is a key component of effective customer service.
Unfortunately, customer service teams often face bottlenecks, blockers, and other problems that can decrease productivity — and sometimes derail the team’s efforts, overall.
Some common examples include:
- Silos of all kinds (e.g., team knowledge)
- Lack of flexibility amongst team members
- Inadequate training and development
As Hubspot reports, the main factor here is time. On an individual level, reps need to be spending less time finding effective solutions — and more time providing them. Zooming out, service teams need to find more time to invest into improving their processes and abilities — which, of course, isn’t always easy.
3. Adopting Emerging Technology
The use of emerging technology is non-negotiable if you want to continue meeting your customers’ expectations and optimizing your processes.
But, with new tools and specialized software being released on an almost daily basis, a number of problems can arise:
- Adopting customer service software that doesn’t exactly align with your team’s needs
- Adopting advanced software that your team isn’t equipped to handle
- Not adopting new technology at all
As Intercom found, 73% of customer service teams say they should be getting more use out of their tech stack — while 76% say their current tech stack is holding them back from their true potential.
Components of Effective Customer Service
We’ve touched on a few of the main components of effective customer service so far.
Still, let’s take a closer look at each — and discuss why they’re so crucial to today’s customer service experience.
1. Accessibility and Responsiveness
Accessibility and responsiveness are two sides of the same coin here.
To begin with, your customers should be able to access and engage with your brand as it works best for them.
Some audience segments to consider here include:
- Individuals with disabilities
- International customers who may not speak your native language
- Those with limited access to high-speed internet or modern devices
It’s essential that your branded experiences cater to the needs of these individuals — or they’ll have no way of engaging with you in the first place.
Additionally, your customers should always have access to the information and/or services they need. And, while they ideally should be able to do what they set out to at all times, they should always be able to reach out for assistance as it’s needed.
Once a customer reaches out, it’s vital that you respond as quickly as possible. At the very least, you need to quickly acknowledge their request — while also setting their expectations regarding what’s to come.
It’s also important to be responsive to your customer’s feedback and engagement data over time. Acknowledging and attending to your audience’s needs before they encounter a problem will save your team a ton of time and energy — and keep your customers continually coming back for more.
- Delivering push notifications regarding purchases, deliveries, and support inquiries
- Providing open access to external knowledge base documentation
- Soliciting feedback at crucial moments in the customer’s journey
2. Proactive Guidance and Support
It’s one thing to provide guidance and assistance when your customers ask for it (or when they first realize they need it).
But effective customer service today is about ensuring your customers are equipped for the next step of their journey well before they get to it. Typically, this involves providing essential information or instruction upfront — and, in fact, using this content to spur additional engagement.
For example, email drips like the one above help the customer get the most out of a recent purchase — while incidentally pointing them toward related products that could bring even more value to their experience.
Going back to accessibility, it’s good practice to make your customer service terms as clear as possible on your website, social channels, and other platforms. This way, should a customer need additional assistance, they’ll at least have their expectations set out for them.
- Creating a streamlined and informative path to purchase
- Using chatbots and predictive analytics to interject when customers seem confused or “stuck”
- Developing video series’ explaining how to best use your products
3. Personalized and Personable
As we said earlier, personalization has never been more important in the eyes of the consumer.
Tying into the above, it’s no longer enough to provide what the “average” customer would need at a given point in time. Rather, you need to anticipate your individual customer’s needs and expectations at almost any point in their journey — and deliver exactly what they’re looking for, when they’re looking for it.
(The good news: Nearly 60% of consumers are fine with brands using their personal data if they get ultra-personalized service in return.)
And, as much as technology has seemingly taken over, teams should never discount the importance of the human touch throughout the customer service experience. As Qualtrics pointed out, it’s during these crucial touchpoints that consumers don’t want automation — and would actually prefer a more human-to-human experience.
- Delivering relevant content based on customer profile and engagement history
- Offering concierge services tailored to the individual’s preferences
- Using sentiment analysis to optimize your approach to individual engagements
Comprehensiveness comes into play in two ways here:
For one, your goal should be to fully equip and empower the customer at all times. This means providing comprehensive information, instructions, and explanations — or, at least, quick access to it — again both proactively and responsively.
A comprehensive omnichannel approach to customer service is also vital, as it allows your customers to continue their journey on any device they choose. To be sure, you must go beyond a mere multichannel approach in order to desilo your operations and provide a seamless experience to your customers.
In any case, leave nothing undone when it comes to customer service. Fewer gaps equals fewer chances for the customer’s journey to be derailed — and less need for hands-on support over time.
- Providing additional resources after helping a customer with a specific request
- Expanding on existing content in various formats
- Using multiple channels to enhance your overall customer experience
5. Continuous Improvement
Becoming known for your customer service efforts requires you to constantly be looking for ways to do better in the eyes of your audience.
Yes, this means putting all the data you collect to good use.
And yes, it means making dedicated changes to your efforts based on customer feedback.
But, most importantly, it involves combining all of this information with your team’s knowledge and expertise to deliver more and more value at every turn.
To this end, your service team must be willing to take the initiative — both during individual customer engagements and overall.
Individually, service reps need to feel comfortable going off-script if it allows them to better serve the customer at the moment. On top of making the singular customer happier, these on-the-fly moments also have the potential to go viral in the best way possible.
Thinking in the long term, your service team and employees can spearhead training and development initiatives and help brainstorm procedural changes whenever the opportunity arises.
- Create communities of practice revolving around customer service
- Offer deep product training programs to your service reps
- Collaborate with individual employees to create tailored development plans
Improving Your Approach to Customer Service in 2023
Using what we’ve learned about providing effective customer service, and the main challenges service teams currently face, let’s talk about how to improve your overall approach in the years to come.
1. Map Out Your Customer Journey
First things first, you need to know what your customer’s journey “looks like” on a nearly microscopic level.
If you’ve never done this, you can start by answering the following questions for each stage of the buyer’s journey (i.e., Awareness, Consideration, Decision, Retention, Loyalty):
- What does the customer know, and what have they done up to this point?
- What will they be looking to do next?
- What will they need to know and do in order to accomplish their goals?
From there, you can break down each section even further, identifying the critical touchpoints within the stage — and again answering the questions listed above. Pay careful attention to known and observed pain points to determine specifically where and how to improve your services.
The buyer’s journey has evolved beyond the linear sales funnel of days past.
Even the more modern cyclical models have become a bit outdated and misleading.
Today, the buyer’s journey is more dynamic than ever before.
(As we said at the beginning, consumers engage with your brand in dozens of different ways for a variety of reasons with every purchase.)
This is why you need an integrated, omnichannel approach to customer service.
2. Optimize Internal Workflows
A hallmark of excellent customer service is that it appears effortless.
Of course, this is because most of the work involved is done on the backend.
That said, there are a number of internal processes and operations to optimize in order to improve your customer service efforts.
To start with, you want to be sure your customer service team can communicate effectively — both with each other and with other customer-facing departments. This ensures your service reps know everything they need to know about every customer and situation they face.
Optimizing your data collection and analysis processes is also key to improving your customer service efforts. As we’ll discuss momentarily, this is an area where adopting modern technology is a must.
Finally, a strategic approach to knowledge management is needed to fully enable your service reps — both during customer engagements and when focusing on development. Knowledge management also allows veteran team members to effectively share their expertise with their colleagues, who can then employ new techniques and approaches when working with your customers.
3. Invest in the Right Technology (and Proper Training for It!)
As we said earlier, the use of technology to optimize your customer service efforts is non-negotiable.
Typically, you’ll want to at least adopt some form of the following:
- Helpdesk software for customer support issues
- Customer relationship management software for continuity of service
- Social listening tools to monitor audience chatter and collect feedback
- Communication and collaboration tools for internal use
- Knowledge base solution for knowledge management purposes
Augmented and virtual reality technology can also be used to deliver customer service in innovative and engaging ways.
For example, Neutrogena’s Skin360 app assesses users’ skin tone and facial complexion, then gives them personalized beauty tips:
This and many other modern customer service tools are relying more and more on artificial intelligence as the technology matures. While AI-powered chatbots are perhaps the first thing that comes to mind here, they’re really only the tip of the iceberg.
(Hint: Think employee enablement and process optimization.)
No matter the technology, there are a few caveats here.
Firstly, you need to adopt the right tools for both your team and your customers. While it may be tempting to go all-in on the newest technology or most advanced version of a certain software, investing in a tool that doesn’t fit your needs can do more harm than good.
Secondly, your employees — and, in some cases, your customers — must be adequately trained to use the technology you adopt. As we touched on, many teams aren’t able to get the most out of their tech stack — and they often point to a lack of preparation as the main culprit.
On that note, relying solely on technology to provide killer customer service is another recipe for disaster. While this has always been the case, it’s an important reminder now that AI has seemingly evolved a hundred times over in just a few months.
The fact is, AI and these other tools are not meant to replace your human service reps, but to empower them. Keep this as your mantra, and it will make finding the best-fit tools for your team a breeze.
Helpjuice Empowers Your Customer Service Efforts
Looking to supercharge your customer service efforts — and, by extension, optimize your customer experience?
Helpjuice’s knowledge base software is here to help in more than a few ways.
- Service reps can access product information and procedural documentation with ease
- Team members can quickly share best practices and other tips to aide your customers
- Colleagues can collaborate while creating new, data-driven knowledge content
And, your customers can use your external knowledge base to find the help they need without having to reach out to your team!
Ready to get started?
Contact Helpjuice for a free 14-day demo today!