Over the past two years, customer expectations have risen, along with an increased emphasis on customer experience and, naturally, customer service. How has customer service changed over the past two years, and how are brands approaching it with improved technology and more of a personalized connection?

"Becoming 'obsessed' with understanding the customer should be the goal of every company," said Tomas Gorny, CEO of Nextiva, a business phone service provider. "Knowing that the better a business understands its customers, the better it can deliver a superior customer experience, and that is what customers want."

"This superior service results in a more frictionless customer experience that reduces customer turnover," Gorny added. "The best way to create that experience isn't by comparing your company against competitors, but rather by delivering the best experience possible to customers — no matter the industry. We are living in a customer-first era. Customers' expectations have never been higher, and while businesses are hearing more from customers, they are understanding less."

Personalized Customer Service

John Nash, chief marketing and strategy officer of Redpoint Global, spoke with CMSWire about the ways customer service has changed. Nash said the past two years have brought customer service into the spotlight, especially when it comes to personalization and automation. "Customers today have higher expectations than ever; they know brands have the technology tools to automate and personalize many aspects of customer service, and they expect it to happen.

Citing the Harris Poll commissioned by Redpoint, Nash said, "39% of customers surveyed said they will not do business with any company that fails to offer a personalized experience." Additionally, the recent Verint State of Digital Customer Experience survey revealed that 64% of consumers have switched to a competitor after having a poor customer experience. The value of exceptional customer care cannot be stressed enough.

Just as a brand's website presents customers with a personalized experience — recognizing past purchases, pointing out relevant products and already knowing their name, address and contact info — customers expect customer service experiences to be highly-personalized as well.

"The brands that have found success in the past two years (and are continuing to succeed now) are largely the ones that prioritize personalization at scale, adapting to the fact that consumers are now increasingly in control of their experiences, their data and more, and expect high degrees of personalization," said Nash. "The ability to provide that kind of personalized customer service across all of a brand's channels seamlessly and in real-time requires the use of technology that unifies all of the data throughout the customer journey."

Related Article: Enhancing Your One-to-One Personalization Efforts

Customer Service Is Omnichannel

The omnichannel customer experience requires that customer support data be accessible across all of a brand's channels, minimizing or eliminating pain points in the customer journey. For instance, there is rarely anything as frustrating as repeating information, whether it's being done verbally to a customer service agent or via a web form. In fact, having to repeat information is listed in the top 5 most frustrating things that ruin customer experience.

"Consumers now expect brands to provide access to information and support/service anytime, anywhere, on any channel," said Ravi Sundararajan, COO of Gupshup, a conversational messaging platform. "So omnichannel customer service delivery has become the number one business priority, and a key differentiator for brands. Further, empathy, personalization, speed and convenience are defining the modern customer service experience."

Personalization can be effectively combined with conversational AI to provide customer service that thrills, rather than frustrates, customers.

"Using conversational AI, we see many businesses adopting a hyper-personalized approach to automate customer service/support — with real-time interactivity and feedback management," said Sundararajan. "This is helping brands transform customer service into a richer, more contextual, one-on-one experience for every consumer.

"With AI-enabled smart chat/voice bots as the frontline customer service agents coupled with the ability to seamlessly transition complex queries to a live/human agent, businesses are increasingly getting better at delivering natural, human-like customer service experiences via advanced automation."

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Customers today are not interested in lip service from the brands they do business with. Feedback from a brand is useful, but actions carry more weight and show a brand genuinely cares about its customers.

"Customers have recently put a larger emphasis on seeing action from a company," said David Sholkovitz, chief marketing officer at StarTech, an IT and A/V accessories provider. "If they have a complaint, they want to see it fixed rather than just hear back from the brand saying they saw their complaint."

"In response to this," continued Sholkovitz, "we have embraced a new process with our customer support team. The team provides post-interaction customer satisfaction surveys and then responds directly back to customers with a description of actions we're taking in response to their survey feedback. This not only creates a feedback loop with the customer but ensures they have the answers they need. It also creates a sense of community and appreciation when they realize their feedback was received and taken into consideration."

Learning Opportunities

Today's consumer recognizes they can conduct business at any time of day or night. The "always connected customer," therefore, expects brands to be available at 3 a.m. on a Sunday.

Speaking about these all-hours operations, Sholkovitz said that "customer service teams have had to make a shift to embrace new technology and ensure customers are getting responses, even after hours. Starting an online community forum or user group where customers can troubleshoot and receive answers/information has been a success in our business because it has allowed for after-hour help, personalized connection and fostered good sentiment with others."

Related Article: How IoT, Automotive and SmartTV Are Changing the Digital Customer Experience

Self-Service Provides Customer Satisfaction and Issue Resolution

A report from CGS, a global provider of business applications, enterprise learning and outsourcing services, revealed that customers prefer to handle more tasks themselves that are traditionally handled by professionals.

It's not that customers just want to resolve their problems themselves. What they are really after is convenience and speed. For example, when it comes to customer service, customers want solutions to their problems or answers to their questions. Furthermore, they do not want to put forth much effort to do so, nor do they want to spend much time on the task. A study by SuperOffice indicated that 88% of customers want a response from customer service within 60 minutes, while 30% expect a response within 15 minutes.

James Brown, CEO of Smart Communications, a customer conversations management platform, told CMSWire that customers have become more comfortable interacting with brands across a variety of digital channels and that they prefer brands provide them with the ability to find a solution to their problems themselves.

"The balance of power has shifted from companies to consumers who are now expecting exceptional digital experiences from all the companies they engage with and that includes bypassing the call center and opting for self-service opportunities that are more convenient," explained Brown. "Customers are now expecting two-way, personalized conversations delivered via their preferred channels. If these experiences are not tailored to a customer's individual needs, it creates frustration and distrust with the company."

Though improving the customer experience is a top priority for most brands, digital transformation can be a daunting process that requires brands to be deeply committed and have an actionable plan, said Brown. "Using technology to improve and connect consumer touchpoints will significantly impact customer satisfaction, increase renewal rates and generate more revenue. By leveraging technology integrations and intelligence, companies can digitally transform how they collect customer information and deliver more engaging conversations that improve the overall customer experience, instill trust and transparency and streamline operations for the company."

Final Thoughts

Customers today are tired after having lived through the worst pandemic in their lifetimes, and they don't want to hear platitudes from brands when they have problems — they want solutions.

Consumers expect to receive personalized care through all of a brand's channels, and they expect the same quality experience whether they are in a physical store, on a website, using an app or calling customer service on the phone. Plus, today's customers expect speed, convenience and ease of use, and brands should help them by providing self-service capabilities.