Five customer service trends on the rise

Since customer service is a strategy and philosophy as much as it is a major function of your company, it’s necessary to constantly update and improve your approach. This means staying up to date with new channels and technology. But it also means monitoring larger trends and when it makes sense folding them into your customer service strategy.

We’re about halfway through the year, which means it’s the perfect time to look back at the past six months and see which customer service trends are gaining momentum.

1. Proactive support
Customer service shouldn’t be about putting out individual fires, it’s about building meaningful relationships with your customers. Providing proactive support, or preventing customer issues before they actually become issues, not only shows that you support your customers but also lightens the load on your support team.

Proactive support can take many forms: working with customers to improve your products and services, using analytics to measure how your customers are engaging with you, and even listening to your customers via social media. The best way to provide proactive support is for anyone involved in customer engagement, services, and training to provide best practices rather than just pointing customers to individual product features. This leads to:

  • Greater overall feature adoption which is critical to proactive success
  • More memorable feature training, because best practices are essentially stories that elicit feelings, which is “stickier” than rote memorization
  • A better understanding of what else is possible with a product or service, which makes it more flexible and adaptable for you as you grow

2. Self-service
An overwhelming 91% of people will use a knowledge base for self-service, but there’s a catch: You need to actually have a knowledge base. Not only that, it needs to be tailored to your customers’ needs. Consumers are becoming more and more comfortable using technology— especially mobile technology —to find what they need, rather than calling or emailing with a question.

This increasing appreciation for self-service should be recognized and embraced by companies. Not only does it decrease the volume of tickets your reps must respond to (leaving them with more time to focus on the more difficult or higher priority tickets), it provides an opportunity for you to build stronger relationships with your customers. Knowledge bases and forums let your customers interact with you and each other, with your company as the focal point. You get to learn about who they are and how they’re interacting with your company, and they can even provide insight into how you can improve.

3. Product development
Your customers are the best source of feedback to enhance your product or service. Increasingly, customer support and product development teams are becoming organizationally aligned so the company can better leverage the wealth of data your support team gathers.

“Voice of the Customer” programs are now common in customer-centric companies. These initiatives synthesize the rich product data provided via customer ticket text, search queries, idea forums, and quantitative measures such as NPS and transactional CSAT. This data both complements and supplements feedback gathered through less structured methods, such as focus groups and surveys. Your customer support channel is now one of your strongest product development assets.

4. Consumerization
When it comes to ease of use, companies like Netflix, AirBnB, and Amazon have set the bar very high. Combine that with millions regularly interacting with one another on Twitter and Facebook in their everyday lives, and it’s clear why people have come to expect all Web interactions to be simple and easy.

That expectation of course includes their communications with your business when they have a question or complaint. Anything less than an intuitive interface, straightforward design, and a hassle-free experience is a disappointment.

5. Multichannel
The idea of providing multichannel support has been around for awhile. While phone support continues to be the most popular method among consumers, more and more are turning to Twitter, Facebook, and email.

It’s becoming increasingly important to take a specific approach to communicating with your customers for each different channel, rather than a one size fits all approach. For example, you can receive identical messages from a customer; one via email, the other via Twitter. Since tweets are public, it is necessary to not only invite that customer into a private conversation—such as a ticket—but to also respond publicly on Twitter. Otherwise, a casual observer might think you’ve ignored the customer, even if you’ve gone the extra mile to help.

Every channel has different advantages and limitations, and it’s important to understand and embrace them as part of your overall customer service strategy.

Conclusion
Of course there are many other trends in customer service in 2013, and many more will continue to pop up as the year progresses. But focusing on these five will go a long way in helping you provide your customers with the best possible service.

Amy Kelman is Vice President, Customer Success at Zendesk, where she leads the team charged with providing beautifully simple customer service to Zendesk customers worldwide.

Read: The impact of customer service on lifetime customer value