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July 20, 2016
The future of customer service: A CRM primer
By: Yaron Wilf

The Future of Customer Service: A CRM Primer

Today, customers hold all the power. Properly supporting these empowered customers isn’t easy, but doing so is imperative to succeeding in the growing digital economy.

Customer service in the Digital Age

Cloud technology has created an environment where the cost (effort, financial and emotional) of switching vendors is greatly reduced, which has made the quality of the customer experience—and the value of the service experience in particular—that your company provides a defining factor for building long term relationships with customers.

Once someone makes a purchase, they most frequently interact with your company via your customer service operations. Therefore, the quality of the service you provide significantly influences customers’ perceptions about your brand and the end-to-end customer experience you deliver. In turn, these perceptions help dictate customer loyalty, be it retention loyalty (making repeat purchases), enrichment loyalty (purchasing additional products or services) or advocacy loyalty (recommending your company to others), which is key to retaining customers and growing the business.

3 focus areas for digital customer service

According to a 2016 trends report on the future of customer service from Forrester Research Inc., there are three key pillars that contribute to perceptions of service quality:

  1. Ease

  2. Effectiveness

  3. Emotion

Trends 2016: The Future of Customer Service

Image source: Leggett, Kate. “Trends 2016: The Future of Customer Service.” Forrester Research, Inc. January 5, 2016.

Excelling in each of these areas requires investments in digital technology like cloud CRM. Let’s explore how the cloud CRM ecosystem can help your service organization stay ahead of these trends and improve the quality of customer service.

1) Ease of obtaining service

What customers want
Customers now demand seamless and effortless interactions with your company across every channel, and they expect you to be able to manage engagements that span across multiple channels at once. Additionally, self-service is quickly becoming the preferred means for getting help, with assisted service only coming into play for more complex issues. Finally, when customers need on-site service, they expect service technicians to fix their issues right the first time and show up at the right location with the right part at the right time.

How cloud CRM can help
To meet these customer demands for an easy service experience, you need to take advantage of the latest cloud CRM capabilities, such as web and mobile channels that tap business processes and data to power service interactions.

Key functionality includes:

  • The ability to extend service to the wide variety of digital channels (chat, phone, web, SMS, video, mobile apps, social networks, etc.) used by customers and seamlessly manage interactions across those channels without requiring customers to restate their inquiries.

  • An effective knowledge management program, including a knowledge base, to help service agents answer questions quickly and effectively and to improve self-service resources for customers.

  • An online community where customers can connect with and help one another, access self-service resources, ask questions, manage their billing, make additional purchases, etc. This type of engagement-powered community can go a long way toward fostering customer loyalty.

  • A connected environment that takes advantage of Internet of Things technology to transform the field service experience. This environment should extend traditional case management to asset management, work orders and dispatching in order to provide better control over the end-to-end experience and to make on-site interactions effortless for customers.

2) Effectiveness of service

What customers want
Providing customers with effective service is all about delivering the right service to the right user at the right time on any channel (or even multiple channels). Diving a little deeper here, by “right service,” I mean service that meets the customer’s need entirely (or perhaps even goes beyond) and provides a means to avoid any similar issues in the future.

How cloud CRM can help
In its trends report, Forrester recommends three components of a cloud CRM program that can help service organizations improve effectiveness: Process guidance, prescriptive advice and preemptive service.

Process guidance
Process guidance, which includes everything from creating simple workflows to building customized business rules to introducing pre-installed best practice industry templates, is a mainstay of modern CRM systems. Today, best of breed CRM platforms enable users to visually design, deploy and manage business processes without writing any code. They also guide the agent experience end-to-end from issue initiation to closure and beyond by allowing agents to tie in customer feedback, for example from transaction surveys, in order to improve future service interactions. Cloud CRM systems can also inject these workflow components into self-service and mobile channels. Additionally, an integration with back-end systems is critical, as it allows you to tap contextual data to shape the user experience.

Prescriptive advice
Prescriptive advice enables you to drive customers toward positive outcomes by following recommended next steps generated by the CRM system. Cloud CRM systems handle these recommendations by using decision engines to analyze data from a variety of systems, channels and user behaviors to recommend everything from answers to questions and best offers and promotions to in-house experts and peers who can likely offer help. In order for this type of decision engine to work, you need to integrate your CRM platform with back-office and external systems that can collect data such as purchase history, customer sentiment, interactions and preferences, etc. along the entire customer journey. You also need to configure the platform to expose recommendations based on the context of an interaction. For example, the system should not recommend additional products to a customer who has opened many cases or given poor reviews. In such a scenario, the best prescriptive advice would be to determine ways to improve the service experience for that customer, for example by offering a free service or discount.

Preemptive service
The ability of connected devices to gather and communicate data, especially when integrated with a CRM system, creates a powerful opportunity to increase customer satisfaction and brand loyalty by providing value-add, preemptive service. For example, connected devices can monitor inventory, usage history, geolocation, etc. and use that information to send alerts to and open cases in your CRM system regarding potential issues. When combined with workflow automation and analytics, this communication from connected devices can enable the CRM platform to act as a command-and-control center that handles everything from detecting and diagnosing potential issues to fixing those issues before critical failures occur. Ultimately, this preemptive service should result in lower service costs and increased customer satisfaction.

3) Emotion Toward the Service Experience

What customers want
The quality of the service experience is critical in defining how customers feel about (and their loyalty toward) your company. When customers have poor service experiences, they are far more likely to be vocal about it, communicating their negative perception to both your company and their friends, family and colleagues. While satisfied customers are typically less vocal than their unhappy counterparts, satisfied customers are prime targets to become advocates for your brand.

At the end of the day, customers want to form a strong emotional bond with companies and will do so when companies demonstrate that they have their customers’ best interests in mind and empower agents to do the right thing for their customers. The key to achieving that goal is to deliver proactive service.

How cloud CRM can help
Proactive service can help create a positive emotional bond with customers by empowering agents to meet customer needs faster and more effectively. Knowing your customers well enough that you can provide this proactive service is a journey. At a minimum, integrating your CRM system with CTI will help contact center agents recognize callers and start the conversation positively with a “Hello Mr. Wilf” rather than “Who is calling, are you a customer? Spell that again.” Advanced CRM platforms can help take this personalized service one step further by capturing your customers’ preferences, purchase history, social profiles, etc. and providing agents with the relevant pieces of that story based on the context of the task and the channel of engagement.

Service success: Pay attention to the voice of the customer & empower agents

Throughout all of these efforts, there are two key ingredients that will contribute to service success: Paying attention to the voice of the customer and empowering agents.

Recognizing that the voice of the customer is critical to product and service innovation, you need to gather feedback across the entire customer journey to form a true picture of customer sentiment. Traditional tools like transaction surveys are prevalent and well integrated into CRM platforms, but these provide only a narrow view of the customer experience. Forrester predicts that customer service organizations will expand customer feedback capabilities across every channel, using voice analytics and customer sentiment analysis to help the contact center respond in real-time. CRM systems that integrate feedback directly into operational reports and provide real-time feedback to agents in their consoles will be most impactful in helping improve service. Additionally, companies that are brave enough to share with customers how they use the feedback to improve will win the hearts of their customers.

Finally, remember that the contact center is a complex and stressful environment. Empowering agents with the right tools can significantly improve productivity and allow agents to turn their attention to providing customers with effortless, high quality service. Leading CRM platforms empower agents by providing a unified agent desktop that gives a holistic view of customers and surfaces context and next best actions to provide consistent service across all channels. Meanwhile, integrated backend systems and knowledge ensure that agents have the data they need at their fingertips to quickly solve problems.

It's time to build a next generation contact center for your business. Find out how to make it happen.

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