I want to start my post with a bold and provocative question: Could data forever change customer service as we know it?

To explore the question, I’ll start by defining “customer service as we know it.” It refers to traditional, reactive support — the people and systems that help fix something that’s gone wrong. Most importantly, companies manage “customer service as we know it” as a cost center.

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Organizations typically strive to wring out costs and increase efficiency within the customer service function. In recent years, such efforts have included investments in greater automation and more sophisticated self-service. While amazing self-service capabilities may be faster or more convenient for the customer, they’re mostly better for the company. And they still fall within the bounds of traditional, reactive support.

What if we started thinking about service in a completely different way?

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While amazing self-service capabilities may be faster or more convenient for the customer, they’re mostly better for the company. 

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What connects customer service and growth?

Accenture’s End-to-Endless Customer Service research suggests there is, indeed, a higher calling for service. Our global survey found that when companies fully view service as a value center, they achieve 3.5x more revenue growth than companies stuck in the “cost center” mentality.

Currently, only one in five companies are managing service as a value center (and achieving that enviable revenue growth). What are these companies doing differently?

Here are three pathways you can explore to emulate their success:

1. Grow trust by mitigating friction. 

Stop focusing solely on responding to issues. Instead, increase efforts aimed at anticipating — and solving — problems before they affect customer experience.

2. Grow usage by maximizing value.

After you close a sale, don’t walk away and hope everything goes smoothly for the customer. Get to know the customer, stay attuned to their motivations and priorities, and help them use your offerings to achieve their desired outcomes.

3. Grow possibility with influential service.

No one is closer to customers than your service function. Every day, they collect vast quantities of service-related data. Yes, that data can help you run service with greater efficiency and quality. But you can (and should) use that data for something else: influencing your product development and innovation.

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How can predictive service transform customer support?

These pathways share an emphasis on predictive service — that is, using data and advanced analytics to get ahead of customer issues and motivations.

The ability to anticipate future events can help you prevent negative experiences for customers. It can also help maximize the value they get from you. For example, an insurance company might proactively reach out to customers who live in an area that’s bracing for a major weather event. The insurer could offer specific advice on how to avoid losses; it could also prepare its service workforce and systems for the anticipated spike in claims activity.

With data and analytics, you can make service-generated insights integral to virtually every aspect of your operations. Customers often have excellent perspectives on where you could do better. Take the input customers provide through your service channels and use it to improve your current products or shape new ones.

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What’s good for your customers is good for you 

That brings me back to the question I asked at the start of my blog post. Could data forever change customer service as we know it?

The short answer is yes. But the demise of traditional, reactive customer support won’t happen in one fell swoop. It will be an ongoing journey as companies pivot away from “cost center” support toward value-oriented service.

By wielding data and analytics to build more predictive service, you can understand who your customers are and the context in which they purchase and use your offerings. You can proactively engage your customers ahead of potential events that could create a need for support. And you can listen to and act on customer inputs to make better products and services.

My prediction? These approaches to service will be better for your customers and better for your business, too. Connect with me via LinkedIn so we can stay in touch during your journey to more predictive service.

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Edwin Van der Ouderaa

Senior Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Customer, Sales and Service

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