Customer Service Trends in 2019

The latest, 3rd edition of the Salesforce Research ‘State of Service’ report surveyed over 3,500 customer service agents and decision makers around the world, between November 27th and December 15th 2018. They were asked for their feedback on:

  1. Service organizations’ biggest challenges and priorities.
  2. The changing role of customer service agents.
  3. The impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the future of customer service.
  4. How mobile workers fit into modern customer service.

Here are just some of the key points and takeaways from this excellent report.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution Drives Service Transformation

The fourth industrial revolution is where we are today. The term originates from the book ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ by Klaus Schwab.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution describes how the boundaries between physical, digital and biological worlds are being blurred. It refers to advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, 3D printing, genetic engineering, quantum computing and other emerging technologies. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is setting the stage for unprecedented, rapid changes in the way we live our lives and do business.

The first industrial revolution was driven by the development of the steam engine in the 18th century. The second industrial revolution took place due to the availability of electricity and other scientific advances which supported mass production. The third industrial revolution took place from around the 1950s due to developments in electronics, computers and digital technology.

In a 2016 article Klaus Schwab wrote:

“like the revolutions that preceded it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world.”

“In the future, technological innovation will also lead to a supply-side miracle, with long-term gains in efficiency and productivity. Transportation and communication costs will drop, logistics and global supply chains will become more effective, and the cost of trade will diminish, all of which will open new markets and drive economic growth.”

But he also warned that the revolution could lead to greater inequality and possibly an increasingly segregated jobs market.

According to Schwab:

“the changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril.”

Service Transformation is Competitively Essential

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution accelerates, the pace of technological development is also hotting up. For example, increasing instances of artificial intelligence (AI) becoming commonplace in our everyday lives.

Here are some notable statistics regarding service transformation.

  • 80% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services.
  • 80% of service decision makers say emerging technology is transforming customers’ expectations of their service organization.
  • 82% of service decision makers say their company’s customer service must transform in order to stay competitive.

Most customer experience professionals will already appreciate the importance of the experience their customers have with their organizations. This is clearly confirmed in the statistic indicating that 4 out of 5 customers (80%) rate their experience with a company is as important as the products and services provided.

It’s acknowledged that transforming a customer service and support department, which has historically been viewed as an essential cost center, into a strategic asset is not easy. High performing customer service teams have notably higher levels of investment in modernization than underperforming teams.

Service Priorities Reflect the Changing Business Role of Customer Service

This extensive survey identified the following as top service priorities.

  1. Improving workforce skills.
  2. Improving process and workflows.
  3. Improving service technologies.
  4. Integrating service across the business.
  5. Pivoting from a cost center to a profit center.

And the top customer service challenges were identified as follows.

  1. Keeping up with changing customer expectations.
  2. Budgetary constraints.
  3. Ineffective or inefficient processes.
  4. Insufficient tools and technologies.
  5. Underskilled agents.

It is notable that the biggest challenge faced by customer service teams is reported to be ‘keeping up with changing customer expectations’. These expectations are influenced by many factors, including customer experiences with other, unrelated organisations along with technological changes.

It’s great to see that service organisations are recognising the value of their workforces and the need to ensure that their people have the skills and tools they need.

Agents Take a Step Up

The role of the professional customer service agent is clearly changing. Over 70% of surveyed agents report that their jobs are more strategic than they were two years ago. These days agents are often faced with far more than simply closing as many service tickets as possible as quickly as possible.

Here are some notable customer service agent related statistics derived from this in-depth survey.

  1. 78% of service professionals say their company views agents as customer advocates, and 75% view them as brand ambassadors.
  2. 85%of service decision makers view investment in agents as a vital part of service transformation.
  3. 71%of service agents believe their role is more strategic than it was two years ago.
  4. 72% of service agents say their interactions with customers are relationship-oriented.
  5. More than half (51%) of agents want more challenging work.
  6. 63%of agents at high-performing organizations spend most of their time solving complex issues, versus 43% at underperforming organizations.

Further to the previous section in which investment in improving workforce skills was highlighted as a top priority, it’s great to see that companies are recognising the value of their service agents as brand advocates and most consider investment as a vital part of their service transformation.

There are some interesting statistics directly from service agents reflecting how they perceive their roles are becoming more strategic and their customer interactions are more relationship focused.

Impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is Taking Shape

Around 56% of service organizations are investigating how they can use artificial intelligence (AI) to deal with routine tasks – thus freeing up customer service agents, enabling them to spend time on more strategic tasks.

Here are some interesting AI related statistics from this survey.

  1. High-performing service organizations are 2.9x more likely than underperformers to use AI.
  2. The projected growth rate of AI use over the next 18 months is 143%.
  3. 51% of agents without AI say they spend most of their time on mundane tasks, versus 34% of agents with AI.
  4. High-performing service organizations are 2.1x more likely than underperformers to use AI chatbots.
  5. Within 18 months, 53% of service organizations expect to use AI chatbots – a 136% growth rate.
  6. 64% of agents with AI chatbots are able to spend most of their time solving complex problems, versus 50% of agents without AI chatbots.
  7. Eighty-four percent of customer service organizations using AI have seen improved prioritization of agents’ work.
  8. No fewer than 74% of AI users report reduced agent email and calls, and three-quarters even credit AI with increased agent morale.
  9. Over four-fifths of service teams with AI have increased their first contact resolution rates, and nearly as many have seen a boost to their CSAT and/or NPS scores.
  10. 80%of service decision makers believe AI is most effective when deployed with – rather than in place of – humans.

These artificial intelligence (AI) statistics are particularly interesting. Service agents are keen to see AI employed to deal with many of the more mundane, routine tasks, allowing them to focus on higher value work.

The use AI chatbots is growing significantly and this should allow service agents more time to spend on complex problems. AI use is reported to be responsible for reducing emails and telephone calls and has even been credited with improving agent morale, which is good to hear.

It’s also very positive to hear how 4 out of 5 decision makers (80%) think that AI is most effective when used in conjunction with real, human agents – rather than as a replacement.

Customer Engagement Goes Digital and Cross-Functional

Customer service is on the brink of a digital revolution. Well known, widely understood communication channels, such as telephone and email, have near-universal adoption. But today’s average customer might use 10 different channels to communicate with businesses.

The majority of service teams are already using social media, SMS messaging and messenger apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. It is anticipated that the near future will see growth in mobile chat and video support.

Here are some interesting statistics regarding changes in customer engagement.

  1. 66% percent of service professionals say their organization is seeing increased case volume through digital channels.
  2. Over the coming 18 months, the use of voice-activated personal assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa in customer service will see 152% growth.
  3. 69% of decision makers cite self-service as a major part of their service strategy.
  4. 73% of service professionals say their organization clearly understands which channels their customers prefer.
  5. 70%of service professionals say their organization can deliver consistent customer experiences on all channels.
  6. 48% of agents say they can engage customers on any channel they choose.
  7. 89% percent of service professionals say partnering with other departments is critical to providing great customer experiences.
  8. 90%of service professionals say customer service is viewed as the responsibility of the entire company – not just their department.
  9. 84%of service professionals say a unified view of customer information is key to providing great customer experiences.
  10. The increase in customer service cases raised via digital channels is probably not a surprise as people become increasingly comfortable and familiar with various digital communication channels.

A notable percentage of decision makers have indicated that customer self-service is a major part of their future service strategy. Another important collection of statistics are those which reflect how customer service needs to partner with other departments in order to deliver consistently excellent customer experience. Also, how customer service is being viewed as the responsibility of their entire organisations, not solely the customer service department.

Mobile Workers Become the Face of Brands

Customers are reported to be almost three times more likely to say service that comes to them is important rather than unimportant. It’s therefore not surprising to find that 84% of service decision makers cite improved or expanded mobile service offerings and operations as a priority.

Here are some additional, insightful statistics regarding mobile workers.

  1. 80% of service decision makers say mobile service drives significant revenue, and 79% say it provides new revenue streams.
  2. More than half (54%) of service organizations expect to increase their mobile worker headcount over the coming year.
  3. High-performing organizations are 2.3x more likely than underperformers to have hired more mobile workers last year.
  4. 89%of service decision makers say the experience a customer has with a mobile worker is a reflection of their brand.
  5. 80%of service decision makers say they provide mobile workers with the technology and resources they need to do their jobs well.

These are some very interesting statistics regarding mobile workers. It is great to see that 9 out of 10 decision makers recognise that the importance of their mobile workers to their brand image and that they provide them with the resources needed to do their jobs well.

Given that there is clearly a positive relationship between providing mobile service and revenue it is perhaps surprising to see that only just over half of the organisations surveyed are planning to expand their mobile worker headcount over the forthcoming year.

Regional and Sector Profiles

The excellent Salesforce Research Report goes on to break down their research by geographic region, indicating the number of survey respondents in each. It’s worth looking at these as there are some interesting differences based on geo-location.

Similarly, the Industry Profiles break down the statistics for key markets:

  • Consumer goods
  • Financial services
  • Government
  • Healthcare and Life Sciences
  • Manufacturing
  • Media and Communications
  • Retail
  • Technology
  • Travel, Transportaion & Hospitality

The appendix presents some interesting data comparisons. For example, looking at ‘organizations actively looking for ways to use AI’ the lowest percentage is indicated for the ‘Government’ sector (37%) and in the United States (29%). Whereas the highest is indicated to be for the ‘Technology’ sector (77%) and in India (88%).

This well researched report paints a thought-provoking and generally positive view of how things are changing in the dynamic customer service, support and experience arena. It will be interesting to witness what the next 12 to 18 months will bring.

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