COVID-19 has changed the future of customer service. There has never been more demand or more change needed.
But how do you know which customer service trends to follow in 2021? Where do you even begin? A new normal is necessary. And that requires some thought.
While many customer service trends remain familiar, the approach in 2021 is different.
Take AI chatbots and automation.
Before COVID, many companies were considering AI chatbots. Now, automation is a necessity. What was a polite suggestion before is now a serious consideration.
Investment is an even bigger decision when purse strings are tight. You want to make sure you’re getting the right bang for your buck and that your choices will hold up after the pandemic.
That’s why this article outlines customer service trends for 2021 and what you might want to do about them.
Here’s what you’ll find inside:
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COVID-19 has sparked a need for fast and drastic change. So, the article breaks down 2021 customer service trends into two categories. The first category is major trends necessary for change. The second is minor trends necessary to assist change.
Here’s the breakdown:
Other top customer service trends for 2021 include:
The customer service trend to follow without question is total online migration. In 2021, your customers and your customer service teams should be operating online. Being online and mobile-first are not new customer service trends. But COVID-19 has changed the playing field.
Here’s the proof:
Before COVID-19, businesses were migrating online, but there was no rush. Businesses often focused on bridging the gap between the offline world and online.
Now, there is almost no offline. And that will remain true for the foreseeable future.
Even in a post-COVID world, people will continue with their new online habits. In the US, McKinsey has noticed a 40% net increase in online shopping. And they predict that many consumers intend to shift completely online even post-COVID.
Another 45% of consumers increased their mobile shopping for non-food items. Plus, 77% of online shoppers say they feel connected to a brand when they can contact it directly. And when they are online, direct contact means online contact.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, DeeZee noticed a significant shift to online shopping and the use of social media. Plus, with the closure of shopping centers, even the most skeptical customers moved online. Customers who only knew our brand from brick-and-mortar stores moved online. COVID-19 has had a noticeable impact on powering our online customer base.”
— Paulina Siara, Customer Service Manager, DeeZee
So, the new focus for almost every business?
Be online. Be mobile-first.
Online migration may sound easy, but it’s more involved than you might think. There’s still plenty of boxes to check no matter where you are in your digital transformation.
So, here’s a brief checklist to get you started:
Here’s a list of tools to get you started with an online migration:
So, let’s get started with the customer service trends that allow you to migrate online.
Let’s say that your company’s customer service was in-person or handled by a call center before COVID-19. That worked well before the pandemic. But now, your people need to work from home.
How do you get your customer service team online?
Here’s a quick checklist:
“We were very successful when it came time to move our team to remote work. That’s because we had the luck of already being digitally prepared to do that. The important thing is being capable of delivering service despite mishaps. For example, a lost Internet connection.”
— Maggie Cheung, VP of Operations, Spokeo
Pro Tip: Transitioning from a call center environment? LiveAgent and Zendesk are two tools with phone-based customer service features. They also get you online and help you manage digital customer service channels.
To get your customer service team on the same page, you’ll need to provide training and support. Online means new skills. You’ll need to close your team’s digital skill gap by creating guidelines and providing training.
Once your team is ready to go, the next step is closing the gaps between teams. All your teams need to come together to provide the best customer-centric services.
“Customer service agents must have the proper knowledge of their business’s product or service to offer correct, concise answers. Reliable answers improve customer loyalty. Inaccurate answers generate a lack of confidence, which is difficult to recover from once it happens. That’s why it’s mandatory to provide continuous training on tools, processes, product features, and more. Training is key to keep the team ready for action.”
— Albert Cabanes, Expert in Supply Chain and Customer Service Management
Accenture recommends creating a Command Center. The idea is to bring together Sales, Marketing, Customer Experience, and other teams. The goal is to go through all available data to define a strategy. Teams adjust strategy as needs arise, revising approaches through the Command Center. Adopting this approach leads to agile, proactive service.
The approach also bridges gaps between your data, people, and digital solutions. It’s one of the quickest ways to finish off your digital transformation.
Creating a Command Center can also help you with another customer service trend - building a better digital customer experience. Not sure how to get started? We got you covered! Check out our article: How to Deliver an Excellent Customer Experience
Okay, so your teams are online. What’s next? Getting your customers to follow.
The first step is to identify where your customers are engaging with your brand and contacting you for digital customer service. A study by Microsoft shows that the majority of customers use 3-5 channels to resolve issues.
Here are some of the main possibilities:
"Customers often have a favorite contact channel that is decided by their lifestyle or personal preferences. We have to make sure that we offer each channel and that our team can cover them. So, customer service teams should be prepared to answer questions on any channel at any time.”
— Maggie Cheung, VP of Operations, Spokeo
It’s important to note that most customers still prefer the phone. Especially during times of crisis. Up to 57% of customers rank calling as their first choice for customer service. Email also remains a popular choice.
But customers are engaging with brands via social media more than ever. Facebook’s data shows that 74% of global consumers get shopping ideas from social media. Plus, using social messaging features for customer service is not a new customer service trend. Around 45% of global consumers have messaged a business on Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp.
Customers also have higher opinions of brands that provide customer service on social media. Microsoft found that 54% of customers are more positive about brands that address questions and complaints via social media.
All evidence points to providing a mix of traditional (phone/email) and trending (chat/social) customer service channels. The ideal? Providing seamless omnichannel customer service.
Here’s how you make that happen:
The important thing to remember is that customers want that seamless experience.
Omnichannel integration is how you provide it. Contacting you on Facebook should be the same as contacting you on Twitter. Plus, if a customer switches between the two, you should pick up where you left off.
For example, Mark reaches out via Messenger and then engages your chatbot. Mark is happiest if you remember who he is and what you already discussed with him.
In fact, 75% of customers want you to know who they are, their purchase history, and their service history. Yet, Microsoft reports that 31% of customers feel that this happens only occasionally. Providing that kind of service is a clear way to get ahead of your competitors.
Here’s a list of 7 solutions to track individual customers across channels:
The key is to funnel your customers to the right channels. For example, pre-empting phone calls with self-service solutions or chatbots. Customers who solve their own problems don’t call. People who do have to make a call don’t wait. And your customer service team only handles difficult and delicate issues.
Want to know more about omnichannel as a customer service trend? We’ve got you covered: How to Rock Omnichannel Customer Support
Voice assistants are on the rise.
Here are a few examples:
So, it makes sense that customers ask Alexa customer service questions.
But how do you begin to control that conversation?
If you want to integrate with Alexa, the first thing you do is create a new skill for her. Customers trigger skills when they talk to Alexa. For example:
While that sounds simple, it’s necessary to have a developer code the skill for you. Creating skills for Google Assistant or Siri are similar. Creating skills for Google and Siri is especially worth considering if you have an app.
The last customer service trend for online migration? Striking the balance between personalization and privacy.
See, when you move online you have access to tons of customer data. Having tons of data is great! It allows you to provide personalized customer service experiences.
But, with that power comes great responsibility.
Before, you may have warned customers that their call was being recorded. Online, you have to go a couple of steps further.
You’ll want to make sure that:
Customers feel better about giving you data when they receive personalized services in return. Accenture found that 83% will exchange data for personalization if the brand is transparent about usage and gives the customer control.
Pro Tip: In Europe, the easiest way to provide transparency and control is by showing a GDPR warning. But even if you aren’t on the EU market, it’s best to provide customers data transparency. Plus, allowing them to control options upfront builds trust.
COVID-19 has sped up the adoption of AI automation and chatbots as a customer service trend. If you were ready to adopt in 2020 but didn’t make the leap, it’s time to do so in 2021.
With demand peaking, automation and AI chatbots are the easiest way to control surges and remain agile. That in turn increases customer satisfaction.
Here’s the proof:
Before COVID-19, 25% of businesses planned to adopt AI-based automation to support their customer service teams in 2020. Of those who adopted early, 71% found that intelligent automation is what helped them remain agile during the pandemic.
That’s because chatbots automate answers to simple, repetitive questions. The result?
Chatbots reduce bottlenecks and customer service wait times.
That’s why 76% of businesses believe that automation would benefit their workforce post-COVID. Automation reduces strain on your team as chatbots handle surges.
Plus, giving customers a self-service option like a chatbot gives them immediate answers to easy questions. A good chatbot only deflects complex questions to agents. So, customers who need to speak to a human agent can do so right away.
In fact, 73% of businesses believe customer satisfaction will increase with the automation of customer service tasks post-COVID.
Finally, automation is an investment that holds up post-COVID. As demand falls, your chatbot will still handle the repetitive queries. You won’t have to scale back teams.
“We automate as many channels as possible at DeeZee. The idea is to give customers easy access to information so they don’t have to contact the customer service department for basic information. Currently, customers can check their order status and receive answers to basic questions. Automation has made the lives of our consultants and customers much easier.”
— Paulina Siara, Customer Service Manager, DeeZee
So, the new must-have for almost every business?
Automated customer service and AI chatbots.
The most important aspect of this customer service trend is choosing the right chatbot. You don’t want a chatbot that feels like a robot or reroutes too many requests to live agents.
There are several solutions to achieving automation:
Depending on which solution you choose, it could take 12 months to 12 hours to get what you need. And time is of the essence.
The fastest way to automate your digital customer service is to either use what you have or find something that plugs into what you have.
Here is a list of 5 types of tools you’ll want to explore:
As you can see, there are a lot of confusing options:
How do you start to choose?
The main feature of your chatbot should be that it learns from human interactions. As it does so, it will automate more conversations and provide better answers to the questions asked. Your chatbot will improve all by itself.
Using Zowie AI as an example, here’s how that kind of automation can work:
Considering automating your marketing as well? Not sure what trends to follow? No worries! Check out our article: Top 8 Marketing Automation Trends for 2021
Most customers see speed as one of the most important aspects of good customer service. Facebook shows that 63% of US consumers say speed is important. Other studies show closer to 80% saying speed is important to good customer service.
Here’s the bottom line:
When you have a problem you want it solved now. You don’t want to listen to some weird music on hold. You don’t want to have to ask again on a different channel or repeat yourself.
The good news?
By adopting chatbots, you’ll arrive at immediate support for a good chunk of your service. Plus, you’ll drop your wait times for customers on hold via the phone.
The tricky part is doing the same for your social media channels.
The key thing to remember is that “speed” often means “instant” response times. And that’s especially true for customers who use social media channels. They expect customer service teams to answer their questions as fast as a friend would.
The good news is that Megan doesn’t respond to Tony’s messages right away despite being best friends. She follows up with him as soon as she gets a free moment.
Most people expect the same speed from social media customer service. Up to 37% of customers expect an answer within the same day of asking a question.
Yes, there are those that expect a faster response. A further 28% expect a response within an hour and 18% want an instant response.
“Due to the pandemic, online customers are more demanding. To offer the right customer service, businesses need to solve problems as fast as possible. Good online customer service is also 24/7. It's essential to avoid endless emails, calls, and chats, so having reliable automation tools is important.”
Expert in Supply Chain and Customer Service Management
So, how do you achieve almost immediate response times across all channels? As mentioned - automation. Having the right customer support tech will automate omnichannel syncing.
Make sure that your customer support tool syncs your channels.
By doing so, your agents can respond to requests as they happen where they happen. Your bots and self-service options will provide immediate responses for the rest.
When you’re providing reactive service, your agents need to answer questions fast. That’s because there are 20 other people with the same problem waiting on hold. Agents repeat scripts and canned answers because they need to solve the problem and move to the next.
Now, your chatbots are providing canned answers. So, what are your agents doing?
They’re providing a memorable experience.
Or at least they should be. When automation finally frees up your agents, that’s your cue to turn them into brand ambassadors.
Remember, it’s not just about serving your brand to your customers. It’s also about creating conversations that act as two-way streets. By listening to what customers want, your team can create feedback loops that inform your branding.
“We're with the customer from start to finish. So, we experience feedback in real-time, often as the customer is feeling it. We read it all, and then we use that feedback to improve our services. Every major change we've made to the consumer-facing elements of our platform was made to meet needs communicated by users. We wouldn't be the platform we are without them.”
— Lara Simon, Customer Service Manager, Veeps
You can answer your customers’ questions as they ask them. Or you can expect that Bob will have the same issue as Sarah and Karen. That information allows you to create solutions that lighten your team’s workload.
And that’s important because customer service is still one of the top bottlenecks for growth. Taking a proactive approach gets rid of potential bottlenecks.
So, let’s take a closer look.
What is proactive customer service?
Proactive customer service is anticipating customer needs or problems and taking measures to address them before they happen. It’s the opposite of reactive service, which is resolving issues as they come to light.
Some customer service will always be reactive. But the movement to digital customer service allows for a more proactive approach. The best strategy is finding a good balance between proactive and reactive customer service.
Here are examples of online proactive customer service solutions:
“I highly recommend having a resource hub - not just a simple FAQ page. A landing page with detailed step-by-step how-tos, links, and video content is extremely beneficial for those that are newer to the digital world.”
— Lara Simon, Customer Service Manager, Veeps
Here’s the proof:
Customers want the opportunity to solve their own problems. Worldwide, 88% of customers expect an online self-service option from brands. Often, the only failure is a lack of content. Up to 43% of customers feel that a lack of information is why self-service didn’t work.
If you can provide the right content at the right moment, you’ll reduce customer frustration. Solving customer frustration reduces churn. Reducing churn improves digital customer experience, which also increases a customer’s willingness to spend money with you.
That’s why customers want you to be proactive. Plus, they want to hear about it. Up to 40% of global consumers want to hear about proactive customer service. And more than 67% of customers want proactive notifications from brands.
So, how do you address proactive service as a customer service trend?
Provide informative self-service options and keep them coming.
Step one is identifying problems and how to address them. Let’s say you’ve closed your digital gaps and unified your teams. Doing so should give you plenty of data from a range of sources.
Step two is creating the right content based on your insights. You’ll also need to decide where to locate your content so customers can access it when they need it.
“To deliver proactive customer service, you must have a deep knowledge of your customer and the customer journey. Different types of customers will have precise needs at different stages. For example, there are those who avoid customer service altogether. Then there are those who are delighted by proactive engagement. So, it’s important to know who to engage and how.”
— Maggie Cheung, VP of Operations, Spokeo
But what if you have yet to create a command center and centralize your data? Where can you look for pain points?
Here are some ideas:
Okay, so you know where to look for insight. What comes next? Ask yourself:
Finding easy-to-solve, repetitive problems is the first step to becoming proactive. The next step is creating the right content to solve those problems. The final step is making sure customers can find your content. If you achieve all three, you’re proactive.
One of the more underestimated sources of customer service data is sentiment analysis.
Sentiment analysis uses NLP (natural language processing) to read texts and assign them sentiment - positive, negative, or neutral.
But what’s the benefit of knowing if 50% of the tweets about your brand are positive? Isn’t that just a vanity metric? And who’s to say 10% of those tweets aren’t sarcastic?
Isn’t the final result nothing more than a statement:
Most of our customers are positive about our product.
There’s a way to dig deeper. Often, sentiment analysis tools allow you to isolate comments or reviews. So, let’s say you notice a spike in negative sentiment. You can isolate the negative comments and see if there’s a common thread of discontent.
That kind of insight allows you to identify and address problems as they are arising. It's especially important to address negative sentiment spikes on social media. You want to get in on the conversation before people start to engage and share.
Here are some examples of tools to get you started with sentiment analysis:
The list of tools runs the gamut from simple to advance analyses. For example, Sentiment Analyzer allows you to copy/paste a text and receive a score. It’s a one-off tool, but it’s free.
Zapier allows you to connect apps. Let’s say you’re not ready for a tool like Brand24 because you only have Facebook. Zapier allows you to conduct a sentiment analysis only for Facebook.
When you do decide to go all-in, tools like Lexalytics and Brand24 are worth the investment. You want a tool like Lexalytics when you have a ton of text - e.g., surveys/reviews. And you want a tool like Brand24 when you’re generating a lot of online engagement.
Pro Tip: Some customer service technology or marketing tools (e.g., Hubspot, SEMrush) include sentiment analysis. You can also get it as a plugin with Zendesk. Before investing, check if your tools already have a sentiment analysis option.
Most customers want a self-service option. And 67% of customers will use self-service before contacting a live agent. So, if they find the right answer, you’ve delivered successful, proactive customer service.
But only 9% of customer issues are solved via self-service channels. When customers can’t find the answers they switch to live support options. And that can cost 80 to 100 times more than if a customer resolved their own issue. Customer service agents believe that 40% of live support issues are solvable if customers have good self-service solutions.
But how do you make sure customers are getting the answers they need?
First, you need to decide what kind of content is needed.
Here are some basic solutions:
Then you need to make sure that your content has the following features:
The most important thing is that you’re providing quick answers to common questions.
Finally, you’ll want to make sure that your content is easy for customers to find:
Crisis management demands fast and clear communication. The COVID-19 crisis has made it clear that people need vital information now. For example, 77% of people want to know how brands are responding to the pandemic.
But crisis management plans aren’t only useful in the face of global pandemics.
Having a crisis management plan in place for any type of customer service disruption is a key feature of proactive service. That way, whenever a crisis does happen, you can respond right away with clear information.
Here’s how you go about creating crisis management plans:
Here’s what good crisis management communication looks like:
While there are many customer service trends to take into account going into 2021, there are three that stand out:
Making the choice to invest in these customer service trends now will pay off long after COVID-19 is a thing of the past.
The important thing to remember is that providing a great customer experience along with great service is the key to success for most businesses. And the best way to start is to be proactive and provide automatic, quality customer service online.