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Customer service is the kryptonite of any business—no matter how well the business is structured or how successful it seems, one foul move in the customer service department, and it can all be lost. This past year put a huge spotlight on the customer service industry, while businesses struggled with distress calls from customers, disruptions to daily operations, and a series of unpredictable shutdowns and curfews that changed the way the economy functioned.

Brands were forced to adapt to a whole new way of doing things, and that included handling their customer service. Today’s customer is adjusting to a changing world, too, and they’re expecting the brands that supply their goods to be on top of things and help them along the way. There is so much going on in the world of customer service, even outside the pandemic as the world of e-commerce and online business ramps up.

We’re seeing an increase in remote support, omnichannel customer service solutions, and other changes. These are all focused on providing the best customer engagement to deliver that Holy Grail, “great customer service.”

If you’re ready to dominate your competition, keep reading to learn everything you need to know to improve your customer service for 2021 and beyond. First up, let’s talk about the major changes you can expect.

What’s changing for 2021

In response to both the pandemic and the general increase in online commerce and mobile technology, the customer service industry is evolving and shifting at a meteoric rate. Many companies had their hands forced into change sooner than they wanted, only adapting as necessary until they could get a hold of the situation. If you’re one of those companies, now that things are settling it is a great time to start making some deliberate changes and proactive moves instead of just reacting.

Stay focused on positive evolution by noting the following trends and changes when creating your customer service strategy.

Service as a sales tool

Sales can benefit from aligning itself with the service department, and the company will benefit by improving the customer experience as a whole. Too many times, the customer service department is seen as a separate entity designed only to be involved when there is a problem.

That’s the first issue—by aligning the sales, service, and other departments in the company with a mission of creating a single, integrated, streamlined customer experience, the entire business will benefit. When the sales and service teams are aligned, agents can deliver a more personalized customer experience, which means more opportunities for problem-solving, as well as upselling and cross-selling.

Omnichannel will be required

Until recently, many brands erroneously assumed that multichannel and omnichannel service solutions were an optional upgrade that would be needed “eventually”. Well, eventually is now, which is why solutions like NICE inContact CXone offer a full suite of customer service solutions available through multiple channels, all integrated into one easy-to-use platform.

What is omnichannel? It doesn’t just mean making your brand available on various mediums. It means creating a clear pathway for customers to follow through the various channels, based on their needs, point of contact, and concerns that they have. Your brand will need to be able to know to route the guy with a question about a new sale to a different agent than someone who is calling about issues with their order, for example.

As today’s consumers are more flustered and devastated during the difficult times that the world is seeing, call centers need to respond in kind with agile, responsive customer service that is empathic, accessible, and delivers the right solutions for all customers.

Increased self-service

There is also going to be an increase in the amount of self-service offered to the world’s consumers. Thanks to the Internet, there is more opportunity for this than ever before. Artificial intelligence (AI) has evolved to create responsive chatbots that can handle simple questions and answers for customers who don’t want to have to wait to talk to someone.

As personalization continues to take center stage, the customer experience will require data that supports the unification of information and insights to provide a better user experience. People want to be able to take care of themselves and their needs when possible, but also know that your brand is there when they do need assistance. By integrating the omnichannel experience in the right ways, you’ll be able to address all of these concerns and more. Your brand will need to consider integrating tools like chatbots and other advanced software to not just meet expectations but to anticipate them on a necessary scale.

COVID-19 turned the world remote and made customers more self-reliant than ever before. In a time when everyone had to adapt, many people got used to taking care of things themselves; only relying on the help of dedicated customer support agents when necessary. Therefore, if your brand is going to keep up, it needs to include plenty of self-service options as part of the omnichannel service experience. Platforms like the contact center solutions from NICE inContact CXone can make that easy by offering integrated solutions for everything from self-service to a direct agent interaction with intelligent routing to make sure customers get what they need, even without your team’s involvement until it is desired.

Chatbots and AI will become essential

The technology that comes with self-service solutions is no longer going to be an optional feature or “benefit” that companies offer. While it does benefit consumers, the use of AI and chatbots is going to become an essential function. No longer will customers accept not having instant access to company contacts or a way to get answers when they want them. If you don’t engage with AI and chatbots, your audience will find other brands that do.

As part of remote support technology, AI is taking center stage. VoIP that is based in the cloud, live chat software, video meeting platforms, SMS lines, and other technologies that offer remote support for customers are going to be paramount for 2021 and beyond. Intelligent technology and the Internet of Things is helping to automate routine tasks, giving agents time to focus on improving their interactions, and improving remote service as a whole.

Although 2020 saw many innovations and changes that many people thought were impressive, to say the least, it’s really only a glimpse of what’s to come. Your brand will continue to see more ways that it can advance customer service and improve customer relationships with the help of intelligent technologies like machine learning and AI.

Greater focus on the agent experience

Empowered call center agents are going to be taking the spotlight, as well. Since employees are being dispersed to their homes and remote spaces around the world, they are going to need more independence and the ability to help customers without needing to reach out for support. By providing a better agent experience, brands will be able to improve customer service from the inside out.

This includes better agent training, integrated customer service platforms like NICE inContact CXone for contact centers that are going remote, and other solutions designed to give agents the tools and knowledge they need to provide the best customer experience, no matter where they are or what type of contact they have. Agents will also be able to learn the value of omnichannel service and how to follow the new routing structure to ensure that people get the right support on the right channels, no matter what they need.

For years, brands have focused on the customer experience (CX) without taking the time to think about the Agent Experience (AX). The problem here is that offering an empowered, efficient team of agents is the key to success. The NICE inContact CXone support solution includes integrated tools for a better agent experience, offering them important benefits like access to:

  • Enhanced training, software, and tools
  • More useful customer data and insights they can use for service and support
  • Relevant and specific feedback based on actual customer interactions
  • Flexible guidelines with clear processes in place to allow agents to prioritize the customer need above performance metrics

It has been proven that a better agent experience leads to a better customer service experience, so your brand must invest in tools and resources that will set your agents up for success.

The rise in remote teams and contact centers

The modern contact center has had to completely rethink its operations and business model, creating a more agile, adaptable way of working that is led by technology and largely remote. While some industries are impatiently waiting until it is safe to return to “business as usual”, contact centers are quickly settling into their own new normal, in a world where remote support is just a way of life.

Working from home will become a more permanent decision as employers see just how effective it can be and how much cost savings comes along with it. Not having offices or having a smaller office since most employees are remote, can save a small fortune, for example. The nature of contact centers makes them ideal for remote functioning, even when employees are scattered around the world and taking calls from the comfort of their home office.

According to industry research, as many as 35% of the contact centers surveyed think that their remote workforce will remain in place, even if the pandemic eases and work can return to somewhat “normal”. Many more feel that it will be an optional choice for some employees, with about 58% suggesting that companies will go back and forth between making it compulsory and simply offering the remote option to people.

Regardless of how it’s done, the fact of the matter is that the future of contact centers is flexible and remote, and that’s going to change the way that companies handle customer service. It will require a whole new kind of training, but you’ll now have those resources to dedicate when you’re saving on all that overhead.

Online reviews continue to take precedence

The modern customer loves online reviews and firsthand experience. Historically, people have been skeptical of online reviews because of the inability to trust their validity or the fear that companies were faking their reviews to bolster their reputation. However, today’s consumer knows all about the power of online reviews and will happily exploit that information, share their reviews, and more, all for the sake of the best experience and transaction for whatever they need at the moment.

When looking at online reviews, there are some impressive statistics. Customers are taking their power back in this medium and others are starting to notice. Brands need to focus on providing the best end-to-end user experience, which will help change the focus of the service department to a proactive approach more than a reactive one (more on that below).

94% of those surveyed said that an online review has convinced them to avoid business with a specific company, and 4 out of 5 people have changed their minds about a purchase upon reading negative reviews.

Not only that, but 92% of B2B customers are more likely to buy once they’ve read a good review. Customers, in general, are also going to spend as much as 31% more with a brand that has good reviews than they would with a brand that has neutral or fewer reviews. Finally, and perhaps the most important piece here: one interaction is not enough. Often, customers need multiple positive interactions with a brand before they will admit to having a pleasant experience or leave a good review.

Change is the only consistent trend

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The pandemic quickly proved how critical it is for companies to be agile and scalable, ready to adapt on a dime to massive changes. At the same time, these brands had to manage customer expectations, create a new customer experience, and offer better alignment with the future of customer interaction as the remote world quickly becomes the new normal.

People have adapted to the constant flux that has come with the pandemic and its effect on daily life. Now, those same people are looking for businesses and brands that can keep up with that agile, ever-changing pace and still deliver the customer experience that people desire.

The future of customer service is proactive, not reactive.

Service leaders and contact center managers in 2021 will find themselves trying to raise the bar for service by asking questions about things like:

  • How can our brand be more agile to adapt to changing situations as they occur?
  • How can we leverage data and knowledge management to provide support and a better agent experience to improve the customer experience?
  • How can we align the organization so that service teams have the visibility and support that they need?
  • Are we capable of providing targeted, on-the-spot training when and where it is needed to keep agents updated on the constant changes?

Basically, in building your brand for the future to deliver the best customer service and user experience, you have to focus on being agile and creating a business model that is ready to change at a moment’s notice.

Get your brand ready with the best contact center platform

One of the best ways that your brand can prepare for all of these upcoming changes and the new customer experience that is going to redefine your customer service is to invest in the tools and resources available today, like the NICE inContact CXone platform that ensures a seamless user experience by providing your brand with all the tools and resources that it needs in a single place. From the CXone dashboard, brands will be able to track customer experience metrics, monitor AI and chatbot activity, take advantage of omnichannel routing based on the customer data and where they are in the buying journey, and more.

With NICE inContact CXone, you will have all the tools and resources that you need to create an agile, customer and agent-centric focus that allows your brand to be proactive about customer service, which is the biggest trend for 2021. When you have the tools to predict what your audience needs, you’ll always be one step ahead of the customer experience, giving you the upper hand in customer service.

Take the lead in customer service with NICE inContact CXone

With the CXone platform from NICE inContact, your brand will be able to deliver on the best customer experience and answer the question of great customer service once and for all. You will be able to appreciate benefits like:

  • An integrated tech stack
  • Efficient, customer-focused remote support and self-service technologies
  • Improved tools and resources for a better agent experience
  • Dedicated resources for customer service through interdepartmental integration
  • A customer-centric approach to sales, marketing, and more for a total customer experience from end to end
  • Omnichannel routing to ensure customers connect with the right agent or service solution
  • Automated features that handle much of the work so that agents can focus their resources where needed

Our platform is designed to deliver the ultimate in agent support and superior customer experiences. We can help you create a customized solution for your contact center that strengthens your customer service in 2021 and beyond. Contact us to learn about all the benefits of NICE inContact CXone.