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Customers have come to rely upon online brands during the COVID-19 crisis. With so many customers shopping with brands known for providing exceptional customer service, customer expectations have risen, and nothing but exceptional customer service will do. In fact, a report from Microsoft on the global state of customer service indicated that 61% of customers have ceased to do business with a brand due to poor customer service. This article will discuss the customer service expectations of customers in a post-pandemic world.

Personalized Customer Service Experiences

Customers today expect a highly personalized experience when they interact with a brand, through all of its channels, including customer service, and that’s not likely to change. A report from Epsilon revealed that 80% of customers are more likely to make a purchase when brands provide a personalized experience.

John Nash, chief strategy officer at Redpoint Global, reiterated that customers today have higher expectations than ever for brands, and that generic, repetitive, and irrelevant messaging causes customers frustration and fatigue. On the other hand, timely, personalized interactions help to reinforce customer satisfaction and increase lifetime value, he said. “We will also see success from brands that focus on personalization at scale, as consumers are increasingly in control of the experience and expect high degrees of personalization,” he explained.

The ability to  provide personalized customer service across all of a brand’s channels requires the use of technology that unifies all of the data that has been generated throughout the customer journey. Typically this is facilitated through the use of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform or a Customer Data Platform (CDP).

Related Article: What Is Customer Experience Management?

Speedy Customer Service Response and Resolution

Customers demand a speedy response time to inquiries, and they want their issues to be resolved in a quick and efficient manner. A sales conversion study by AutoDeal indicated that dealers that responded in 6 hours or less saw a 40% improvement in their conversion rate on average. Additionally, dealers that responded in an hour or less were 48% more likely to close a sale. Not surprisingly, a report by CRM provider SuperOffice revealed that 31.2% of customers polled expect a response in an hour or less, while 11.3% expect to receive a response in less than 15 minutes.

Matt Strazza, SVP of Global Sales at Deltek, told CMSWire that CRM platforms can speed up response times. He said that the move to a fully remote workforce has made it more challenging for departments and teams to collaborate effectively. “The working world is currently experiencing silo fatigue, meaning that it's taking us a lot longer than usual to get things done and processes approved since we’re all working as individuals,” said Strazza. “Due to this, customer relationships are harder to maintain.” A CRM enables customer service staff to have remote access to every interaction a customer has had with a brand, and with that data at their fingertips, they are better equipped to immediately respond and resolve customer service inquiries.

An Empathetic Human Touch

The Edelman Trust Barometer report indicated that 71% of those polled said that if they believe that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever. Customers, like everyone else, have been heavily impacted by the pandemic. Although customers understand that brands have also been impacted, they still expect brands to be empathetic to their needs and desires.

Raj Patnam, VP of global solutions at ScienceLogic shared, that from the perspective of a customer service representative, empathy is the most important quality they can have. “Having a sense of understanding for when a customer is having difficulty purchasing or utilizing a company’s product, and being able to address these concerns quickly with a sense of empathy, is only going to help build brand awareness and allow for repeat customers,” he said.

Patnam believes that the digital shopping experience lacks the personal relationships and sense of familiarity that come from walking into a local mom-and-pop shop, and that the new normal’s self-checkout procedures and other contactless interactions lack the human-to-human dynamic that builds empathy and emotional connections. “AI is being used to enable faster solutions to address customer’s concerns in real-time to replace the human experience, but robots can’t offer the same type of empathy as a physical representative. Customer representation is at the forefront of where consumers build trust and a connection with a brand, and it is more important now than ever before that this is a primary focus for companies, even in a digital capacity,” said Patnam.

A Positive Emotional Connection

Iterable’s Holiday Quick Poll revealed that 83% of those polled said that they were more likely to do business with a brand that they have an emotional connection with. There are many opportunities during the customer journey to build an emotional connection with the customer, and the customer service experience is chief among them. By fulfilling the customer’s needs, or solving their problems, with personalized interactions between the customer and customer service agent, the customer can leave the experience feeling emotionally satisfied.

A Harvard Business Review research report entitled The New Science of Customer Emotions showed that customers are considered to be emotionally connected with a brand when the brand aligns with their personal motivations and allows them to fulfill deep desires, many that they may not be cognizant of. Through positive interactions with customer service, they can come to feel that they made a valid decision to do business with the brand, that they got value out of the transaction, and that the brand cares about them as an individual. This creates a positive emotional response that they will recall the next time they do business with the brand, and helps to build customer loyalty and enhance the customer experience.

Patnam told CMSWire that because the COVID-19 pandemic shifted consumers to online shopping, it forced brands to become more competitive in order to remain operational. He said that creating a positive emotional connection with customers is essential, and that brands are able to build such a connection by gaining a deeper understanding of them, delivering for them when they need it the most, and being consistent and reliable. "Human nature has not changed regardless of how many innovations have taken place from a digital perspective, people still shop where they feel most comfortable, and it is usually with the companies they trust," Patnam explained.

Customer Service Is a 24/7/365 Affair

With the shift to online shopping came a sense of immediacy that extended to customer service inquiries. Online brands do not operate on a 9-5 shift Monday through Friday, but rather, they are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Customers may be ordering from a brand at 3 in the morning, and if so, they expect customer service staff to be on hand to respond to any inquiries they have. “Customer service should be an around-the-clock effort because your customers are operating in that exact way. Anything that brands provide to customers today, especially from a digital service, is 24/7/365,” said Patnam.

Patnam’s ScienceLogic provides infrastructure monitoring and AIOps for clients that are required to provide digital services to their own customers, and his clients need to be able to assist their customers at all times. “If you take a bank, for example, a banking customer for ScienceLogic has to provide us 365-degree access towards their infrastructure service to ensure that ScienceLogic can alert them when problems happen. That is because when a customer gets to the bank’s ATM and is unable to retrieve their money, someone needs to be on-call to help resolve this issue so that the customer isn’t left without service and is dissatisfied,” said Patnam.

AI Chatbots for Simple Customer Service Inquiries

A 2020 MIT Technology Review survey of 1,004 business leaders indicated that customer service chatbots are the leading application of AI being used today. AI Chatbots are being used to enhance customer service by putting customer data in the hands of employees when they can make the biggest impact. Chatbots can also answer routine questions and tap into a customer’s prior purchasing history to provide a personalized customer experience.

Chatbots do not eliminate the need for human customer service agents and must be balanced with the ability to understand when to refer a customer to a customer service agent when more complicated issues arise. Chatbots can provide personalized responses to basic inquiries, leaving customer service staff to tackle more serious inquiries.

Patnam reiterated that while chatbots can be efficiently used for customer service in certain circumstances, they will never replace the need for human interaction. “Using AI and gathering the insightful data points to do the deep dive digging needed to help human customer service representatives be as efficient and act as quick as possible is the key to retaining customers. This is because the human brain is and always will be far more superior to a machine,” he said.

Final Thoughts

Long after the pandemic is over, the customer will still be king. The customers of tomorrow will expect a highly personalized customer service experience (even via a chatbot), a speedy response and resolution to their inquiries, an empathetic human touch, and a positive emotional connection with a brand — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.