Companies have put customer service at the top of their priority lists for 2021, and with good reason. 77% of customers say they're more loyal to businesses that offer top-notch service.
But what does great customer service look like these days? Have customer expectations changed?
Customer service trends 2021: Meeting changing customer expectations
According to Zendesk's 2021 Customer Experience Trends Report, customers care most about:
- Quick resolutions
- Helpful and empathetic agents
- 24/7 support
- Being able to use preferred channels
- Proactive support
77% of customers say they're more loyal to businesses that offer top-notch service.
Customers still value speedy resolutions and after a year of longer than normal hold times, it's easy to see why. But these days they want more from their interactions with support agents. In fact, empathy, the biggest growth area, now matters just as much as a team that's available around the clock.
What are customer trends?
Buying from brands on Instagram. Texting with a company. Seeking out businesses that promote inclusion or environmental stewardship. Customer trends capture everything about customer behaviors, including:
- where they’re shopping;
- what they expect from companies they’re buying from; and
- what channels they’re using to reach out.
Customer service trends 2021
After a volatile year, one thing is certain: customer service matters more than ever before.
Here are the seven customer service trends that are helping companies up their support game through 2021 and beyond:
1. Customer service becomes the brand
When was the last time that companies were so reliant on their customer support agents? To start, they've been dealing with a record influx of support tickets — 30% more than last year. And with people shopping more online, they've become the primary way that customers engage with brands.
With fewer in-person experiences, customer support agents have stepped in to fill many key roles. They're now the friendly face at the door, the dressing room associate, and the clerk at the checkout counter. And in some cases, they've even provided a friendly shoulder to cry on.
63% of companies are prioritizing customer experiences more in 2021
It's no surprise then that customer support is now a key driver of brand loyalty. And half of customers say it's more important now than a year ago. As customer expectations rise, the stakes are even higher: 50% will take their business elsewhere after just one bad experience. This leaves little room for error and 63% of companies are prioritizing the customer experience more in 2021.
2. Speed up your digital timeline
Forget multi-year plans for a digital transition, the time to act is now. 75% of company leaders agree that the global pandemic has compressed the timeline for acquiring new technologies to reach customers and connect distributed service teams:
- 50% say that digital adoption has accelerated by 1-3 years
- 25% say that digital adoption has accelerated by 4-7 years
Innovative solutions and technologies are no longer just for the digitally savvy, but for all teams.Over half of businesses around the world expect customer experience investments to increase in the next year. And those that don’t evolve risk getting left behind.
75% of company leaders agree that the global pandemic has compressed the digital adoption timeline
Companies want to invest in technologies that help them improve the customer journey by:
- Offering more channels
- Improving information security
- Boosting agility
- Collaborating better internally
- Making data-driven decisions
- Automating business processes
- Switching to cloud-based solutions
3. Customers expect companies to lead with their values
As a global pandemic transformed the way we live, collaborate, and connect, economic and social disruptions also forced customers to reexamine their values, and what they expect from the companies they do business with.
It’s not enough for companies to simply provide fast, convenient service. Now, more than ever before, they must connect with their customers on the issues they care about:
- 63% of customers want to buy from socially responsible companies
- 54% want to buy from companies that prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in their communities and workplaces
- 49% want to talk to an empathetic customer service agent
One way to build deeper connections with customers is to place them at the center of everything you do. Not sure where to start? Customer data may provide some important clues. By taking the time to better understand your customers, you'll get a better sense of the issues that matter most to them.
4. The rise of messaging
If 2020 had a breakout star, messaging would be it. As customers sheltered at home in their favorite pajamas, they turned to other comforts: familiar channels like WhatsApp and text. Nearly a third of customers messaged a company for the first time in 2020, and 74 percent of those say they will continue to do so.
Over the course of the pandemic:
- WhatsApp tickets jumped 219%
- SMS/text tickets: up 30%
- Live chat tickets: up 27%
- Social media tickets: up 26%
- Email/webform tickets: up 16%
- Phone tickets: up 8%
With support that’s fast, personal, convenient, and secure, it’s no surprise that customers and businesses are turning to messaging. The popularity of social messaging apps rose faster than any other channel in 2020, particularly among younger customers. And as a result, 53% of companies that rolled out a new channel last year added messaging.
53% of companies that rolled out a new channel last year added messaging
Not only are messaging channels easy to set up and deploy, but they also offer a better experience for agents. In fact, agents are 50% more likely to want to message with a customer than use traditional live chat. Why? Because they can work on multiple tickets at once and conversations don't disappear when a chat window closes.
5. Automation improves experiences for customers and agents
As messaging rates have risen, so too has the use of AI and automated chatbots. Interactions with automated bots jumped 81% in 2020, and they’ve quickly become a vital part of any messaging strategy. Bots make round-the-clock responses possible. And quick handoffs between bots and human agents means that customers don't have to repeat themselves.
Interactions with automated chatbots jumped 81% in 2020
Chatbots are most helpful, customers say, when it comes to less complex requests like tracking an order or checking a status or balance. And this is especially true when a customer needs a fast response outside of normal business hours. Chatbots can also suggest helpful self-service content that can provide answers when agents aren’t available.
For more complex issues like getting technical support or filing a return, bots can flag the ticket with human agents when they’re back in the office.
6. Emphasis on agility
Automated chatbots are just one way to process tickets more efficiently. And after a volatile year, companies want to build greater agility into their support team. In fact, managers cited difficulty adapting to change as their biggest pain point last year.
To become more agile, support leaders must be able to:
- Quickly scale their operations
- Streamline workflows across teams
- Reduce the demand on agents
If they aren't using one already, teams should consider an omnichannel approach, which integrates all of a company's available channels into one streamlined workspace.
Managers cited difficulty adapting to change as their biggest pain point last year
Workflow management tools like automations, macros, and triggers are another good place to start. From automated email updates to built-in responses for agents, these tools can help free up time for more complex problems. What's more, support teams with the fastest response times and happiest customers are more than twice as likely to use these tools.
Other ways that support teams are becoming more agile? By training agents to work across channels and deflecting would-be tickets with their knowledge base.
The number of so-called "blended agents" jumped 30% over the past year, enabling teams to be more responsive to changes in consumer demand. And knowledge base articles are up 20% globally, helping to proactively answer common customer questions with self-service.
7. The data transparency advantage
Half of customers are willing to walk away after one bad customer service experience. But it’s not just an unhelpful support agent, a delayed order, or even a convoluted return process that has them jumping ship.
Transparency around how businesses collect, use, or even share personal data, now plays a critical role in any customer-company relationship. So much so, that 71% of customers would leave a company if it shared their data without permission, according to a 2020 McKinsey survey.
It's a delicate dance. Customers want a personalized experience, but at the same time fewer and fewer want companies to have access to their data. Government policies like Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have provided some guardrails, but it's up to businesses to communicate clearly about what they collect and why.
Transparency around how businesses collect, use, or even share personal data, now plays a critical role in any customer-company relationship.
Doing so could mean the difference between loyal or lost customers. And those that move quickly will likely earn a competitive advantage when it comes to trust.
How is customer service changing?
Over the past year, companies have had to adapt in ways that they never thought possible, at a time when customer service has only become more important.
Customers want speed and convenience, but they’re also seeking empathy and commitment to the core issues that they care about. They want personalized service, but prefer to do business with companies that are upfront and transparency about their policies.
It’s a high bar, at a particularly challenging time. And it could mean the difference between loyal and lost customers. Companies that invest in solutions to help them work smarter and adapt quickly to evolving customer preferences will be better prepared to handle any uncertainty that lies ahead.
New CX for a new world
Last year, we learned that customer needs can change in a blink, and your support team needs to change almost as fast. Our 2021 Customer Experience Trends Report will help you keep up.