A year when shifting consumer behaviors and heightened expectations made the jobs of customer service (CS) teams a whole lot more difficult, 2021 illuminated the rising value of great CS for brands looking to pave a path towards success post-pandemic.
Navigating a historic increase in customer query volumes, dramatic operational reconfigurations, and intensifying pressure to make every customer interaction as frictionless as possible, CS professionals enabled their organizations to keep up with demand and keep their customers happy in undeniably challenging circumstances. However, organizations also had to reinvigorate their CS strategies in order to do so, most notably accelerating their digitization plans to meet their customers’ preferences for contactless technology — and to stay ahead of competition.
In fact, 95 percent of consumers across the U.S. and U.K. say they factor in the quality of a brand’s customer service when making a purchasing decision, according to new research from Stella Connect by Medallia. And as key brand differentiators become less product-centric and more CS- and CX-focused, all signs are pointing towards 2022 being a monumental year for brand-defining CS experiences.
Here are three customer service trends brands must prepare for in 2022 and beyond:
1. Dwindling Consumer Patience Stirring Up the Need for Speed
While brands’ consistent raising of the CS bar has ushered in a new era for exceptional customer interactions, it has also caused consumers’ expectations to skyrocket and, therefore, the costs of bad service to rise. Now, consumers across the globe are quitting their favorite brands with no warning, illustrating their waning patience and unwillingness to forgive and forget subpar experiences. This willingness to switch brands at a moment’s notice is a trend that’s ratcheting up the pressure on CS teams to deliver flawless service more frequently in 2022.
For example, Stella Connect’s recent Customer Service Trends for 2022: Preparing for the Future of Customer Service report found that 60 percent of U.S. and U.K. consumers say that they will stop buying from a brand after a poor customer service experience — a threat that certainly holds its weight, considering 53 percent say they did exactly this in the last year. This is a concerning reality for brands perhaps feeling the wrath of the labor shortage impacting many industries, but it also represents an opportunity for CS teams to deliver truly differentiating service experiences that keep customers coming back for more.
And as it turns out, speed is what consumers say will help organizations outpace competition in the new year. As they grow more accustomed to things like next-day delivery, one-click ordering, and 24/7 customer help lines, speed and convenience are quickly becoming the most important drivers of success today. Customers are no longer tolerating lengthy wait times, inefficient communication tools, and prolonged resolutions for their issues. In fact, response time is now more important to customers than even personalization, according to U.S. and U.K. shoppers, with more than a third (35 percent) of U.S. consumers and just under three in 10 U.K. consumers saying they would only wait up to five minutes for a response from customer service.
Indeed, as brands look to scale their CS capabilities in 2022 and keep their customer effort scores (CES) low, the key is to get to the root of their customers’ issues quickly.
2. Word-of-Mouth More Influential Than Ever
Mistakes are inevitable in the service industry. This is something every CS professional knows, and every customer understands to some extent. But when a mistake leads to a poor customer service interaction, it can have a detrimental effect on a brand’s reputation — especially today, when consumers are much more willing to share their experiences with their digital peers, particularly when these experiences fail to meet their expectations.
As such, organizations can expect word-of-mouth to become a more powerful marketing tool than ever before — and negative word-of-mouth to have a tremendous impact on their success and perception. After all, 40 percent of U.S. and U.K. consumers say that after a poor customer service experience, they will share that experience online. Meanwhile, just under half (49 percent) state that they’ll tell their family and friends to stop buying from the brand, a significant increase from the year prior when just 38 percent said they’d do so.
This illustrates just how confident consumers are becoming in their ability to both drive and deprive sales, a trend that’s inspiring them to become more vocal. Of course, the knock-on effect of this is that it’s compounding the pressure on CS teams, who are already working in an incredibly challenging environment. But with word-of-mouth pushing about $6 trillion in consumer spending every year, it’s something that brands can use to their advantage to drive meaningful bottom-line results.
3. The Power of Service Recovery Will Reach New Heights
Similar to how brands can take advantage of their customers’ trust in their own voices, they can also leverage those inevitable service mistakes as powerful opportunities to drive brand loyalty. This may seem like a contradictory statement — the idea that consumers would want to do more business with a brand after experiencing an issue — but it’s a proven growth strategy.
Indeed, the Service Recovery Paradox tells us that if a brand’s attempt to resolve a problem from a dissatisfied customer surpasses the customer’s original expectations, a paradox emerges where the customer actually becomes more loyal to the brand than if the initial mistake had never occurred. This paradox is something that Stella Connect’s new research supports, finding that a whopping 97 percent of consumers across the U.S. and U.K. say that if a brand turned a poor experience into a positive one by solving their problems immediately, they would do business with that brand again.
Also interesting is that more than a quarter (26 percent) agreed that they would be more likely to leave an online review about a poor experience turned into a positive one, than an excellent experience or even a poor experience. All of this data points to a truly unique opportunity for CS teams to form more human-focused relationships with their customers, and satisfy their needs more deeply, in 2022, as well as showcase their department’s unrivaled value and influence on their company’s bottom line.
Armed with new learnings from being on the front lines during COVID-19, and distinctive knowledge about what it takes to create brand-defining customer service experiences that raise their business above competition, CS professionals will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on their organization’s growth in 2022. Of course, they’ll do this against a backdrop where consumers’ wants, needs and expectations will continue to fluctuate and cause them to be more adaptable and flexible than ever. However, as long as brands equip their CS teams with the right tools to ensure fast and convenient shopping experiences for buyers — and turn negative interactions into powerful growth opportunities — they’ll continue to rise to the occasion, no matter the environment.
Sarika Khanna is executive vice president and chief product officer at Medallia, a pioneer and market leader in customer, employee, citizen, and patient experience.