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Ten trends that will shape customer service in 2010

Ten trends that will shape customer service in 2010

The UK customer service sector is in for a challenging year in 2010 unless it moves quickly to address the twin pressures of an economy still in recession and today's internet-enabled consumer landscape, according to Sabio. 

To help address this, Sabio has identified the ten key actions that the company believes should be top of any customer service director's agenda for the coming year.

Sabio's 2010 Action List includes: matching your customer service resources with anticipated contact demand levels; reducing overall communications costs; adopting a pro-active service approach with call avoidance; finally addressing the challenge of the back office and taking serious steps to confront fraud in the contact centre - particularly for organisations that take payments over the phone.

"Many customer service management teams are being tasked with either maintaining current service levels with fewer resources, or are being challenged to deliver service level improvements without significant additional budget," commented Sabio's Consulting Director, Kenneth Hitchen. "These business imperatives aren't going to go away in 2010, so it's essential that organisations do everything they can to optimise their customer service activities, both strategically and at an operational level.

"To deliver on these objectives, our industry has got to get smarter. While there has been strong progress in key areas such as customer retention, engaging customers earlier in the sales cycle, and providing greater support for online channels, customer expectations are racing ahead," he continued. "Customer service organisations are struggling to come to terms with a 'millennial' generation that simply doesn't remember a time when the Internet wasn't omnipresent, and that - consequently - is presenting many companies with completely new challenges in terms of selling products and delivering services."

According to Sabio it's now much more difficult for organisations to hide their poor service performance, and - with a powerful word of mouth infrastructure now in place - companies simply can't afford to ignore customer feedback. "That's why it's essential that organisations do everything they can to make sure their service infrastructure is as effective as it needs to be to meet 2010's customer service challenges head-on," added Kenneth Hitchen.

Sabio's 2010 Customer Service Action List:

1. Get into shape with WFM and WFO - matching customer service resources with anticipated contact demand means fine-tuning workforce management and other workforce optimisation tools to ensure optimised performance. Go beyond staffing levels to look hard at real time management and multi-skilling to drive customer service centre occupancy levels.

2. Manage your infrastructure costs with SIP - many customer service operations micro-manage details such as Average Call Handling times without looking at the bigger picture. We believe that 2010 will see a real emphasis on reducing overall communications costs with the introduction of SIP trunking leading to significant reductions in monthly line rental costs. This can also potentially unlock sufficient savings to fund other key customer service projects during 2010.

3. Get proactive - Adopting a proactive service approach can help an organisation to reach out to the customer before they need to get in touch, using techniques such as SMS fulfilment, mobile web applications based on the latest presence data as well as focused outbound IVR initiatives that can reduce or eliminate the requirement for follow-up customer calls.

4. Start breaking down the back office - maintaining distinct front and back-office operations has always presented both organisations and their customers with a potential service quality disconnect. The deployment of UC-enabled techniques such as application sharing, unified messaging, conferencing and mobility/presence can now effectively embed back-office operations within a broader customer-facing environment, while WFM and activity blending can integrate resources and lead to significant operational efficiencies.

5. Tackle your security challenges - fraud is still a major financial issue for contact centre operators, potentially accounting for up to three percent of the bottom line for most financial services based companies. Sabio believes 2010 will see the increased deployment of biometric voiceprint techniques that reduce security concerns for operators while increasing ease of access for customers.

6. Deliver an any time, any channel service offering - the true shift from call centre to contact centre has been a long time coming, but it's now a reality with the contact centre playing an essential role in supporting and enabling corporate e-commerce activities. To make the most of these opportunities, organisations need to implement proactive tools such as web call back, web chat and email and phone blending that all contribute to driving conversion online

7. Respond to real time email pressures - with the rapid growth of BlackBerrys, iPhones and other smartphone devices, we now have a generation of consumers that are effectively online all the time. This always-on experience is driving consumer expectations for much quicker response times from their various suppliers, and they're going to have to be ready

8. Make sure your service is personal - there's really no excuse not to recognise customers when they get in touch by phone or e-mail or SMS, as it's long been possible for service operations to route a contact based on customer data and open call steering. 2010 will see the smarter contact centre operators using customer data to prioritise calls, as well as propensity to purchase, agent skills and customer contact histories to route calls more effectively.

9. Encouraging customers to self-serve - the recession is clearly driving the customer service automation agenda, not least because of its underlying business case of resource reduction. 2010 will see even more emphasis on speech-enabled self-service, with voice portals gaining momentum, as well as biometric-enabled speech solutions helping organisations to meet their PCI payment security obligations.

10. Measure for success - traditional call centre metrics have always been a barrier to exceptional contact centre performance. For 2010 Sabio hopes that more organisations will focus instead on more relevant, customer-focused metrics that don't hide inconsistent performance. We believe it is far more valuable to concentrate on criteria such as Net Promoter Scores, real time customer feedback and more balanced measurements that always match quantity with a qualitative aspect.

"Given that 2010 is likely to be as competitive as 2009, we believe that following up on any of these customer service trends can deliver quantifiable advantages and a rapid return on investment," explained Kenneth Hitchen. "For many, however, the real benefits come when customer service operations invest in best-of-breed contact centre systems and applications that make an incremental and cumulative difference project by project. HomeServe is an excellent example of this, having worked with Sabio over the last five years to build a customer service infrastructure that not only delivers a much better experience for its customers but also unlocks annual efficiency savings equivalent to £3.5 million a year - effectively turning a call centre that was a potential bottleneck to growth into a real strategic business asset."

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