4 Key Customer Experience Trends 2021

Customer Experience is becoming one of the biggest differentiators for businesses. Engaging with your customers from the start of their journey with your brand, through to  purchase and then to renew, upsell or repurchase has to be a critical focus. Without the customer experience mindset, your business will lag behind others who better value and measure their customer base's outcomes.  

As one of the main contact points (sometimes the only one in digital businesses) for your customers, Customer Support plays a significant role in forming and executing the customer experience you want to be known for. A recent Aspect study ranked 'Effectiveness' as the most important component of a customer service experience. 'Speed' and 'Ease of Use' also ranked in the top eight. It is clear that your customers want answers quickly, easily, and with minimal effort.

So, what trends should your customer service team focus on for 2021 that will help you meet your customer's expectations in this digital world? Let's explore four critical areas that need your attention to improve customer experience strategy and set your customers up for success!

Using Data to Improve your Services

Businesses are collecting three times as much customer data as five years ago. Likely the biggest miss for most teams is having it lay dormant in some unusable or inaccessible format. Actively used data is the currency of great CX. Here are two ways to make your data work for you. 

Support insights

Now more than ever, understanding your customers’ sentiment regarding certain features or capabilities of your product is vital. Having this information can change the way you speak to your customers, the articles you add to your knowledge base, how your product is built and, most importantly, help you solve tickets faster. How?

By recognizing patterns in tickets, you can create macros that help you respond faster, automate your resolution or prevent the customer from contacting you altogether. By seeing if your customer segments have different areas of concern or need a more personalized experience, you can tailor the way you communicate or the channels you use. If you know the subject of a ticket, you can route it to an expert or department more quickly to have the right eyes on it in a shorter time. Support leaders are also able to use these insights to spot areas to coach their employees, or to help productivity. Having tangible data can help focus conversations and improve professional development plans.

All of these are ways that the data inside your ticketing system can be brought to life and be used to improve your offering. Using this data can improve customer experience strategy across your customer base, while simplifying your agents' workload with tools that harness Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning.

Sharing Usage Data with other teams

Where are your customers failing to achieve success with your products or services? What are the contact reasons that are causing your customers the most pain? Do you know what your customers like most (and least) about what you do? Where are you the least efficient in solving customer queries the first time around? 

Everyone in the company should know the answers to these questions in order to provide the highest quality CX. Whether it be through automated gathering of information in SaaS, IoT and mobile app use cases, or through shadowing or user experience surveys, these details are critical to your success. Accurately predicting how users use your product or service will help you to support them better, adapt your offering and focus on their experience. The information that you collect is unique, and product teams crave the insights that only you can deliver - you are the fly on the wall. As a simple example, if you start to see an increase in customer complaints three months after a purchase, your product might have a quality or training issue. Sharing this information throughout your organization can drive changes to improve the customer experience. Something as simple as this leads to less frustration and more likelihood of repeat purchases.

We need to be able to stay on top - or get ahead - of our customers and be able to provide that service in real time: supporting customers where they are.

Craig Stoss @StossInSupport

Effortless and Proactive Customer Service

Customer service  leaders often talk about supporting customers through omni-channel, but contacting support is often already a failure itself. In 2021, touchpoints with brands have to be effortless - and customer service has to be proactive wherever possible.

An essential action to improve customer experience is providing support proactively to guide users to their success, or at least make supporting them as simple as possible. If you know of a defect in your product, a common misuse of it, or (for example) a delay in shipping, notifying your customers proactively with corrective actions, what you are doing to improve, any replacement opportunities, etc. removes the effort that your customer would put into contacting you. 

Proactivity Picture

No matter what channel a customer uses to contact you, the response should be the same. When something does go wrong, having a support team armed with the right information can be the difference between a frustrating or smooth experience. This could mean creating reliable knowledge base articles for common failure cases allowing customers to find answers outside your operation hours, when they aren't able to make a call, or able to wait for an email response. An increase in automation for your most common problems can also help easily guide a user to a solution. The critical component is that when your customers reach out to you, they receive a relevant, accurate answer in a timely manner. 

Everyone in Support

My third customer experience trend is 'everyone in support'. Going into 2021, customers demand higher touch, more bespoke care from the brands they love - and a faster resolution of their problems. When your company is in crisis because of a product fault or a major outage, or your load spikes due to a world event or product announcement, you must plan and strategize for an all hands on deck scenario. This does not mean your office administrator or sales representatives need to own the solution or troubleshooting, but they absolutely need to be prepared for the onslaught of customer questions with something other than "Please talk to support."

Crisis handling is objectively a difficult time for a support team. It usually means higher stress, more ambiguity, longer days etc. All of these things prevent support agents from doing their best work. Your customer experience strategy needs to include providing up-to-date, accurate, consumable information to all entry points in your company. This includes executives, sales people, and front desk staff. If a customer brings up a widely known failure, the person they are talking to should be able to at minimum summarize the problem, the status of the situation, and how to continue to get further updates. Don't channel switch or department shift your customers to support as your first step, that will cause further delays and more frustration during an already chaotic time. Make getting information easy for your customers. It shows you care and act as one organization, not a series of disconnected departments.

Get Social Support Right

Social Support has become a critical channel for end users. There really is an expectation now that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media are monitored and have active employees reading and responding in a timely fashion. In 2021, you need to approach these responses the right way. Too often, social support is disconnected from the customer service  team. They use different tools, don't have access to the same data, or aren't trained in the same way as your support agents. These differences must be erased. A customer shouldn't see a difference based on the channel they reach out on. Social support should not mean, replying to a tweet and asking them to contact support or repeating, "We are sorry for the inconvenience". 

Social Support should be an extension of support, connected to the same ticketing system, the same information and with the same ability to solve problems

Social Media

Facebook’s acquisition of Kustomer illustrates how important it is for digital businesses to integrate social media into their strategy going forwards. If channel switching is required, for example a call or an email, don't force the customer to do the work. Offer via private message to reach out or ask for an email, provide a ticket number in case there is a delay. If this requires a hand-off, you make that happen. Make sure the person taking ownership is prepared with the right knowledge and knows what has been done. Never force your customer to repeat themselves or inquire about status. 

Getting social support right is a game changer. It is a public display of how you react which is a reflection on your brand as a whole. Do you want to be known as the brand with a rotation of canned messages, or worse: one that always redirects inquiries to an email or a website? Or do you want to be seen as caring, helpful and working towards your customers' success?

Customer Experience Focus

The common theme of all of these trends is making your customer experience effortless by using data, and reducing the requirements for your customers to reactively contact you. Using your data to understand and be more proactive in your approach to support, bringing together support and product teams to produce a product that adapts based on customer frustrations, and aligning all functions in your business will reduce friction for your customers which leads to less frustration and more value with your product.

Making your support team fast and effective is always a win but, in 2021 and beyond, it is also a competitive advantage you can highlight as added value for your customers' precious budgets. Your customers will notice the difference.

Craig has spent time in more than 30 countries working with support, development, and professional services teams building insight into Customer Experience and engagement. He is driven by building strong, effective support and services teams and ensuring his customers are successful. In his spare time Craig leads a local Support Thought Leadership group. He can be found on Twitter @StossInSupport