Four trends that will define the future of customer relations

Customer management is constantly evolving – but, it has gone through huge changes in recent years, accelerated by advances in technology, greater digital adoption, and the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, it has seldom been more important for brands to find out what consumers want from their interactions with brands, and invest in the right training and technology to make that happen.

As part of our partnership with the French Association of Customer Relationship, we hit the streets to spend a day speaking to people from across Paris about what they think the future of customer relations looks like. The feedback provided us with a great deal of food for thought – and there are some important lessons for brands to consider. Here’s what we found:

  • Provide emotionally intelligent customer service

Even though customer relations relies on technology more than ever – and this will only increase in the years ahead – it has to retain a human touch. While young people overwhelmingly favoured digital for communicating with brands, they still prone for mixed journeys. And when it comes to the older generation, one person we spoke to summed it up perfectly: “When I go to a store, I appreciate the warm welcome, the smile, and the kindness from staff.” 

When you are remote, you can still provide what he refers to, and one of the best ways of doing that is by developing the emotional intelligence of advisers. 

There are direct benefits to businesses that use emotional intelligence testing to inform their recruitment. Customers who deal with an adviser who demonstrates emotional intelligence are more likely to stay with that brand. In fact, a study from Rutgers University in the USA found that salespeople at one global brand sold more products when they were hired on the strength of their emotional intelligence. The same research also found that emotionally intelligent staff had a 63% lower attrition rate in their first year.

You can develop enhanced emotional intelligence in teams in a number of ways; here are just two examples. Firstly, use data and recorded conversations to run through how different situations can be handled. Secondly, train advisers to be active listeners and responsive to customer needs, rather than worrying about following processes.

  • Personalise to each customer

One-size-fits-all approaches to solving problems seldom work. So why would it be any different in customer service? While there are similarities between customer enquiries, there are often nuances in each situation – whether it is their preferred means of communication or a specific requirement they need to resolve a problem.

What shone through in our interviews is that customer service has to be personalised – in other words, tailored to their individual requirements and preferences. Across all generations, even the people who agreed that they like to deal with their enquiries in person had different reasons for why they liked interacting with brands in that way, whether it’s for advice or just to talk to a real person.

All of this should impact how brands interact with their customers. More and more companies are looking at personalisation as a key part of their offering, as customer expectations continue to rise. In fact, the Customer Experience Trends Report showed 46% of businesses are investing in data for greater personalisation of services. 

Why does it matter? Like an emotionally intelligent customer service operation, personalisation drives greater customer loyalty. An Accenture study found that 79% of consumers say the more personalised a brand’s customer journey, the more loyal they are. 

  • Deliver a fast and simple process

The days of consumers waiting for hours to speak to an adviser on the phone are, thankfully, long behind us. Customers want more from customer relations, not only in terms of quality but also its speed and simplicity. 

One of the younger people interviewed, when talking about the advantages of using an app to interact with brands, said: “It’s nice to have an app, to get a quick and direct answer – you don’t have to wait three hours for an answer.” This was a common response from younger generations, who increasingly want a quick response from brands.

The emphasis on the response time was a common theme among our interviewees. But what do consumers mean by ‘quick’? 66% of customers told one survey they expect to engage with an adviser ‘immediately’ when they contact a company. Another piece of research from HubSpot found that 90% of customers say an ‘immediate’ response from customer service advisers is ‘important’ or ‘very important’ when they have a query. In this case, immediate meant an acknowledgement of or answer to their query in 10 minutes or less.

At the same time, 65% of customers want to buy from companies that provide quick and easy online transactions. One of the young ladies interviewed told us: “I would say digital because it’s easier, more convenient. You can do it at any time. There are no constraints.” So, speed and simplicity are absolutely intertwined and need to be treated as two sides of the same coin.

Many brands will track average handling times (AHTs) and first contact resolution (FCR) rates, but they cannot afford to push this at the cost of quality. There are a broad range of ways to provide quick and effective responses to consumers, whether it is through the use of AI-powered chatbots for routine queries, self-service resources, using IT systems to store customer history, regular training for advisers, or providing customers with the option of using multiple channels. 

  • Adopt a hybrid approach

Perhaps the clearest message that came from our interviews was that offering an omni-channel approach to customer service is what consumers value most. One of the respondents put it very succinctly: “customer relations will be hybrid.” Another articulated it this way: “Ideally, customer service should find a balance between digital and human…”

Although technology is an integral part of customer service, there will always be a need for humans – especially when it comes to the most complex enquiries and requirements from consumers. 56% of customers say they expect a company to have a self-service portal or knowledge base available to them. Yet, according to Gartner, only 13% of customers are fully able to resolve their issues through self-service.

Consumers still want choice when it comes to how they deal with a brand. HubSpot’s State of Service report found that all of the high-growth companies surveyed used several channels and tools for customer service. Consumers prefer using different channels to speak with brands, and they now expect it as a standard service – particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. 


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