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What Consumers Want: Major Customer Service Trends

It is often said that customer service is the most important and effective marketing tool you can have. One unhappy and loud customer can cost you your reputation and significantly affect sales and earnings. I’m sure you all remember the case of Molly Katchpole, who went against Bank of America when they planned to charge a $5 fee on debit cards. Molly started a petition on Change.org that sparked a consumer revolt. Eventually the planned fee was canceled, not before thousands switched from Bank of America to smaller banks after activists scheduled a “bank transfer day.”

Clearly, you need to make sure your customers are feeling satisfied and happy, but the traditional 9-5 service line just doesn’t cut it these days. Luckily, many research companies and magazines often share info about how the face of customer service is changing and what actions need to be taken by businesses in order to adjust. With that said, they usually focus on the “here and now” and talk about trends that might not be relevant in the near future.

The customer service trends Micah Solomon, the author of High-Tech High-Touch Customer Service, identifies in his book are different. I find them to be long-lasting and think they will stay relevant in upcoming years because they focus on consumer behavior changes rather than technological improvements. Here are a few of his key trends:

The Desire for Self-Service—Around the clock-lifestyle, high penetration rates of mobile devices, and the declining need for interpersonal communication in the purchasing process have led people to prefer self-service platforms such as e-commerce, IVR, self-help video and blogs, etc. Small and big companies respond to this trend by providing their customers thorough online support on their website, customer service chat, offering a “shop online” option, and more.

Customer Empowerment—The technological advancement has made it very easy for customers to express their annoyance and dissatisfaction with a specific brand. Customers today understand that they enjoy empowerment at the speed of light. And they expect you to understand it, too, and to incorporate the empowerment expectations of customers into your problem-resolution process. An extreme example of a company that takes this issue to heart is Umpqua Bank, which operates in California and Nevada. They invite people to talk directly with the CEO through a phone placed in the bank’s branch lobbies.

Shame Shift and Values-Based Buying—Consumer attitudes toward spending have shifted from being proud to show off how much we can afford to being ashamed at consuming too much. That has led people to look for meaning in the purchasing process, and has made products that have “attached meaning” very popular. People are willing to spend more if they feel their money has helped an important environmental or social cause. A survey conducted in the US reveals that customers are demanding more alignment of company values with their own, and this customer sentiment is being expressed in buying choices. This trend requires businesses to better understand consumers and their values in order to interact with them on a deeper level.

No doubt the economic recession and technological changes are transforming the face of traditional customer service. Being small and local gives small business a huge advantage in this field. Small Businesses can communicate with customers on a more personal level, and understand their needs and values. Small businesses are also more agile and responsive and, with a little help from Google, Apple, and SohoOS, can give customers what they need quickly.

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