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Connection remains key to customer service, despite changing expectations

By Linda Saunders, Director Solution Engineering at Salesforce South Africa 

The role of customer service is fundamentally shifting amid changing customer behaviours, rising expectations and economic uncertainty. Even as industry strategies and tactics evolve, the challenge service professionals face to respond to increasingly complex issues, is becoming more intense.

The latest Salesforce State of Service survey found that changes are not just leading service organisations to focus on efficiency, but forcing them to reconsider how they deliver customer success entirely. Over 8 000 professionals in 36 countries, including South Africa, were surveyed.

With more consumers and business buyers noting that the experience companies offer matters as much as their products, service professionals are uniquely placed to maintain and unlock opportunities to grow revenue streams and customer loyalty.

At the same time, rising demand for digital-first customer engagement and employee attrition rates makes clear the importance of investment in customers and employees alike. The report highlights a number of considerations that South African businesses can draw on to elevate customer experience.

Automation as an enabler of efficiency

As surging inflation rates make running a business more expensive, service teams are considering how they can do more with less, which includes leaning into new success measures that promote productivity and efficiency. 75% of service organisations in South Africa use workflow and process automation.

Automation in particular is seen as an enabler to streamline processes and retain customers. Among the greatest benefits, service agents cite time savings, connection with other departments, error reduction and better focus on customer needs.

Globally, 65% percent of high performing service organisations — those with self-identified “excellent” customer satisfaction levels — report using automation. This is in contrast to 41% of underperforming organisations — those with fair or poor customer satisfaction.

As well as equipping service agents with tools to boost productivity, many organisations recognise the value of empowering customers to solve their own issues. Increased deployment of self-service tools to provide answers to simple questions, for example, is allowing more customer service organisations to implement activities like track case deflection, to help reimagine their customer service KPIs. 

Scaling digital transformation to meet customer expectations

As customers’ adoption of digital channels and expectations evolve, for service professionals to engage empathetically they need visibility into the entire customer journey.

This is all about meeting the customer where they are. Today, customers’ use of social media, knowledge bases and live chat is near parity with phone and email. With the decline of in-person service since 2020 showing little sign of recovery, the use of mobile apps, online communities and video support have seen massive expansion over the past two years.

In South Africa, 64% of service organisations offer video support, and 71% offer live chat, with customer migration to digital channels showing no signs of slowing.

Given the rising importance of digital channels, strengthening partnerships between service and IT departments is often key to breaking down data silos, saving on software cost, agent empowerment and resulting in faster time-to-market for new technology solutions. Despite their growing value, however, it seems such technology decision-making arrangements are on the decline.

Investing in employee experience and customer satisfaction

Service organisations have not been immune to challenges posed by the “Great Resignation” trend in which many employees have quit their jobs seeking more fulfilling and purposeful work, better pay and benefits as well as work-life balance.

Service organisations in South Africa experienced an average turnover rate of 28% over the past year. Given the clear link between employee experience and customer experience, many organisations are right to reconsider how they adapt their culture to better manage, develop and retain talent.

By investing in advanced technology, organisations can achieve greater customer satisfaction and support burned out employees. Relieving service agents of mundane, repetitive tasks, freeing up their time to build truly connected customer relationships and prioritise career development, will go a long way to boosting efficiency, engagement and revenue.

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