Top 3 Trends from NRF 2020

NRF’s Big Show has just wrapped up, and after three days packed to the brim with insights from leading retailers, one thing is clear: a focus on the customer is essential in today’s competitive retail market. Whether you’re a digital-first disruptor brand or a legacy company who has transitioned into the 21st century, an exceptional customer experience drives business success. Read on to learn the top three trends we saw at NRF 2020.

Customers Take Center Stage

Brands are constantly talking about “customer obsession”. It’s a buzzy phrase, but it doesn’t quite get to the bottom of how you should be treating customers, only that you should be obsessing over them. According to Alex Genov, Manager of Research and User Experience at Zappos, “customer care” is far better than obsession. When brands really, truly care about their customers, and build a company culture that supports this care, they’re able to be leaders in their space.

And employees can truly make all the difference. Stacy Siegal, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of AEO Inc, the parent company of American Eagle, revealed that their associates were renamed “brand ambassadors”. They are empowered to be able to handle problems themselves, and advocate for the brand. In essence, everyone that works at AEO is a leader, and they are empowered to own the brand’s success. Damu McCoy, Vice President of Talent Acquisition at Target, agrees with this concept. Target customers are called “guests”, and when they are looking to hire new talent they search for individuals that embody their values: guest-focused and guest-centric.

Building Deeper Connections with Consumers

The best way to build brand loyalty and advocacy is by establishing deep connections with consumers over shared values. That’s what we learned from Annie Agle, Director of Impact and Brand at Cotopaxi, and Kelly Cobb, VP of Community and Giving at Bombas. Both are successful brands that put giving back at the core of their strategy. This approach has naturally led to a “community” of customer advocates that feel as though their values are reflected in the brands they do business with, and find kinship with other customers of that brand.

Pooja Agarwal, Chief Operating Officer of Birchbox, also described how the subscription service has built a community of loyal followers over the past decade. First they identified their target audience, one that had been historically underserved. They encourage social sharing and also take pride in the fact that their employees are part of this community. It isn’t just the customer service team that is handling CS…all employees are answering questions, handling tickets and understanding customer feedback.

Additionally, transparency and feedback is essential to build these deeper connections. After a recent snafu with fulfillment, Rent the Runway vowed complete transparency to their customers and committed to do the right thing. Instead of angry customers, they actually found that this honesty and transparency fostered greater loyalty in their customer base, said CEO Jennifer Hyman. Angle of Cotopaxi agreed. Perfection is hard to achieve, and the company acknowledges its shortcomings and is open about where they want to improve.

All of these actions build trust and deep connections with a community of customers, and these customers become your advocates, not just you buyers. According to Pinterest retail strategist Amy Vener, individuals are looking towards their community for recommendations, rather than sponsored content or influencers. So the more that retail brands can build this community of loyal customer advocates, the more successful they will be.

Shopping for the Experience

In a panel with the founder of JRNI and the Senior Manager of Brand Experience and Events of Total Wine & More, it became abundantly clear that customer experience is more central than ever before for business success. While individuals used to shop out of necessity or convenience, experience is now the leading reason.

Therefore, it is hyper-important to provide the best possible experience, both in-store and online. Keith Neely, VP of E-Commerce and Digital Marketing at Case-Mate, emphasized how providing a seamless experience directly correlated with repeat customers for his business.

The most prominent example of providing a true “experience” for customers, is the new Nordstrom flagship store in New York City. CEO Erik Nordstrom explained in his keynote that stores now must be more experiential, not just a place to buy an item and leave. In the Nordstrom flagship they have a bar in the shoe department, various restaurants, and a whole floor for beauty treatments.

As Nordstrom said, customers don’t use the word “channel”. The lines are completely blurred, and they look for a singular experience no matter whether they are shopping in-store, online, on social or mobile. The customer experience should be unified, and it reigns supreme.

 

A Look Back at Customer Service During the 2019 Holiday Season

The holiday season has only just wrapped, and it was arguably the most important season for any retail customer service organization. When there are issues with holiday orders, you encounter the very real possibility of unhappy customers who are angry and embarrassed by missing or incorrect gifts. Customer expectations are at an all time high, and organization must over-deliver during their greatest times of need. Whether it’s handling simple product questions in real time, proactively alerting customers when there is an issue with their order, or rectifying any subsequent issues upon delivery, customer service during the holiday season could be the difference between a lifelong customer and one lost to the competition.

How Peak Season Customer Service Has Changed

The digital and direct-to-consumer shifts have had a huge impact on retail customer service. While customers now expect instantaneous service on a multitude of channels, they also expect personal and helpful interactions, similar to face-to-face interactions with in-store associates. In fact, according to a recent Kustomer survey, 75% of consumers aged 25-34 said they expected personalized communications from retailers. And that is 15% higher than those 65 and older, meaning personalization is becoming increasingly expected with younger generations.

2019 Holiday Season Developments

Last year there was a drastic increase in multichannel shopping (both online and in-store), and multichannel support inquiries are also on the rise. That means consumers may start an inquiry on one channel, and finish it on another. Whether the channel switch is because they are on the go, or they didn’t get a prompt response on their original channel, multichannel inquiries can cause duplicative work resulting in agent collision as well as the unfortunate need for customers to repeat information. It is important that retailers have a strong omnichannel support solution in place for any peak shopping period. A true omnichannel support solution can integrate your combination of communication channels in order to capture the free flow of conversations across channels and display the data in a single screen. This ensures seamless transitions and consistent experiences from one channel to the next.

Peak Season Challenges

The constant struggle for customer service organizations during peak shopping periods is sheer volume. With more shopping comes more support inquiries, and businesses that don’t have a scalable strategy in place, supported by the right technology, may not be able to deliver on customer expectations. Additionally, many businesses hire “seasonal employees” to help with the busy periods that they must heavily train to ensure they provide a consistent brand experience. With software that does the heavy lifting for them, providing unified customer history in a single screen and delivering standardized responses via dynamic content, the onboarding burden during an already busy time will be lessened.

Additionally, with a high volume of inquiries, customer service organizations often have trouble prioritizing the most urgent or pressing issues, and simply stick everyone in a queue, which is often unbearably long. Retailers can use AI and automation to intelligently route the most pressing issues to the most appropriate agents, or even prioritize loyal customers.

Overwhelmed customer service organizations often fall into the unfortunate habit of delivering bare minimum support in order to complete inquiries as quickly as possible. It’s important to realize that during peak shopping seasons, your customers are also stressed out, and expect retailers to deliver on their usually stellar service just as thoroughly as they would on the slowest day of the year. That means delivering real-time support, on any channel they choose, in a personalized manner.

Overcoming Peak Season Challenges

Whether it’s Cyber Monday, Valentine’s Day or Back to School season, brands should not only have a scalable strategy in place, but also technology that enables them to be more efficient and effective. AI and automation can improve the precision and speed of service by automating repetitive, manual tasks. While there is always fear of losing personalization when using AI and automation, with the right platform, businesses can actually do the opposite. For instance, if a business leverages customer data properly, AI could ask personalized questions based on an individual’s purchase or browsing history. These interventions save time for both the customer and agent, and increase the time spent on the actual issue rather than information gathering and low-level support.

To learn more about the results from the 2019 holiday shopping season, and how to properly prepare for future peak shopping periods, download the full report.

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4 Easy Ways to Strengthen Your Brand Through Customer Service in 2020

Have you ever ended a call with a customer service agent thinking that you’d never want to go through such a horrible experience again? You probably shared your experiences with friends and family, or went so far as posting your negative thoughts across social media.

One angry consumer not only means a lost customer, but could also mean a hit to your brand or a PR nightmare. Your customer service agents need tools that promote a positive experience for each and every customer. The following are four easy ways to strengthen your brand through customer service in 2020.

Speak with Customer in the Ways They Want to Communicate

Enabling your agents to service customers on their preferred channels, whether that be e-mail, chat, SMS, voice, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Twitter, strengthens the bond between companies and their customers. Consumers expect brands to be available on each and every channel they regularly use, but oftentimes tracking conversations and interactions across channels can be a challenge for agents. With Kustomer, conversations across channels converge into a single thread on a single screen, resulting in a seamless and effortless conversation. By breaking down the communication silos of traditional multichannel solutions that fragment service experiences, cause agent collision, and frustrate customers, Kustomer ensures a true omnichannel experience for customers and agents alike.

Reach out to Your Customers Proactively

Customers understand that problems happen all the time. Proactive communication allows companies to keep their customers updated on issues like delays in shipping, out of stock items or product updates. Customers empathize that problems arise and feel valued when kept in the loop, while inbound inquiries are reduced due to proactive outreach. Some organizations turn their CX organization into a revenue center by sending offers based on purchase history, deep insights or to encourage repeat purchases. With all of your data in the Kustomer platform, your customer service team can proactively communicate to deflect issues and delight customers.

Measure Your Customer Sentiment

Agents need to understand the mood of the customer before the conversation begins. Sentiment determines the direction of the conversation, which agent should handle the customer and how to handle the interaction. Customers are happy because agents can immediately empathize with their emotions. Agents are happy because they are aware of the customer’s current disposition and are trained to handle difficult interactions appropriately. Tracking customers’ sentiment helps agents decide how to best prioritize and engage in conversations, and provides management with a critical metric for overall customer service effectiveness.

Know Everything About Your Customers

Companies that develop deep insights about their customers, and leverage them appropriately to provide personalization, will improve their brand image. Tracking important customer information like birthdays, anniversaries or most recently purchased items on a customer timeline softens conversations and makes for a memorable experience. Agents can see deep insights quickly and easily and can, for instance, wish their customers a happy birthday. A personalized call can switch sentiment from potentially hostile to neutral or even positive. Kustomer connects your agents to all of your customers’ data from internal and third-party systems, providing a holistic timeline view for more productive and efficient conversations.

Strengthening your brand begins with asking tough questions. Is customer sentiment appropriate for your business? Is speaking with your customers through an omnichannel approach important? What types of customer information would you track that could impact your brand? Once these questions are answered, a platform like Kustomer could help you kickstart a successful 2020.

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What Does the Future Hold for Contact Centers?

It’s undeniable that customer experience is only becoming more central to business success. But being thought of as an “icon” in the customer service space is challenging. A surefire way to succeed? Prepare for the future now. According to a CCW Digital survey of contact center professionals, the future of customer service is already within grasp. Read on to learn what pros in the industry think, and how to prepare for the future.

Channels of the Future

Just fifteen years ago, the iPhone didn’t exist. Neither did Twitter. In five years, the landscape of customer service channels may be dramatically different. According to the CCW study, the phone will not disappear as a dominant support channel, with only 17% of respondents expecting its relevance to decline, however a digital transformation may come to fruition.

A whopping 84% of respondents believe chat and messaging bots will become more central to support functions in the next five years, showing the importance of AI to the future of customer service. But instant agent channels will also become more popular, with 81% expecting messaging to rise and 76% saying live chat will be imperative. Lastly, social media and connected devices will have a place in the future, with 68% of respondents saying social will become more important, and 60% saying connected devices are on the rise.

The Customer Service Intelligence Challenge

Did you know only 11% of consumers believe that organizations take their feedback seriously? It’s true, and it’s an issue that businesses are trying to solve.

Collecting great insights from customers is the leading contact center objective that companies want to achieve by 2025. Unfortunately, only 1% of organizations currently believe that their customer intelligence strategy is perfect. Why? Almost half (47%) of organizations have data scattered across various systems, showcasing the importance of a unified data environment to gather meaningful and actionable insights.

Other customer intelligence issues reported by businesses were: not collecting enough data (43%), not using data to personalize the experience (43%) and not doing enough to understand customer sentiment (40%). An additional 40% believe that they don’t even HAVE sufficient data to fully understand their customers.

The contact center of the future will have to leverage systems that unify data and give businesses a seamless way to analyze customer intelligence and take action on that intelligence.

Establishing Customer Service Objectives

Many of the “objectives of the future” are the ones we strive to currently measure, but may have difficulty achieving. In order of importance, customer service experts think the following will be the biggest objectives by 2025: reducing effort, consistency across touch points, proactively resolving customer needs, and collecting great insights.

These objectives highlight the importance of a true omnichannel experience, as opposed to a disjointed multichannel experience, and proactive support.

On the other hand, contact center professionals will not be prioritizing some of the traditional success metrics of days past, such as reducing call volume and reducing handle times. Instead agents will be empowered to focus on providing the best possible experience for customers, no matter how much time that interaction takes.

To read the full report, which includes a plethora of additional data, download here.

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Kustomer’s 2019 Year in Review

The final days of 2019 are drawing to a close, and that means it’s time for Kustomer’s year-end wrap up. It has been an exciting year, with much growth and development not only for Kustomer, but for the customer service space as a whole. Here are some of the most memorable highlights:

Top Customer Service Trends of 2019

The throughline of all developments in customer service this past year have stemmed from one fact: customer expectations are growing and brands are struggling to keep up. Consumers demand instantaneous communications on every channel, while simultaneously expecting personalized connections with the brands they do business with. Here is how customer service has changed as a result.

Omnichannel Not Multichannel

Just as companies finally began to feel comfortable achieving multichannel support, customers began to demand more: they now expect TRUE omnichannel support. Unfortunately, the two terms have almost become interchangeable, with many companies and technology providers conflating them. Multichannel support simply means offering customers more than one method for contacting customer service.

Omnichannel support, by comparison, shifts perspective from ticket resolution to customer relationship building. Customers have the freedom to move between channels throughout their engagement, and are guaranteed consistency, so each conversation starts where the last ended. Achieving true omnichannel support was a focus of many organizations in 2019.

The Rise of AI and ML

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have always been trendy buzzwords in the customer service space, but now they are actually impacting customer service. It’s predicted that the use of AI in customer service will increase by 143% by late 2020, so many organizations have spent this year implementing initial automation and preparing their organizations for change.

AI, ML and automation can enable customer service teams to work more efficiently and focus on the customers who need the most help. In 2020 and beyond, AI will largely take over the tedious tasks, while agents can help solve the harder problems, nurture customer relationships and engage in proactive outreach.

The Changing Face of the Support Agent

As a result of this increased adoption of AI and automation, the role of the support agent has also begun to shift. Customer service agents now spend more time building brand equity and customer relationships. The agent’s job is to reflect the company’s mission and values, and act as a trusted partner for customers. The changing expectations of consumers means that customers want to do business with companies they believe in, feeling as though they are a part of the brand. Customer service agents can help do just that, through both proactive and reactive support.

Customer service will continue to become more of an “escalation channel”, with agents spending less time responding to inquiries and answering simple questions, and more time tackling complex or difficult problems.

Kustomer 2019 Developments

Not only was this a huge year for the customer service space, it was also a momentous year for Kustomer as an organization. In 2019 we:

  • Raised series C, D & E funding, totaling $135M
  • Achieved company growth of 350%
  • Opened a brand new office in Durham, North Carolina

We’ve also witnessed tremendous product developments in the past year, including the official announcement of KustomerIQ, which embeds artificial intelligence and machine learning across the platform to enable companies to provide smarter, automated, and more personalized customer experiences. We launched our first EU data center in Dublin to better serve our growing international client base, and achieved SOC 2 Type I and HIPAA compliance to address our client’s regulatory requirements.

Spotlight on Events

In 2019 we held our first annual user conference, Kustomer Today, which gathered a group of leading experts in customer service for thought provoking and informative discussions. The free, all day event for Kustomer clients explored the Kustomer platform, showcased new product releases, and facilitated networking with innovators shaping the future of customer service. Kustomer’s Bosses Unite event gathered an intimate group of leading women in customer experience (CX), in a Gatsby-like atmosphere, to eat, drink, and share the successes and challenges that come with being a woman in the CX industry.

Kustomer attended industry-leading events such as the TaskUs Summit in San Francisco, where executives from the world’s most innovative and disruptive brands debated the future of customer experience, and explored the changing CX landscape. Kustomer also broke into the European market at the Call and Contact Center Expo UK, where we showcased the innovations of the Kustomer platform and met industry professionals looking to excel in the customer engagement space.

Kustomer Top Content

In case you missed it, check out some of Kustomer’s top content from the past year, where we explore consumer expectations and showcase the brands that are delivering superior customer service:

REPORT: The State of Retail Customer Service
E-BOOK: Brands Doing Customer Service Right
GUIDE: 3 Ways to Deliver Personalized Support
BLOG: Why the Kustomer Experience Matters to Abercrombie & Fitch Co
CASE STUDY: How Glovo Delivers Customer Service to Millions

 

What to Look for in a Modern Day Customer Service Software Solution

Consumer expectations are growing. In fact, 66% of consumers aged 25 to 44 believe that the customer is always right, almost 35% higher than those over 65. That means the younger generation is expecting more from the brands they choose to shop with, and companies must keep up. But how do you accomplish that?

Without endless resources, delivering seamless and personalized service, on every channel, can be an intimidating challenge. Luckily, technology can help. But just as consumer expectations have shifted rapidly, so has the way we do business. Finding a software solution that is built for the modern age is of the utmost importance.

Customer-Centric, Not Ticket-Centric

Think of it this way. Just fifteen years ago, the iPhone didn’t exist. Twitter didn’t exist. And customer service software wasn’t built to accommodate the expectations and channels of today’s customers. A modern day customer service solution treats customers like people, not tickets.

Many customer service solutions on the market today are ticket-based, meaning they identify the customer as an attribute of an inbound or outbound message and build the communication around that ticket. These systems prioritize the metric of a “done ticket” over a customer relationship.

In contrast, modern day customer service solutions focus on the customer at the center of each interaction. By tying existing applications, business processes, and performance to the experience of the customer, companies are able to deliver more human interactions, as they know the full context and history of that customer and how they’ve interacted with the brand in the past.

Focusing on the customer may also inspire changes in your business beyond the changes in your CX process. Building a customer-centric mindset increases the chance of evolving your business in response to customer feedback, not theories.

What Makes a Modern Day Customer Service Platform

Holistic Customer View ✓
Every customer has a timeline unique to their history of purchases, omnichannel interactions, orders and returns – combining all internal and external data into one actionable view.

Powerful Automation ✓
AI and machine learning enhances agent productivity and assesses the needs of your customers in real time to deliver the best outcome in the shortest time.

Truly Omnichannel ✓
Agents can seamlessly switch engagement channels in real time within the same conversation, easily toggling between channels.

Understands Sentiment ✓
Know how your customers actually feel and gain actionable insights across every support channel and interaction.

Customizable To Your Business ✓
Fully actionable integrations with any existing system – internal or external. Let your customer service software match your business.

Download Kustomer’s full Buyer’s Guide to learn what you should be looking for in a customer service software solution, how to evaluate potential partners and how to measure success.

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