In today’s dynamic business landscape, companies worldwide are seeking ways to achieve growth and return on investment (ROI) by aligning customer needs with the customer experience. This drive toward customer service excellence is no exception in the supply chain industry.
In these companies, customer service has often become the primary touchpoint. As customer expectations continue to rise, businesses respond with various customer service approaches, from comprehensive 24/7 support across all channels to more streamlined, efficient methods. But how many companies are actually achieving high-level customer service results? Let’s take a closer look.
The Reality of Customer Support Channels
With a diversity of customer support channels available, many might assume that companies offer a broad range. However, our findings reveal that most businesses provide only two primary channels. While modern customer preferences are increasingly leaning towards live chat, chatbots, and self-service portals, many companies report that these options are still relatively underutilized.
About 88% of organizations offer phone support, while approximately 90% provide email support. By comparison, live chat and chatbot services are available in a mere 22% and 7% of companies, respectively.
The challenges of providing robust customer support are intensified in the context of global supply chains. Such expansive networks require seamless support that transcends continents, time zones, languages, and regulatory frameworks. This is a hurdle for companies with smaller customer care teams, particularly if they are centralized in one location.
The Challenge of Staffing and Evolving Customer Expectations
In recent years, companies have faced notorious difficulty in staffing. An ongoing shortage of customer service talent is a significant concern for firms needing to scale up their operations. Coupled with this, rising customer expectations present an additional challenge for supply chain companies. These expectations, already on the rise before 2020, saw an accelerated surge due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Customers across industries began to demand faster response times, more empathetic interactions, and improved visibility. Our survey revealed that more than half of customers considered the customer experience more important in 2021 than in 2020. About 63% of companies increased their focus on customer experiences over the same period.
The importance of tracking customer service quality cannot be understated. Yet, this crucial aspect often gets overlooked. Large teams are more likely to provide round-the-clock support, a variety of channel options, and crucially, they are more inclined to track customer support Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). However, even among these teams, approximately 29% do not specifically track customer satisfaction.
This disregard for certain KPIs creates a gap between the perceived importance of various customer service-related KPIs and the reality of the companies tracking them. Without proper monitoring of these indicators, businesses struggle to evaluate the performance and ROI of their customer service operations, ultimately hindering their ability to make impactful improvements.
Changes in KPIs and Customer Retention Over Time
Assessing changes in customer service performance over time is critical for understanding and enhancing customer retention. Most companies reported either an improvement or no change in customer retention and average response time from year to year.
However, many respondents needed clarification on year-over-year KPI changes in their organizations. This lack of understanding is possibly due to a lack of data visibility or the organizations not tracking relevant KPIs at all. Alarmingly, our survey results show that the potential of customer service as a profit center remains largely untapped in most firms.
An overwhelming majority of companies (91%) are planning to make changes to their customer service operations in the coming year. The top three aspects companies plan to invest in are the implementation of new technology (57%), training existing staff (54%), and enhancing feedback/reporting mechanisms (38%).
The Path to Superior Customer Service Experience
To achieve a superior customer service experience, companies must adopt a unique blend of strategies that align with their specific goals, resources, and gaps in existing customer service offerings. Tracking and analyzing KPIs, offering a greater number of customer support channels, and providing multilingual support and 24/7 availability are among the strategies companies can adopt.
Implementing new technologies can help meet growing customer expectations and provide scalable support during staffing shortages. With millennials making up an increasingly large proportion of the workforce, companies need to adapt their customer service to these digital natives who demand convenient online support and expect certain technologies to be available.
Fluctuations in ticket volumes can cause stress on the customer support system. To prevent staff burnout and keep response times low, companies need to scale up quickly. Collaborating with outsourcing agencies can provide an experienced customer service team, allowing companies to scale without worrying about support quality or lengthy training time.
Lastly, improving transparency and visibility can significantly enhance the customer service experience. Many customer service representatives only have access to outdated data, which frustrates customers who expect up-to-the-minute details. By upgrading back-office technology, companies can reduce data processing time, providing their customer service teams with accurate, real-time information.
The Future: AI and Automation in Customer Service
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation are expected to play an increasingly significant role in the future of customer service. Innovative technologies like chatbots and AI-powered automation systems are coming. In fact, they are predicted to take over a majority of customer service interactions by 2025. This paradigm shift may drastically change the supply chain industry’s customer service landscape.
These technologies not only speed up response times but also provide round-the-clock availability, making them especially useful for handling high ticket volumes. Chatbots, for instance, can address simple queries instantaneously and redirect more complex issues to human agents, thus balancing workload effectively. Furthermore, automation helps in standardizing responses, thereby improving consistency and accuracy in customer support.
The Power of Personalization in Customer Service
The introduction of AI and automation doesn’t mean the elimination of the human touch. Personalized customer service remains vital for fostering customer loyalty and trust. When customers feel valued and understood, they are more likely to become repeat customers and recommend the company to others. Personalization goes beyond using the customer’s name in communication. It includes understanding their preferences, purchase history, and delivering tailored recommendations, among others.
To enhance personalization, companies can utilize AI-driven CRM tools that can gather and analyze customer data. Insights derived from these data can help businesses provide personalized experiences and offerings, ultimately improving customer satisfaction and loyalty.
In the pursuit of excellent customer service, employee engagement should not be overlooked. Engaged employees are more likely to provide superior customer service, as they are more committed to their job and the company. They tend to empathize with customers, solving their problems more effectively and creating a positive experience.
Companies can foster engagement through various means, such as offering competitive remuneration, creating a positive work environment, recognizing and rewarding good performance, and providing opportunities for career growth. In addition, providing regular training to employees helps them stay updated with the latest customer service trends, technologies, and practices, ultimately enhancing their performance and job satisfaction.
Balancing Customer Expectations and Operational Efficiency
Striking the right balance between meeting customer expectations and maintaining operational efficiency is a critical aspect of customer service in the supply chain industry. On one hand, customers demand quick responses, personalization, and 24/7 availability. On the other hand, businesses need to manage their resources efficiently to ensure profitability.
Technological tools can aid in achieving this balance. For instance, AI-powered chatbots and automation can handle high volumes of customer queries without additional staffing costs. Similarly, data analytics can help identify areas of inefficiency and provide insights into improving operational processes.
Preparing for the Future: Digital Transformation
The digital transformation of customer service is inevitable. Why? Because as companies strive to meet the increasing customer demands and stay competitive in the market, customer service will take front and center. This transformation entails the adoption of advanced technologies, such as AI, automation, data analytics, and cloud computing. These technologies not only improve customer service efficiency and effectiveness but also provide valuable insights for decision-making and strategic planning.
However, the digital transformation journey is not without challenges. It requires significant investment, a strategic approach, and a change in organizational culture. To ensure a successful transformation, businesses need to have a clear vision, a well-defined strategy, and the right skills and resources.
The road to customer service excellence in the supply chain industry is challenging yet rewarding. It requires a strategic approach, incorporating various elements, such as the use of advanced technologies, personalization, employee engagement, and balancing customer expectations with operational efficiency.
By continuously striving to improve and innovate, companies can enhance their customer service quality, meet increasing customer expectations, retain customers, and ultimately achieve sustainable growth and profitability. The journey towards customer service excellence is not a destination, but a continuous process of learning, adapting, and evolving.