From help desk software to consumer behavior and expectations, customer service changes every year. New trends and technology spring up, often making the job more nuanced and the impact of great customer service more powerful.
That’s doubly true for 2022 and the next several years. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated already-developing shifts to produce a number of key trends customer service teams will need to adapt to.
Below, we cover the biggest changes spurred by the pandemic. Then we dive into our predictions for the top 5 customer service trends to watch in 2022 and beyond.
Customer Service and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Every year, you can find tons of blog posts and articles talking about new trends to come. In the average year, most of those trends mark a continuation of what happened in the previous year.
That isn’t the case for 2022.
The COVID-19 crisis upended markets and everyday lives of consumers across the globe. That paved the way for monumental shifts in customer expectations and behavior, with all of us reevaluating what we value and how we spend our time and money.
And it’s going to have long-lasting effects on how and what your customer base values from companies like yours. And those shifts reach far beyond the changes and trends we’d see in a normal year.
Here are the most important pandemic-driven trends we see playing out this year and beyond.
Brands need to be prepared for the unexpected
If there’s only one thing you take away from 2020, let it be this: your brand has to be prepared for the unexpected.
When the pandemic hit, ecommerce spending went through the roof and in-person teams became outliers—remote teams the norm. Brands needed to:
- Adapt on the fly to demand that increased and evolved at hyper-speed
- Learn how to manage remote work
- Make remote customer support work for both employees and customers
Those changes were unexpected, and many companies were caught unprepared.
How do you prepare your customer service team for the unexpected?
- Build a scalable team and processes
- Invest in customer support efficiency
- Stay ahead of the curve
Retail and ecommerce integration is key
“Curbside pickup” could be the unofficial catchphrase of 2020.
From restaurants to retail stores, brands in all kinds of industries had to find a way to keep their figurative doors open while their literal doors had to be closed. For brick-and-mortar retailers, that mostly meant building an online store. For restaurants, it meant adding online ordering and working with food delivery services.
The thing about ordering online and picking up curbside? It’s really convenient for customers. That’s why we anticipate this trend to continue on, long after the last lockdown has ended.
For brands, that means:
- Building integration between retail and ecommerce operations
- Investing in the tools, software, and training support pros need to keep pace
Customers are willing to invest in convenience
As a sense of normalcy returned to everyday life, consumers across the United States took stock of how they spend their time. They reevaluated priorities from prior to the pandemic. Many realized their time is worth a lot more than they gave it credit for.
Today, consumers place a higher value on time—and they’re more willing to spend money in exchange for convenience and time-savings.
You can capitalize on this trend by prioritizing customer convenience as your competitive advantage and investing in great customer experience (CX) and service.
Top 5 Customer Service Trends for 2022
The pandemic isn’t the only thing driving a shift in consumer behavior and expectations. We also expect trends that have developed over the last few years to continue throughout 2022.
We talk about what’s driving these trends in more detail throughout the rest of this report. Plus, we discuss what each trend means for customer service teams and how you can prepare your team for success in 2022 and beyond.
1. Real-time support grows in importance
PwC’s Future of Customer Experience Survey showed 52% of consumers will pay extra in exchange for a fast and efficient customer experience. That was back in 2018, but it’s a trend that’s accelerated in the years since. The same report found customers are willing to pay as much as 16% more for that experience.
In 2022, a “fast and efficient” experience often means real-time customer service. Desire for real-time service affects the communication channels consumers turn to for that support, and that’s driving a few trends we expect to see continue in 2022.
Email falls out of favor
According to data from Statista, only 20% of consumers rank email as their preferred channel for customer service. That’s down from 26% in 2018.
Customers prefer phone and digital channels instead. 42% of Statista respondents ranked phone support as their first choice, and 38% prefer digital channels.
Those preferences largely come down to speed. The average response time for email customer service is 17 hours—not exactly what we’d call fast.
Live chat gains ground
Live chat is the most preferred digital channel across all age groups, and holds a big advantage when it comes to Gen Z consumers. 79% of customers say they prefer live chat thanks to the immediacy it offers compared to other common customer service channels.
That’s no surprise given the average response time for social media is 10 hours—not much better than email—while response times for live chat can be as quick as 2 minutes.
The speed of live chat continues to become a bigger advantage for companies, particularly as the quality of live chat support grows, too. Data from Comm100 shows live chat usage is expected to grow by up to 87% in the next 12-18 months.
Self-service support is vital for brands
Self-service represents a smaller, but growing, portion of the digital channels customers prefer. In fact, Statista reports 88% of consumers—both in the US and worldwide—expect brands to have a self-service portal for support.
That’s good news for you.
Self-service support is eminently scalable for brands. Every knowledge base article you create can help any number of customers at the same time. Plus, offloading those customer service queries means your team can focus their time and energy on more complex customer problems.
2. Both shopping and support move to social
Throughout recent years, social media platforms have made big moves to further integrate ecommerce into their sites.
- Facebook created Shops and then expanded the feature to WhatsApp and Messenger
- Instagram launched Shop, then redesigned the whole app to make the feature more prominent
- Pinterest introduced Shoppable Pins and digital try-on
According to Facebook’s own data from 2019, 54% of Instagram users have made a purchase because they saw a product on Instagram. That number is only set to rise as social media and ecommerce continue to integrate more and more closely.
In other words, an increasing share of ecommerce customers will shop and purchase entirely through social platforms—without ever visiting the brand’s own website.
Social media chat support
Customer service teams will have to adapt to serve customers who never visit the website. That starts by bringing support to the channels where shopping is increasingly happening—namely, Instagram and Facebook.
But brands have been offering support via social media for a while now. Customers, by and large, don’t prefer social media over other support channels. That comes down to the customer service experience most customers see on social (spoiler alert: it’s not great).
Ecommerce brands will need to find a better way to support customers on social media. Facebook has already rolled out a solution to connect Messenger with live chat software, so agents can provide support directly in the app.
We expect customer service and social commerce to work together even more in the future.
3. Customer success expands beyond the support team
There was a time when customer service was confined to—well—the customer service team. That’s not the case anymore. With companies increasingly focused on customer success as a lever for growth, it’s become a company-wide effort.
Every team is responsible for ensuring customers are satisfied and successful.
A better metric for a more holistic effort
Customer service metrics have evolved a lot in recent years, from tickets closed to NPS (Net Promoter Score) to customer satisfaction score (CSAT). Moving through 2022 and the coming years, we expect customer effort scores to take on an even bigger role in many companies.
How customers feel about your brand involves the end-to-end customer experience—every touchpoint. That includes the work of nearly every person in the business.
Customer effort score takes that into account, measuring a lot more than how customers feel about a particular support interaction. It’s a metric that every team can impact and own, from developers to customer service agents.
Good customer service is increasingly proactive
When you refocus on the overall customer experience, your team can get out of the weeds on customer service. Today and in the next few years, much of that focus is best spent on making proactive customer service improvements.
By proactively improving your website, app, and overall customer experience, you can reduce the burden on your support team. That allows them to focus on more complex customer issues and devote the time and resources each query requires.
Your team is the key to happy customers
Speaking of customer service agents, they’re the key to customer satisfaction and retention. That may seem obvious, but the relationship between employee satisfaction and customer happiness is stronger than many realize.
Data from Glassdoor shows that for every 1 point increase in a company’s Glassdoor rating (as reported by employees), there’s a 1.3 point bump in customer satisfaction.
When you invest in your customer service team, you invest in your customers.
- Tap customer service reps for their feedback
- Give them the tools and autonomy they need to be successful
- Invest in training and employee retention
4. Technology empowers customer service agents
There’s been a lot of talk about technology in customer service over the past several years. There’s no denying how valuable new technology can be, and many companies have leapt into tech like chatbots, artificial intelligence (AI), and predictive analytics.
Customers expect a caliber of service that demands help from software and technology—but they don’t necessarily love being served by technology. That’s because many companies have historically looked at customer service tech as a way to reduce costs and grow revenue, not improve customer experiences.
In 2022 and beyond, we expect companies to reevaluate that. How we use technology in support will change. Software and tools will empower customer service agents to provide higher-quality support, while humans do the actual support.
Personalization is about more than names
When we talk about personalization in support, it isn’t about calling the customer by their name anymore. It’s about empowering reps with the context and data they need to understand the customer and the problem that’s brought them to support.
With the right technology at their disposal, reps can provide truly personalized support—tailored to each customer, their unique problem and situation.
It allows them to resolve customer problems faster, too, by eliminating back-and-forth and trial-and-error.
Tech that marries self-service with personal support
We know self-service is growing as a favorite channel for consumers, but there are situations it can’t handle on its own. That’s where technology can bring together self-service with a human touch.
Tools for things like video chat, cobrowsing, and augmented reality (AR) make it possible for customers to solve their own problem—with a little help from your customer service team.
5. Data plays a growing role in customer service
We’ll expand on the tweet above and say this: all kinds of customer data enable you to anticipate customer needs.
Data is the foundation for many of the trends we covered above. It helps you:
- Identify common customer complaints, so you can create self-service content to address them
- Quantify customer effort and satisfaction
- Proactively solve customer problems before they become problems
- Empower reps with the context to comprehensively understand and resolve customer issues
With voice of customer (VOC) data, your customer service team can speak to customers in their own vernacular.
Event data on your website allows you to track and map the customer journey, identifying points of friction and website improvements that save customers time and effort.
With AI and machine learning, your data can power chatbots and other technology to work better for your customers.
Usage data helps your developers build a better app for customers.
Frequently Asked Questions About Customer Service Trends
How is customer service changing?
The way brands view customer service is changing.
No longer a cost center, customer service has the potential to make a brand more competitive, boost customer retention, and grow revenue.
Customer service teams are adapting to answer that call, by investing in the agent experience and the resources agents need to effectively improve the customer experience.
What is the future of customer service?
- Real-time support is growing in importance
- Both shopping and support continue to integrate more closely with social media platforms
- Customer success and experience are increasingly considered company-wide goals and responsibilities
- Technology continues to empower customer service reps to be more effective and efficient
- Data plays a growing role in helping unburden and improve support teams
How can data help improve customer service?
Data empowers customer service teams—and the wider company—to:
- Solve customer problems with less back and forth, so customers don’t have to repeat themselves or spend hours getting help
- Understand the most common problems, so they can adequately focus on and train for them
- Find common customer problems and proactively address them, so customers don’t need support in the first place
What are ways to improve automated customer service?
There’s a lot of room for improvement when it comes to automated customer service. As we see it, there are two big ways customer service teams can improve automated support:
- Use automation alongside human support reps
- Leverage the data you have to make automation smarter and more effective