3 Top Customer Experience Trends in 2014

As digital communication channels explode and mobile devices get smarter, consumer expectations will change drastically. Consumers expect consistent, proactive, personalized service across a growing number of channels, resulting in a positive, pain-free customer experience.

Today's consumers don't have the time or patience to wait on hold or fumble through clunky IVR systems. Those are obstacles of the past—but even large institutions, such as the IRS, continue to struggle with less-than-stellar service. Maybe it's because the IRS' $172 million customer service training budget of 2012 has been cut by 87 percent, to only $22 million last year. Or maybe it's because the IRS uses 22 different information systems that don't communicate with each other.

Either way, the results are clear. IRS wait times have gone from 15 minutes to more than an hour, even for enrolled agents who use the practitioner priority line. Because of that, 39 percent of those who called the IRS last year hung up before their calls were answered. The IRS only answered 61 percent of calls last year (down from 87 percent 10 years ago)—leaving 15 to 20 million calls unanswered.

Of course, the IRS will still receive tax money. But for the average enterprise, customer service mishaps like these mean lost business opportunities. Imagine the business consequences if your company only answered 61 percent of its calls! In 2013, 62 percent of consumers switched service providers due to poor customer service experiences, up from only 4 percent the previous year, according to the Accenture Global Consumer Pulse Survey.

By paying attention to the following three trends in 2014, companies can elevate the customer experience, increasing loyalty and satisfaction.

  • Consistent Omnichannel Service: While voice is still the preferred channel for customers to contact companies, usage rates are shifting. Chat, email, social media, and even video are more convenient for certain consumers. Sometimes they want to start an interaction in one channel and complete it in another. In 2014, customer experience managers need to understand channel preferences, and smoothly guide customers to the right channel for each query. Self-service options—more advanced than the clunky IVRs of the past—will allow consumers more control of their experience across channels.
  • Empowered Agents: Achieving a smooth transition between channels requires communication systems that do more than integrate to "play nice" together. It also requires well-trained agents who are empowered with access to all the tools they need to serve customers, including individualized data to personalize the experience. In 2014, customer experience managers need to simplify the agent workflow by bringing all applications onto a single, intuitive interface. This can increase productivity by letting agents focus on delivering solutions, rather than logging in and out of disconnected applications.
  • Proactive, Personalized Service: Companies can learn a lot about their customers by measuring how, where, and why they've interacted in the past. That data can fuel more personalized customer experiences that go beyond simply responding to issues and actually predicting them. In 2014, customer experience managers will utilize customer data to route calls to agents who are best-suited to solve each problem, using proven scripts that simplify the process while reducing wait times and increasing satisfaction.

Customer experience is already beginning to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Going forward, one-size-fits all customer service simply won't suffice, as consumers grow increasingly impatient with inconsistencies and inefficiencies that don't serve their individual needs.

Consider this: Just a 10 percent improvement in a company's customer experience score can translate into more than $1 billion in added revenue, according to Forrester. By focusing on managing the customer experience in 2014, companies can move from reacting to customer issues to proactively anticipating needs to build brand loyalty with flexible, streamlined communication.