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Challenge. Change. Continue. If you’re a customer service pro, that was the pandemic M.O. What’s next?

The Salesforce Fourth State of Service Report uncovered trends that emerged for customer experience and service professionals from the pandemic.

The experience is more important than ever to customers who were rattled by COVID-19. So the findings will help you form smart business and customer experience goals for the post-pandemic economy.

“We knew based on our previous research that businesses no longer view their service and support operations as cost centers, but as strategic assets that benefit revenue and retention as customer expectations soar,” said Bill Patterson, EVP and GM of B2B CRM at Salesforce.

As you gear up for next era in customer service, here’s what you’ll want to consider.

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1 - Flexibility wins love

Nearly 85% of leaders and their front-line pros worked together during the last year to change policies and increase flexibility for customers.

One major reason for the changes was 88% recognized technology gaps. For instance, when employees were sent home to work, they didn’t have access to information or bandwidth to handle inquiries like they could on site. In other cases, customers couldn’t go to physical spaces and needed digital help for the first time – and some companies weren’t ready.

When it came to policies, nearly 90% realized they needed to change because government-mandated shutdowns on their businesses – such as events and retail – made their cancelation practices obsolete.

Going forward: Companies will want technology that allows them to give the same level of service remotely as they did on site. And you’ll want to adapt policies for today’s business world, where people interact less, research remotely and scrutinize more.

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2 - Engagement wins loyalty

To keep and gain loyal customers, companies will need loyal front-line employees who continue to deliver great experiences no matter where they work.

Engagement will take more training and outreach efforts, especially with remote employees, Salesforce experts say. Only about 20% of service leaders said their organization excelled at onboarding and training new front-line service reps from afar last year.

Going forward: You’ll want to make it a priority to improve remote training practices and engage off-site employees.

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3 - Knowledge wins respect

Despite the turmoil the pandemic caused for companies in 2020, most customer service leaders remained focused on employee training. More than 60% in the Salesforce study increased access to on-demand training – and front-liners took advantage of it.

Why? Whether service reps were sent home to work or not, customers still expect more. They want smart reps who act as empathetic consultants, taking each customer’s unique needs and situations into consideration when they help. Customers need a mix of hard and soft skills to help customers throughout the year.

Going forward: Continue to offer online and in-person (even if it’s on Zoom) training that focuses on knowledge, transaction skills and interpersonal skills.

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4 - Digital wins customers

Customers embraced and relied on digital channels more quickly than ever when the pandemic hit. Even customers who’d been reluctant to use social media, online ordering and chat tried them when they were isolated.

That’s why more than 80% of customer experience decision makers plan to put the accelerator on digital initiatives. A third adopted artificial intelligence (AI) for the first time and two-thirds adopted chatbots, the Salesforce study found.

Going forward: Far be it from us to say you need to throw money at anything to get ahead. But customers expect more digital options. So if you want to move slowly ahead on technology, work with current vendors on ways to make the most of what you already have. More importantly, talk with customers to find out the digital channels they already use and want to use when working with you.

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References: Salesforce, Bill Patterson, Customer Experience Insight.

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