Trends in customer service

Global trends in customer service during 2021/22

Elena Tsysar, partner at 4Service Group, consultant and CX researcher

The good service formula

Has the customer service improved in the last 20 years? The answer is: both “yes” and “no.” Service (or customer experience) can be represented by means of a simple formula

S = E – P, where “E” stands for “expectations,” and “P” – for perception of real experience.

Just imagine: today you have visited a café or a shop for the first time, and before that you have just seen an advertisement or a sign. If your expectations are above reality, you will experience an awful service: a gluey rickety table, only cash payments, and a small choice of goods. The consequences are obvious: complaints, disappointment, and you will not attend that place any more. If the reality surpasses your expectations, you will experience a WOW-service (a compliment, additional services, etc.). Such service will bring in recommendations, higher cheques and loyal customers.

In the case of service, it is not necessary to expect a miracle or a heroic deed. Even the “equal” sign between expectations and reality is good enough. In order to make each customer content, it is enough to satisfy his basic expectations. The tricky part is to ascertain the expectations.

Two ways for discovering expectations of customers

How do we discover expectations of customer?

The first way lies through research. They can either be qualitative, or quantitative, cover industries, geographies, or customer profiles. For example, within a series of in depth interviews you can ascertain a list of service attributes by asking the following question: “What does service consist of in your personal opinion?”

The most popular answers (and expectations) about service include hygiene, swiftness, politeness, a wide variety of choice, convenient location, discounts and offers, delivery and return opportunities, etc. If the management knows customer expectations, it does not have to use a steam-hammer to crack nuts, but can focus on improving the service: produce faster, work merrier and introduce a fast delivery.

The second way for discovering the expectations goes through knowledge of trends, forecasts, and opinions of industry leaders. After the complicated year 2020 each business is trying to have a peek into the future, and to make a correct bet.

What is expecting us in the sphere of customer service within the next few years? Not so much new. What has been previously marked in dotted lines, is now marked bold.

A portion of the trends is coming not only from the West, but also from China. More than a half of trends are connected with automatization. On the backdrop of crisis in the economy of many countries, terminations, layoffs the management take decisions towards substitution of human labor by technologies. The best employee of 2021 will most probably be the chat bot. On the other hand, hybrid modes of work become especially popular: home and office are merging, and everyone searches for balance between the interests of the customers, and those of employees and businesses.

Below we represent two groups of trends. The first one deals with customer service, whereas the second one – with employee experiences. Direct connection between employee happiness and that of a customer has been proven. Therefore, the trends in service and satisfaction of employees can only be analyzed together.

Trend 1. Social e-commerce. The shop has moved into the smartphone

Previously people believed in the following: if you have found a good location, then it means 20% (or more) of business success. A shop on a lively street or a kiosk at a metro station ensures high daily revenue. However, in 2021 the best location is … a social network or an e-trading platform, TikTok and Instagram in particular. Of course, we cannot discount such giants as Amazon, Alibaba, as well as resources for creating internet-shops like Shopify.

A shop moves to a mobile phone. Those are powerful platforms of social networks, where we can encounter most potential customers, and this is especially true of younger audiences. Experiments into instant intuitive shopping are under way, and the best example is the 2020 cooperation project between Walmart and TikTok.

Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, announced in 2020 that it intended to acquire a share in the social network. Doug McMillon, Walmart’s CEO, argued that this was an opportunity for tapping into younger audiences, and for developing a new line of trade. “If you’re watching a TikTok video and somebody’s got a piece of apparel or an item on it that you really like, what if you could just quickly purchase that item?” the retailer’s CEO says. The two giants held the initial shopping broadcasts in December 2020. During the show TikTok stars were filming their videos dressed in Walmart’s apparel collection items, and the people from the audience were purchasing those items with one click. It seems that in 2021 a social platform as a trading platform will cease being a trend and rather be a basic requirement.

Conclusion. “Our children are dreaming about this,” my friend said. I paused and thought whether I wished my wallet such a fate. Many trends will also make us raise ethical questions sharply. But this will not cancel the fact that a telephone in our hands has become the best platform for modern business.

Trend 2. Personalization. Each customer is a segment

In 2021 business knows everything about its customers: fingerprints, face, pulse, blood pressure, behaviour in social networks, typical purchases. But the collected data are stored on shelves, the analytics is weak, and it does not provide for making a personalized offer to each customer. Until now vegans get burghers in their offers.

IТ-experts believe that in 2025 technologies will finally be able to process Big Data and provide each of us with a spot-on offer. 

But there are companies, which strike with their personalization today. Some examples follow below.

  • The first to mention is, of course, Amazon, which back in 2015 managed to cash in additional 30 of revenue thanks to the section dubbed “You may also like.” This personalized offer of additional accessories turned out to be so successful that the technology is now copied on every other webpage.
  • Spotify, the largest musical content provider worldwide, is also here. A bright example is the New Year’s analytics. Here you can see everything: what hits you have been hearing, how many times, how long, at night or during the day. An opportunity to have a look at your personal musical year is fun both for sixteen-year-old teenagers and respectable music afficionados.
  • It is impossible not to mention Netflix, which cares about you even without your permission for this. Its recommendations of similar content are widely known, as well as open finals, thematic lists and more.

Online-personalization is popular, it is getting introduced fast and becoming a standard. But personalization in real life is not an easy task. But even here one can find bright examples:

  • Shaggy-dog classics: Coca-Cola printed the most popular people names on bottle stickers. The customers enjoyed buying bottles named Mike and Tania. The project was realized all over the world, from Australia to Vietnam. This allowed to considerably increase the brand’s presence on international markets and to stop the eleven-year-long slide in consumption throughout the USA.
  • Incredible time awareness: BMW cars are so much oriented towards safety and comfort of the driver that they can rule his stress levels. If the car “understands” that the driver is tired, then the temperature, the light and even the music in the car’s interior change. The driver’s attention and concentration improve, and this allows to avoid an accident or violation of the rules.
  • Starbucks’ new level: Everybody knows that barista and coffee-shops write names of visitors on paper cups. This is an established standard, which many guests tend to abuse when they ask for something like “My little princess” or “Mickey Mouse.” Recently a barista at a Starbucks coffee house has learned sign language so that she could serve her guest, who suffered from a hearing impediment!
  • A stylish decision: Stitch Fix is an American online personal styling service. It combines robots and people ideally for the purpose of finding clothes for customers. All you need to do is to indicate your size, preferences and favourite colours. The software will analyse similar fashion profiles and human stylists will offer their expert recommendations and you will get a letter with a list of clothes. It is your business whether you buy them or not, but you have been thought of for sure.
  • And the most beautiful one: hyper personalization in the skies. EasyJet (a major European low-coster) celebrated its 20th anniversary with a real parade of thankfulness to customers. It prepared personal messages for millions of its customers.

For example: “Hello, Alexei! Twenty years have passed since we opened the hangar doors. Time flies! Let us celebrate the journey with us. Do you remember your first trip? On July, 8 you departed from Luton to Faro. And so far, you have traveled 96 066 kilometers. This is more than travelling twice around the earth! You have made 12 trips to 8 different countries of the world! And you have always sat by the window. Sure, who doesn’t love a beautiful view? And, by the way, you were in Barcelona 34 days ago. Maybe you will like Malaga? Or 20 our other destinations … ”

And this is not all. The cabins were decorated with 100 000 best photos of customers, which had been made during the airline’s twenty-year-old history. This is a worthy example for appreciating a customer’s value and really bright personalization.

Conclusion. The times of strong self-selling products are passing. A customer expects personalized communication, soft sales that are done without noticeable effort, constant nonintrusive communication with the brand, personal attention, and respect for her or his tastes, preferences and taboos.

Trend 3. Zero thinking experience. Zero efforts

Do you remember the world’s most famous online seller Amazon making a revolution by inventing the “1-Click” buying button? This was so simple and convenient! And it has already become obsolete.

Time has come to buy without any clicks, without any effort at all. Many technologies and services are aiming at this trend: contactless payments, pre-readied purchase orders, delivery services and other options aim to simplify our shopping experience. More and more industries have started to join this trend.

For example, the American chain of Panera bakeries sell coffee subscriptions. The first three months are free, and then they charge you $9 dollars a month for unlimited access to premium coffee. You happen to pass by → enter → pick up a coffee → walk on. And you do not spend a second for payment, waiting, or choosing. Zero effort.

Another example is delivery of groceries in Denmark. Everything you want. Today you are dieting and they will bring you a basket of spinach. Tomorrow you are having a romantic evening – here comes everything you need plus a recipe packed inside. Or you eat oat flakes for breakfast throughout the year – that is great and you will get fresh oat flakes delivered once a week. The Danes are good at subscriptions: you can buy bicycle repairs, face and skin care as a long-term service.

Austria, however, is good in music subscriptions. You just buy a year subscription for philharmonics, book five events in your calendar and stop worrying that you will miss a great concert. By the way, the price for such prepaid service is 40% lower. Here it is worth mentioning that this example is from the time before the pandemics.

Conclusion. Zero effort is what a customer wants to spend for service. Simplify her life, and she will stay longer, sign a contract with you for a year or even more. At first glance this service is more profitable for customer only. But this is, of course, not so. Increasing a customer’s Life Time Value presents a business with an obvious benefit and a competitive advantage.

Trend 4. Proactive Service Model. Proactive or reactive service?

According to a number of American agencies up to 80% of managers of customer support services increase their budgets for proactive service technologies. Why so? The majority says: “Our operators just keep failing to answer everybody within 48 hours, and the requests keep coming.” It is impossible to win this race, operators burn out, customers keep waiting on the phones, and the money is just disappearing.

Proactive service stands for anticipation of the problems, which the customer will face on his journey with your product. All the channels shall stay ahead of the game: guess the need, foretell the question, anticipate the problem during customer interaction. For example, you have forgotten a password and right near your cursor is a reset key. Or, you want to make a present, and here come your gift card and wrapping materials, or you are not sure about the size – follow our advice.       

A well-known example comes from a British water supply company. Anglian Water warns its customers in advance if there are any interruptions in water supply, which is absolutely essential for such a service as water supply. This proactive strategy decreases the number of calls to the support centre.

Another example is the US telecommunications corporation AT&T from the USA. They help customers to avoid shock from the bills received. When a customer receives the first bill, he feels at a loss, and this a typical reason for calling the support centre. Instead of such a bill (and shock) AT&T customers receive links to a personalized video, where they get an explanation about how the bills are formed. This practice allows to decrease the number of calls and promotes paperless billing.

Link to video: 

Conclusion. It is not a good idea to sit and wait for when a customer reacts or comes to you with a problem. Huge support centres fail to process flows of customer requests and such passive service results in employee burnout and high costs. The time for proactive service has arrived; anticipation of customer needs supersedes reaction to a problem.

Trend 5. Human-less or self-service and personal bots

According to Gartner, a research agency, customer-owned bots will be automatically collecting a billion service orders by 2030. The agency’s research director Anthony Mullen says that “The burden of managing and supporting self-services is being taken from today’s support staff and being pushed into customers’ hands. This level of delegation, from ‘DIY’ to customer-led AI, will be a major force shaping customer self-service.

Let us not wait until the remote 2030. Last year already at least 13% of customers clearly announced that they wished to have independent human-less (no people) service. All they need is to have their issue resolved without any extra effort. But when problems arise, then there will be a need for a human being and live communication (on the phone, in a chat). The scheme below shows that in case of an urgent question the need for an immediate discussion of a situation with a living person over the phone increases by 39%!

Conclusion. Service requests will be resolved by bots in the nearest future, and the quantity of independent customers will increase dramatically. But if difficulties arise at the moment of rendering a service, then contact with a living person, who resolves the problem expediently, will be considered a brilliant service.


Trend 6. Augmented reality or reality +

Everybody is sick and tired of the new reality without tourism, hugs and cultural events. But marketing experts dealing with the future developments are resoundingly predicting the next reality – the augmented one.

The augmented reality is a possibility to try whatever you want without buying it. This directly concerns such sectors as fashion, real estate, hospitality, recreation and tourism.

For example, you can try on a new dress, jewelry or cosmetics right before your mirror or on computer. Technologies will dress you and make you up. And the seller will not spend money on postage or return, thus the money will be saved. Just imagine how actively the industry will promote such technologies in order to avoid the logistic costs.

Of course, quite soon we will be able to have a walk in a flat, which has not been built yet, visit a hotel or go on excursion, even lease a yacht in order to make sure you will not feel seasick in reality. And all this can be done without leaving home, thanks to the VR technologies.

Quite soon we will be able to unite virtual and real things in everyday life. For example, modern electric cars have no rearview mirrors on the doors (they are built into the dashboard as screens), and the grey tarmac is painted virtually with signs and warnings about the speed limit coming right through the air.

Another bright example is provided by Gucci, who sell digital clothing and offer to try on new models in a special app. By directing their smartphone cameras down the users will be able to choose a digital cover from a set of 19 trainers on their feet while simply moving their finger to the left or to the right in order to try another pair. The app also allows users to make photos, which they can later share in social networks.

There are more examples: 

Conclusion. Shorten to the maximum the distance between your product and the customer, augment the reality, decorate it. Let people touch, smell or bite at a distance by adding special effects.

Trend 7. Word of Mouth weakens. The time of word-of-mouth passes, the time of influencers is coming

It is impossible to believe, but the power of word-of-moth is dwindling. A large portion of Europeans and Americans have limited personal communication, their social circles have shrunk. A neighbour’s or a colleague’s word dies not play a decisive role any more, because everybody is staying at home, and people communicate less. 

Communication in the internet is becoming more pertinent, as well as trust in public personas, bloggers, influencers. Have you decided to buy a telephone? Possibly, you will watch 2-3 reviews of well-known technology bloggers, unwrapping videos and testing of this technology on some web-page, plus you will read a dozen reviews. And this is how you will make the decision.

While being watched by hundreds of users, bloggers, noticeable personas, seasoned pros and experts make their reviews, unwrapping demos, they also test and review and thus create trust in a product, increase a good’s rating. So, you may choose not to go to a shop for hearing advice of a real sales assistant. Both you and me have become experts and can buy goods directly in internet and alongside that we spare effort, money, and time. We do so while trusting third persons and not our immediate circle of communication.

A confirmation of growing popularity of influential personas comes from the social networks, where you can find them. Upfluence is one of the biggest web-pages for searching influential personas. The database contains more than 4 million people, who have become goods and instruments for promoting the widest list of products and services. Everybody – from shoe brands to information technologies – use armies of influencers for soft sales, advertisement, growth of visibility, spread, and product storytelling. The mentioned webpage works in two directions, so everybody can try his hand as an influencer.

Conclusion. Invite experts and influencers for promoting your product: let them taste, try things on, test and use it. Use the resources for professional search of influencers according to the needs and level of trust of your customers.

Here is a link to the material discussing the use of influencers: 


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