It has never been more important — or more difficult — to build a great customer experience.

The economic, health, and societal crises that have been unfolding since the beginning of the year have shown us just how vital it is for companies to have a deep understanding of their customers' needs and the right systems in place to support them during times of uncertainty.

If you're like me, you've been inspired by the stories of customers rallying together to support their favorite businesses. Whether it's buying gift cards, making donations, or posting encouraging messages on social media, customers have been showing up for companies that treat them well, and may well prove to be critical to their survival during this time of hardship.→ Download Now: State of Customer Service in 2020 [Free Report]

Similarly, I've been in awe at the customer service teams that have changed policies and pivoted operating models in a matter of weeks, all while managing an increased volume of support queries. It's a powerful reminder of just how essential it is for businesses to have a passionate, empathetic support staff that's always ready to solve for the customer. These times of uncertainty are bringing many companies and customers closer together, while also highlighting the fact that customer service teams are an engine for growth.

This is something that we at HubSpot have believed for some time, and last year we decided to launch an annual survey to learn more about the trends shaping the service industry to help growing companies build service teams that don't just respond to queries, but are active participants in customer success.

State of Customer Service Report

This year, we surveyed 1,125 service professionals from the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, and asked them about their tools, processes, teams, and thoughts on the industry as a whole. The results are in, and while we've seen some of the trends we uncovered in 2019 accelerate in 2020, and we're also seeing others stagnate. Overall, this report paints a positive picture of how companies are approaching customer service in 2020 with some causes for concern, too.

You can download these findings now from our ebook, but below are some of the most striking data points and what they mean for the customer service industry.

Service Is the New Frontier for Customer Experience

This year's study shows us that customer expectations continue to sky-rocket and service teams increasingly view themselves as responsible for delivering great customer experiences. Paradoxically, however, there's also an increase in the number of companies that view service as a cost center, rather than a benefit.

Here's what we found:

  • 93% of customer service professionals agree that customers today have higher expectations than ever before. This is up from 88% last year.
  • 48% of customer service professionals say that creating a good customer experience is a top priority for their team. This was the top-ranked priority across all respondents.
  • 31% of customer service professionals say that their department is viewed as a cost center. Worryingly, this is up from 29% last year.

1. Customer Demand Has Increased.

With customer expectations continuing to surge each year, it's a particularly challenging time to be a customer service professional. The level of service that might have been acceptable to a customer 10 years ago, could now result in complaints. In 2020, customers demand responses in minutes, not days. They expect self-service options, but also want service staff to be readily available to help with complex issues. And, they want every interaction they have with a business — whether it's with marketing, sales, or service — to be contextual and personalized.

2. Customer Service Teams Serve More Value to Your Business.

Service has always been a demanding job, and in 2020, it's more challenging than ever before. But it's also never been more exciting.

Customer service professionals are starting to view themselves as the gatekeepers of the customer experience. And, at a time when customer experience is the key to growth, that's highly empowering.

Being on the front lines, service professionals have an outsized opportunity to not only help customers succeed but to delight them as well. Respond to a query in a timely manner, and customers are likely to post about their positive experience on social media. Solve a complex issue, and they may write a positive review. Proactively communicate a product or service change, and they'll feel like a member of a valued community. Without great customer service, there can be no great customer experience, and it's encouraging to see professionals embracing these new, high-stakes responsibilities in 2020.

3. Some Companies Mistake Customer Service as a Cost Center.

What's less encouraging, though, is the growing number of companies that view customer service as a cost center. This is completely counter-intuitive given the continued increase in customer expectations and a growing desire among companies to prioritize customer experience.

And, while this increase is likely linked to the uncertain economic environment, I'd like to make one point clear: now is not the time to be making cuts to your service team. It's precisely during times of uncertainty that companies need well-resourced, motivated, and empowered service staff that are ready to solve for the customer, especially as demand continues to rise.

Solving for the Customer in 2020

To truly solve for the customer, companies must first solve for their staff. This goes beyond making sure that service professionals feel appreciated and are motivated; it means putting systems in place that empower them to do their best work.

According to our research, more companies are putting processes in place to formally track customer feedback. The monitoring of customer satisfaction (+4%), online reviews (+4%), and NPS (+6%) have all increased year over year, indicating a growing desire among companies to leverage the value of feedback to improve customer experience.

When it comes to the tools being used by service teams, the results are less positive. Only 42% of respondents use a help desk, only 37% have a shared email inbox, and, perhaps most worryingly, only 32% use a CRM. While these rates of adoption are disappointing, our data tells us that companies that do use these systems find them to be extremely helpful — a finding that's revealing but not surprising.

We live in a time when customers have more ways to reach a business than ever before, and they expect short wait times, quick solutions, and personalized interactions at every touchpoint. If a customer gets in touch via live chat, they expect the service professional to know if they were recently in touch via another channel. If they reach out on social media, they expect to hear back from someone who has their account information on hand.

This is what customer expectations look like in 2020, and for service teams to meet them, they need tools that give them a holistic view of customer data. They also need easy access to knowledge base resources and the ability to capture feedback that's accessible to other teams at their company.

We hope that as more companies experience the benefits of service technology, we'll see an increase in adoption rates in 2021. After all, empowering service teams with systems that allow them to do great work is an essential part of solving for the customer.

The State of Customer Service

When I joined HubSpot earlier this year, I knew that I was embarking on a big change. But nothing could have prepared me for the dramatic upheavals we've all experienced in our companies, industries, and societies in the recent months.

We sincerely hope that this report goes some way to helping companies acquire a semblance of clarity amidst all of the uncertainty. Service teams have an opportunity like never before to not only help their customers navigate these uncharted waters, but to drive their business forward by delivering remarkable customer experiences. After all, that's the key to growing better.

Download our State of Customer Service 2020 report here. New Call-to-action

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Originally published Jul 16, 2020 10:00:00 AM, updated July 16 2020

Topics:

Customer Service