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Article 7 min read

You need a more customer-centric service strategy. Here’s why.

More companies are competing on customer service and research shows investments in this area can pay off. Teams with customer-centric approaches – such as always-on chatbots, messaging apps and help centres – achieve higher satisfaction and more customer growth.

By Shawna Wolverton, EVP of Product

Last updated February 23, 2024

As competition intensifies in the post-pandemic economy, companies will need a competitive edge if they want to grow their market share in 2021 and beyond. One of the ways businesses can win customers over is through exceptional customer service, according to new findings by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG).

There are about 50% more top-performing customer service orgs in the market today compared to last year, findings show. These leading companies are more likely to accelerate customer experience (CX) initiatives and they outperform their peers in response time, agility and employee retention. In other words, the competition is tougher and the stakes are higher. Additionally, the uncertainty about return-to-work plans is keeping everyone on their toes. Read on to find out where your org stands and what you can do to be more competitive.

Starter, Emerger, Riser or Champion: Where does your team stand?

The ESG report, The State of CX Maturity 2021, outlines core characteristics of a mature CX organisation. Surveying 1,000 CX leaders around the globe, ESG identified four stages of maturity, from best-in-class to up-and-comers:

  • Champions – Leaders with a boast-worthy, well-oiled CX operation

  • Risers – Competitors that are well on their way to CX excellence

  • Emergers – Companies that are gaining ground but still have room to grow

  • Starters – Those at risk of falling behind without CX advancement

This framework establishes CX maturity best practice and allows companies to compare, contrast and improve their CX operations by identifying their current states and where they can grow. Let’s dig deeper into how Champions put their customers at the centre of everything they do, focusing on how they leverage agile tools to meet the needs of their customers – and support agents.

How do you compare? Take the CX Champion assessment.

Want to be more customer-centric? Here’s how Champions do it.

Customer-centricity starts with your support team. Not only do Champions appropriately train and staff their support teams, they invest in technology that makes their jobs easier. This includes things like seamless channel-switching, enhanced customer visibility and artificial intelligence. Most small and midsized businesses (89%) surveyed believe innovation is necessary to remain competitive, but Champions are more likely to prioritise CX efforts than their peers.

Champions are 2.1 times more likely than Starters to say they’ve been accelerating major CX initiatives

A stellar tech stack has a lot to do with Champions’ performance, but to break away from the pack, they also need to employ a customer-centric service strategy. It’s clear based on the ESG findings that Champions do customer service differently. Read on to find out more and see how your organisation compares.

3 tiers of customer-centric service:

If you want to compete with the most mature CX orgs, here are the areas you should focus on:

  1. Continually evolve your CX to meet customers’ needs

    The ESG findings show that 75% anticipate that messaging channels like chat and social will be more popular in the future, up from 58% today. Put plans into motion now, so you can meet your customers where they are – whether that’s an email or WhatsApp message.
  2. Give agents the tools they need to succeed

    Agents are often the closest point of contact with your customers. Treat them well, and build a strong tech stack that allows them to tap into customer data, including systems like Salesforce, Klaviyo and many others. These improvements can reduce agent burnout, and they benefit customers too.
  3. Be prepared to adapt on the fly

    The pandemic changed everything, but the truth is there are any number of scenarios that could disrupt your business-as-usual operations. You need to be prepared to take swift decisive action and you need technology that can keep up. Prioritise tools that give you the flexibility to adapt on the fly, just like a Champion would.
  1. Continually evolve to meet customers’ needs

    Today, the most popular support channels by volume were email, phone and social messaging. The rise of social messaging isn’t surprising considering how messaging usage surged last year at the height of the pandemic.
    Also keep in mind that customers’ needs are always changing. ESG respondents anticipate that in three years, social messaging will surpass email and phone, and demand for other online channels such as help centres, chat and native messaging will increase. Most CX teams are planning for a more conversational future, with 97% of orgs focused on moving away from transactional interactions and embracing more conversational experiences.

    Champions are 2.5 times more likely to emphasise a shift toward conversational customer support

    Customers are embracing the idea of more casual conversational support, and it’s good for customer service teams too. Agents can handle multiple chats at the same time, versus a phone conversation where you can only talk to one customer at a time. This improves efficiency, while giving teams greater freedom and flexibility. Plus, with the help of AI-powered chatbots, organisations can help customers even when they are off duty.
  2. Give your team the tools they need to succeed – and reduce burnout.

    Pandemic-related stress has taken a toll on customer service agents, and the ESG findings show that companies are more likely to struggle with agent churn than a year ago.

    Champions are 6.6 times more likely to say that agent retention is excellent

    In a separate Zendesk survey, 55% of agents said that a supportive work environment is the most important thing they need to do their job well. Improved technology also topped the list. (And agents aren’t the only ones feeling frustrated with clunky software.) At the same time, some support teams are still struggling with remote enablement. In the same survey, nearly half of agents reported that their companies don’t have the right tools in place. Champions recognise that up-to-date technology is necessary to reduce agent burnout and improve retention. They are more likely than their peers to give agents visibility into customer data, such as purchase history from Shopify or Magento, which allows agents to resolve issues in fewer touches.

    Champions are 9.6 times more likely to outperform satisfaction goals

    Improving the agent experience also benefits customers because they get faster responses and more personalised recommendations. Champions excelled across a range of KPIs, including response time, handling time and customer effort score. Their CX teams were also more efficient overall, handling more requests in the same amount of time compared to their peers.
  3. Be prepared to adapt on the fly

    In 2020, we learned that “business as usual” is a precarious state. If it’s not a pandemic bringing the global economy to a standstill, then surely it will be something else. How ready are you? You never know when you might need to pivot your approach or revise your workflows, and you need technology that can keep up. A crisis scenario is not the time to be troubleshooting outdated systems. That’s why you need to prioritise important upgrades before you need them.
    Champions feel more confident in their CX teams’ ability to handle disruptions. In the ESG survey, Champions were more likely to say they could adapt to a new service channel in a matter of days. Most Starters, on the other hand, said it would take over a month to onboard a new channel. Here is another trend affecting Champions’ approach to customer service: They are better equipped to put insights into action, and they do it faster.

    Champions take 55% less time to ramp up their teams on a new service channel

    Champions are more likely to tap into customer feedback and support data, in some cases checking important metrics daily. They are also quicker to take action based on the feedback they receive. Their responsiveness is good for customers, and it’s good for business too. By using these insights to inform other parts of the business (e.g. sales), Champions make their customer service operation work for them, and this strategy contributes to more returns and faster growth.

Now is the time push your CX forward

Nearly everyone surveyed by ESG agreed that without an intentional effort to advance CX, they will risk losing customers to more customer-centric competitors. Based on the ESG data, Champions and Risers need to keep pushing and innovating. Meanwhile, Starters and Emergers should ask themselves whether they are evolving fast enough to keep up with customer expectations and if not, push for CX investments. But no matter where you stand, the message is clear: Now is the time to push your CX forward. With so many Champion companies in the market (2 times more than last year), you need to win your customers over, and keep winning them over, one interaction at a time.