Report: Artificial intelligence driving best customer service

Zendesk Customer Experience Trends 2020 report finds technology could be better utilised across the board and millennials are proving the most loyal but also discerning customers

Artificial intelligence (AI) is behind the success of high-performing customer service teams, according to the latest research from CRM outfit, Zendesk.

In its latest Customer Experience Trends 2020 report, the vendor found customer experience (CX) as a concept is permeating organisations at all levels. Yet some are deploying the sophisticated technology better than others to deflect tickets, reduce time agents spend on answering requests and efficiently scale customer engagement.

The second annual global report also found experiences companies provide still don’t often align with customer preferences. In addition, fewer than 30 per cent of organisations offer self-service, live chat, social messaging, in-app messaging, bots or peer-to-peer communities - all considered helpful tools in lifting CX. 

“This matters because it represents an opportunity for these companies to pull ahead of their competition and differentiate around how they meet customers — as well as for other businesses to catch up,” the report stated.

Zendesk said customers want to communicate with companies over the same familiar channels they use to talk with friends and family, and responses need to be fast and efficient. In particular, customers want to feel like they are having one continuous conversation where they don’t have to re-explain who they are and what their issue is.

And for younger generations, it’s a significant gap and glaring lost opportunity. According to Zendesk, the younger Gen Z and Millennial generations are most likely to use social and messaging channels.

Another key finding is the extent to which self-service is a missed opportunity, with only a third of surveyed companies offering some type of self-service, whether through a help center, knowledge base or FAQ. Yet even for those businesses which offer self-service, it's commonly under-utilised.

For Zendesk, this is part of the self-service paradox - many companies with a self-service option don’t allow agents to add to it or regularly refine the offering.

Not surprisingly, the report found customer data aids productivity. In particular, companies in the top 25 per cent for managing customer data see 36 per cent faster resolutions and a 79 per cent reduction in wait times. They also solve four times the number of customer requests.

What's more, companies which excel at customer service are more likely to take an omnichannel approach, offering customer interaction through more channels, utilising more features, leaning on more data and analytics, and empowering their teams with both more training and autonomy. This was especially the case when it comes to knowledge management, the report stated.

Finally, connecting customer data also helps improve collaboration between teams, a key element in the success of high-performing customer service teams. The report showed forward-thinking companies are adopting the role of the chief customer officer (CCO) to have someone personally own customer experience within the organisation. Younger companies started in the past five years are also 63 per cent more likely  to have a CCO than older companies.

While building brand loyalty is multi-faceted, one theme in the research stood out: Customer experience (CX) is the secret sauce, with almost three-quarters of respondents identifying CX as the most important loyalty driver.

Breaking down Australian customer service

In terms of the Australian experience, which along with New Zealand accounted for 3000 of the 45,000 global companies reflected in Zendesk's Benchmark product data, customer satisfaction levels are at their lowest in five years.

Within this, millennials stood out at the most loyal customers, with nine out of 10 18-24 year olds reporting they like sticking to their favourite brands and four out of five stating they go out of their way to buy from their favourite brands. This compared to only half of those aged 55 and above. 

Yet, while millennials are loyal, they are also the most discerning, according to the report. They are the most likely to cut ties with organisations after just one bad customer experience, for instance, with 58 per cent saying they would switch to a company’s competitor after one bad experience. This rises to 91 per cent after multiple bad experiences. By contrast, only 30 per cent of customers aged 55 and above would make the switch.

The report finds millennials’ expectations are clear. “They want brands to treat them as people, not just a transaction,” Zendesk customer experience strategist, Malcolm Koh, commented. 

“For brands, this means personalising your communications, ensuring they are seamless and engaging, and are available on the channels that your customers prefer. A consistent, authentic customer experience is now a key driver to your long-term success as a business.”

The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020 incorporates the Zendesk Benchmark, its index of product usage data from companies worldwide, as well as surveys and interviews of 1000 customer service agents, 300 customer experience managers, 300 sales leaders and 3000 customers located across the world including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, the UK and US.

Survey results from customers were weighted  on a country-level basis to adjust for differences between the survey samples and distribution of each represented country’s general population across age, employment, and gender.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia. 

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