In the 2020 State of Customer Service, our Five Star team discusses the impact of COVID-19, digital expansion, and social responsibility on the industry.

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The 2020 State of the Customer Service Industry – Part 1

By Joel Sylvester, Chief Marketing Officer, Five Star Call Centers

Each year, Five Star Call Centers shares the State of Customer Service to shed light on trends and insight that impact the customer service industry that our team has garnered from best practices, tradeshows, conferences, publications we’ve reviewed throughout the year. This year, we introduce a three-part series featuring industry, technology, and the shift to work-from-home. The series will give us an opportunity to dive into each topic and provide you information and resources for your business. New parts in the series will be release October 1 (Industry), October 15 (Technology), and October 29 (Work-From-Home).

In the first part of the series, we discuss the industry of customer service. 

The State of Customer Service is Evolving Faster than Ever

I’m going to jump right into the obvious impact on customer service this year – the pandemic. Plans for 2020 were up-ended when the global COVID-19 pandemic hit and what we thought we knew about the customer experience went out the door. A sudden shift to a more digitally focused business practice put pressure on companies and platforms to adapt – and quickly. Restaurants and retail stores adjusted to curbside delivery. Businesses openly addressed longer delivery times for orders and prioritized product based on need. The healthcare industry put a spotlight on virtual visits and other digital programs.

The pandemic has reset consumers expectations. Businesses have been more open about production and business practices than ever before. The world of customer service has changed. Yet, all expectations have not been lost. With the pandemic continuing to impact the industry heavily, we need to continue to monitor, adapt, and innovate the customer experience to stay relevant in today’s economy.

The Customer Service in the Pandemic Era

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape of the industry in an instant. And those changes keep coming. According to a survey by Kustomer, 99% of customer service professionals believe customer service is more important than ever during the global pandemic. Why? As stores fronts remain closed or limit the number of shoppers, it’s the customer service professionals behind the scenes on the phone, email, or chat that become the face of your company and keep customers coming back. They solve concerns before they become issues and they maintain and drive customer loyalty to your brand.

Adapting to this thought process is key when you learn that nearly half of consumers interviewed in the Customer Contact Week survey in August 2020 said they plan to decrease their brick-and-mortar shopping and increase their digital buying. With less focus on the face-to-face customer experience, it is important that representatives on the phones, email, and chat are bringing the best experience forward for your brand.  

Pandemic Reaction – More than 49% of consumers say they will make fewer trips to brick-and-mortar stores even when the pandemic subsides, while 48% will buy more products online (including essentials). 34% plan to increase their use of curbside or in-store pick-up.

– Customer Experience Trends, Customer Contact Week, August 2020

This same survey found 82% of consumers now feel more comfortable using digital channels to shop. This will likely lead to new benchmarks in digital use moving forward as customers embrace digital and set new expectations on the experience they have with businesses. The survey also found that consumers also gave major points to brands that were transparent about their service gaps and how they were proactively adjusting and making changes to close those gaps.  

69% of holiday shoppers plan to shop early to avoid items being out-of-stock. 53% plan to shop in stores that offer a contactless shopping experience 

Navigating the eComm Holiday Season During COVID-19, 2020, Google & Finch Marketing

As you approach your company’s customer experience over the coming months think of new and innovative ways to meet your customers’ needs. Do not stay bound by the mantra, “We’ve always done it this way” or “It worked well when the pandemic started.” Monitor and measure your successes and your failures, and adjust to fit what your customer needs at that moment.

Customer Service Evolution in the Digital Experience

In what Customer Contact Week calls an accelerated “digital transformation” due to COVID-19, the industry has seen a widespread turn to digital channels. This is due, in part, to the businesses themselves as they force consumers into low-touch digital environments, like chatbots and emails.   

A focus on the digital customer experience is nothing new to the industry. It has been a focus for years. Within the service industry, consumers are gathering information online before moving into the shopping and purchasing phases of the sales funnel. In retail, customers are shopping around for the best deals, and when they purchase, they are increasingly doing so online.

50% of consumers say price is the move important factor in holiday shopping 

Navigating the eComm Holiday Season During COVID-19, 2020, Google & Finch Marketing

The shift from brick-and-mortar shopping to digital has been at the forefront of the retail customer service industry for years. The pandemic has only accelerated online shopping and forced business practices to meet the demand for self-service options and digital channels used in their everyday lives. Businesses that thought they could survive without online service either adapted quickly or found their doors completely closed to customers.

As you build, monitor, and adapt your customer service strategies over the next year, it is key to remember that the experience of your customers is what sets your company apart from competitors. Don’t ignore insight from your reporting. Make changes and adapt your plan as need. Innovate and think out of the box.

Great Customer Experiences Begin with Trust

Trust is the foundation of every relationship and it holds true in the relationship companies hold with their customers. Today’s customer is savvy. They want to do business with companies that support the greater good. Sustainability and giving back to community organizations are expected.

Heavily weighed among consumers is the ethics of companies. We’ve seen Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg brought before Congress to testify on their business practices. These high-profile testimonies were shared across news outlets and social media, creating a rush of commentary among industry professionals and consumers alike.

Data breaches and security hacks have become almost commonplace in our digital world. MGM Resorts suffered a large data breach and the release of guest information online. Twitter faced a storm with its infamous 2020 hack of high-profile accounts.

One of the most important functions within business we can focus on is the efforts and technology used to protect the information we are entrusted with by our customers. As the digital experience grows, businesses must commit to enacting the most advanced and proven technology to protect this data. It is not only something our customers expect but it is the protection they deserve.

2020 will certainly go down in history as a year of change and adaptation. While how we execute plans may change, our main priority remains the same. We must continue to deliver the best experience possible to our customers. The delivery method may change and vary but exceeding our customers’ expectations should always remain.

About Five Star Call Centers

Five Star Calls Centers has been an industry leader in the contact center outsourcing industry for over 35 years. They deliver voice, IVR, digital, and consulting services across the U.S. and are dedicated to learning and implementing state-of-the-art technology and leading-edge practices.

About the Author - Joel Sylvester​

Joel’s career spans hundreds of companies and helping each enhance their customer experience. He has recruited, trained, and coached award-winning customer services teams across the globe in industries spanning retail, finance, product support, healthcare, hospitality and more. Today, Joel serves as partner and chief sales and marketing officer for Five Star Call Centers, an outsourcing call center with five locations based in the Midwest.

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