Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

The most important customer service qualities in the next normal: Expertise, empathy, and speed

Salesforce surveyed over 3,500 consumers worldwide to understand what customers need, and how companies can deliver the best customer service experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Expertise, empathy, and speed are the top three most important customer service qualities.

Salesforce surveyed over 3,500 consumers worldwide to understand what customers need, and how companies can deliver the best customer service experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every two weeks, Salesforce Research is surveying the general population to discover how consumers and the workforce are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic

Click here to explore Tableau data across demographics and geographies. Below are some key takeaways from respondents from around the globe. 

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The most important customer service qualities are expertise, empathy, and speed, according to the Salesforce June 2020 Customer Service Global Survey.

Most important customer services qualities are expertise, empathy, and speed 

The top five customer service qualities are expertise, empathy, speed, flexibility, and preparedness. It is not surprising that expertise, empathy, and speed are in the top three qualities of a strong customer service organization. The speed of resolution directly ties to expertise. What separates the good from the great is empathy. The ability to 'fix the customer' before you 'fix the problem' means that customer service professionals are trained for exceptions handling and empowered to delight the customer by going above and beyond of what is expected of them and their institution. Empathy means listening with interest, removing obstacles, minimizing wasted time and friction, and demonstrating generosity and the willingness to be accountable for delivering a solution that is acceptable to the customer. This also means have flexible processes, which is also a very desirable quality of a strong customer service organization. 

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Most important customer service qualities during the pandemic.

The most valuable contact channels for customer service are emails, phone calls, and account portals

According to the survey, 77% of respondents view email as very valuable to the moderately valuable method of customer service engagement. Text messaging (SMS) is rising to 62%. Phone calls remain as the No. 2 method of preferred contact at 67%. I anticipate that webchat will see a significant increase in the upcoming months, especially for complex business-to-business customer services-related engagements. 

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Customer service multi-channel preferences.

Thirty percent of the respondents said they are substantially increased or somewhat more than usual use of customer service since the pandemic. Fifty-four percent of the respondents have maintained their customer service contact frequency since the pandemic. 

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Frequency of customer service contact during the pandemic.

The best customer service experience by industry is retail, financial services, and telecom 

According to the survey, the top five industries that deliver excellent/good customer service are (% of respondents that said excellent and good quality service experience):

  1. Retail ( 70%)
  2. Financial service providers (58%)
  3. Telecom companies (52%)
  4. Nonprofit organizations (45%)
  5. Professional services providers (46%)

There is room for improvement for all industries to provide better customer service. The results vary by geography but overall, no industry can deliver an excellent-to-good customer service experience that is greater than the 80% threshold. The ability to deliver superior customer service experience is a function of your company's culture, people, training programs, processes, and use of technology. Today, all customer service applications should be powered by AI and machine learning. Customer service professionals should be able to receive in-service training and access to subject matter experts to apply the right level of expertise and their moment of need. Customer service is not a department. Customer service is a collection of company stakeholders that can co-create value, and path to resolution, at the speed of their customer's need. 

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Customer service experience by industry.

Customers prefer using search engines, phone calls and web chats for service delivery

The ability to self-service is the No. 1 preferred method of customer service using search. You can anticipate messenger apps, social media, and text messaging to be on the rise during and after the pandemic. As companies become more digital and expand their multi-channel communication capabilities, the flexibility and ease of use of text messaging and social channels will increase. The adoption of text and social will vary by age, but soon, the use of simple channels will grow regardless of age, geography, or industry. You can also anticipate a rise in in-home customer service videos to increase. Convenience will always win. 

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Tools that customers prefer to use for customer service engagements.

Businesses are delivering more personalized, proactive and flexible customer service since the pandemic

57% of businesses are delivering more personalized customer service experiences since the pandemic. Sixty percent of businesses are more proactive with their customer service delivery and 77% of businesses are showing more flexibility with customer service. We are also seeing more timely and simple methods of service delivery. This is all good news and frankly necessary for companies to earn the future business of their existing customers. 

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Describe the service you've received from businesses since the pandemic.

In a hyper-connected, knowledge sharing, digital economy, customer service is your marketing and the biggest reflection of your company's brand. The collective behavior and actions of your customer-facing employees reveal your company's culture and core values. Your culture is your brand. The customer survey clearly shows that our customers are looking for personalization, proactive service delivery, flexibility, timeliness, simplicity, accessibility, and empathy. Companies that care more, will grow more. It's that simple. 

To learn more about the latest customer service survey results and to explore data across demographics and geographies, you can visit here.