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Chapter 8

The Rise of Customer Service

Customer service excellence is a key differentiator for companies—but smart, agile, empowered talent is necessary in order to deliver it.

When hiring, employers look for a mix of hard skills and soft skills. Critical thinking skills are paramount, and employers want to see that candidates can apply knowledge practically and problem solve. Most importantly, workers need to be able to think on the fly to process ambiguous situations—like dealing with customers.

The demand for customer service is on the rise. While 86 percent of electronics buyers will pay more for a better customer experience, only 1 percent of customers feel that vendors consistently meet their expectations. Consumers have high expectations for service that will be customized to their needs—in part because they know that companies can use Big Data and technology to deliver it.

Unfortunately, high expectations can result in big consequences for businesses that don’t prioritize customer experience. 34 percent of customers say that they would take revenge after a bad experience by writing a negative online review—and those types of reviews can frequently go viral and reach wide audiences.

To compensate, companies are increasing training in soft skills for their entry-level employees, even though this often requires significant investment. As barriers to business entry decrease, there are fewer ways to differentiate businesses in the same industry. However, customer service is one of those differentiators, and the ability to attract and retain a workforce that excels in this dimension will foster greater success.

As a result of the demand for customer service, workers at the front lines need to be aware of customer demands and react accordingly. Workers are trusted to be a face of the company, and they must be quick on their feet in order to avoid disappointing customers. Employees must be empowered to break the rules when necessary in order to serve the customer—which requires a great deal of latitude in traditional performance management metrics.

At the same time, customers feel that they have the right to speak their mind, which can be stressful on front-line employees. Customer service with a smile comes at a price—workers asked to do so report higher levels of stress that continue even off the job. As a result, customer-facing employees tend to have higher turnover than those in other, less-stressful roles.

Turning employees into content experts can help them better interact with customers and understand marketplace concerns. Consumerism is rising; customers are expecting an increasingly personal and customized level of service, and workers who specialize in a particular niche of customer are high in demand.

Recruitment and development of diverse talent can help businesses match employee profiles to their customer bases. By deploying workers in the communities that they represent, those workers become a source of listening, engagement, and marketing for the company—allowing further customization of products and services.

It’s important to encourage workers to think about who their customers are and how they can better serve them. The businesses that will differentiate themselves from the pack are those who can anticipate what the customer will need—not just now but years down the road—and position their talent to provide it.