I have spent the last twenty of years of my professional life, and the last 5 years at Salesforce, working closely with customers to improve their customer service and support operations. I have a special affinity for the customer service business and the people who are attracted to that line of work. Perhaps this is because it’s a selfless job or because it attracts the type of people who are motivated to give more than receive. I have always thought of service teams as underdogs within the company, traditionally unappreciated while working the hardest. This has provided me the inspirational rocket fuel to work tirelessly to help transform these organizations into high performing, super impactful teams that customers rave about and CEO’s cannot stop praising.

If you are a customer service professional, like me, there has never been a better time to serve your customers and be part of this great industry. The mission has certainly become a terrific challenge but never more critical to the success of the business than it is today. Hence, the reason many companies are creating an executive role that reports directly to the CEO called the CCO (Chief Customer Officer). It is this person’s responsibility to ensure that the organization’s relationship with its customers is one that is mutually beneficial, inspires trust and respect, and grows over time. But the business pressure on the CCO is more intense and challenging now than ever in the history of customer relationship management, particularly when it comes to customer service. There are four main reasons why:

1. Customer Expectations Have Increased: It’s no shock customer expectations have elevated to unprecedented levels. Customers, whether b2b or b2c, have great expectations of what a modern service experience should be. They demand service when, where, and how they want it. Think of your own experiences with services such as Uber, Waze, or Airbnb. The experience is personal, transparent, fast, and effortless. When expectations are not met negative sentiment can be amplified and spread quickly.

2. The Balance of Power Has Shifted to the Customer: Vendors no longer have a place to hide, as life has become a public stage. Look no further than your own social networks or mobile messaging apps such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn and others to see how quickly information can flow. Companies recognize this challenge and must have a strategy to minimize the occurrence and mitigate the risk. Anyone remember when Netflix modified its pricing to the heavy dislike of their customers? Within days of the announcement the company lost billions of dollars of market capitalization and had to reverse course. The stock did recover eventually but it was a painful lesson. These risks are significant, real and evolve quickly.

3. An Abundance of Choice: A maturing global distribution network called the internet has leveled the playing field for everyone. As a result, customers have more vendor choices than ever before. This abundance of choice has commoditized most industries and left customer service and support as the last great bastion of competitive differentiation. In a recent meeting I had with a Sales executive at a large high tech networking company he asked me “How can I turn customer service discussions into opportunities”? Not so long ago price and features ruled the kingdom…the playing field has now pivoted to customer experience.

4. Switching Costs Are Immaterial: When is the last time you visited your bank? When is the last time you met with an agent regarding the purchase of automobile insurance? When is the last time you purchased something in a physical store? The new reality is that your competition is a URL or app download away. Companies are hungry for your business and with a very long tail of competition, are forced to make the switching costs effortless and, in many cases, free or close to it.

It is these four reasons that customer service leaders feel tremendous pressure to improve the end-to-end customer experience. It is the customer experience that is the new battlefield where wallet share and market share will be won or lost. Of course, traditional KPI’s such as call deflection, average handle time, escalations, and mean time to repair will continue to be important contact center and field service metrics. But as the world continues to change, the most critical performance indicators will center on the customer such as churn rate, revenue churn, and average revenue per customer. Delivering an exceptional customer experience is the only way to survive and succeed.