E-Commerce is big business as consumers continue to make the most of online and mobile shopping.  What’s really interesting is when you look at e-commerce from the customer service perspective. Recently, I had the opportunity to share my North American customer experience insights at E-Commerce One to One in Monaco – an event bringing together some of Europe’s largest e-retailers.

TI Community Wall 2 (Names Removed)

What followed were some very lively and interactive conversations with my European colleagues that pointed to a real desire for insights from across the pond; specifically, what trends are shaping customer experience in North American and how leading brands are responding.

From where I sit – supporting the contact center programs of large brands in the U.S. – I see three seismic trends that will continue to impact customer experience over the coming years, along with several best practices to weather the changes.

1. Generation Y – the next big customer service wave

It’s estimated that by 2017, Generation Y will have more spending power and influence than any other generation. As customers, they interact and demand more from their brands than any previous generation. So how do you provide excellent customer service to a group that expects it anytime, anywhere and from any device?

  • Customization. Gen Y is Internet savvy and will only seek out information that is relevant to them. Personalizing their experience will go a long way to gaining loyalty.
  • Accessibility. Quality service delivery for this generation involves the right channels, the right hours and the right response times.
  • Sharing and Visualization. Millennials are marketing machines. They broadcast their experiences online (especially good ones) and buy with their eyes. Use video and images when possible to make it easy for them to share retail experiences.
  • Extend the experience. Research shows that Gen Y has less money to spend but they tend to spread that spending over multiple pay periods. Personalizing experiences over time and providing incentives to return is an effective customer service tactic.

2. Online channels expand – chat and social media

Contact channels are constantly growing. Chat and social media are now considered standard support channels. While best practices are still emerging, companies need to be accessible in these channels. 

Surprisingly, even with all the benefits that a chat program offers (lower cost, real-time interaction, reduction in shopping cart abandonment, screen sharing, ability to multi-task and more) chat market adoption is still not universal among big U.S. brands. It is, however, increasing quickly.

When launching or managing a chat customer service program, focus on developing the softer agent skills by constructing a conversation flow that consists of the right voice, tone and personalization. Reduce customer effort by using proactive chat (such as a pop-up chat window), which makes it easier for customers to interact and get the information they need with limited effort. Also focus on chat metrics that encourage the right agent behavior. We’ve seen a notable shift from chat efficiency metrics like chat handle time to customer satisfaction metrics that increase likelihood to recommend.

When it comes to social media, most organizations monitor social channels, but their support strategies vary greatly – some focus on customer-to-customer support while others proactively tweet and solve customer problems. Being available on social channels and growing social media customer support programs will remain a key objective for organizations.

3. Culture is big!

Great companies are enabled by great corporate cultures. Fostering and nurturing the right corporate culture can be a significant differentiator among companies. Culture also has a big impact on the frontline – and therefore, how agents interact with customers. Companies that deliver the best customer service tend to have the following internal tactics in play:

  • Building a community not just a company. For North American companies, culture means building a sense of community. It’s about getting to know the person, not just the employee.  Stated simply, creating happy, engaged agents will create happy customers.
  • Being social. In the past, personal lives were left at home. Times have changed and corporations need to create a social atmosphere that encourages people to “work socially” to better connect with each other and with customers.
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR). Employees, especially Gen Y, want brands to stand for something bigger – to have meaning.  This is where corporate social responsibility can have an impact. If employees feel good about where they work, it will translate into enhanced engagement and agent tenure, which in turn means improved competency and service delivery.

As we continue to transition both our conversations and commerce online, it’s increasingly important for organizations to recognize that customer service occurs at many touchpoints along the way. Adapting your customer service to the expectations, channels and values of your customers will convince more people to pull out those credit cards for some late night online shopping!

What trends do you see impacting customer experience? For more insights, view my E-Commerce One to One presentation here.