As discussed in my previous post “Customer Service for the 21st Century”, mobile devices and social networking are changing how customers behave, and that is causing a major rethink of how customer service should be performed in the future.

Now let’s take a closer look at the components I see coming into play in the customer service landscape in the next few years, especially as companies begin to engage with customers across all available channels, gather and analyze available data and provide service in a way that’s most meaningful and memorable to customers.

Social knowledge and crowd-sourcing
In my scenario, when “Joe” had problems with his new 3D projector, he snapped a photo with his mobile phone and uploaded it to the Internet, where he sought advice from his social network friends and fans of the device. Such “fan-sourcing” can happen spontaneously, but increasingly, companies will also identify and encourage their best customers and fans to help other customers by rewarding them and providing them with incentives. At Skullcandy, customers can earn $10 an hour plus score points to win free headphones and iPads for answering questions. Not only does this go over better than anonymous customer service reps but it also reduces service costs.

Proactive customer service powered by real-time analytics
Next in my scenario, a service rep became aware of Joe’s social network activity through real-time analytics. After a quick video chat with Joe and some remote diagnostics, the rep determined a part was defective. With more customers turning to social media for advice, assistance and feedback (positive and negative), it’s crucial for companies to listen in on the buzz in real time to gauge customer sentiment and jump in before problems escalate.

Smart integration of new and traditional technologies and channels
At this point in my scenario, the rep gives Joe a range of choices for getting a replacement unit, including immediate pickup at the nearest store, which he opts for. With so many new technologies available for customer engagement, it’s easy to think contact centers and face-to-face service is going away, but that’s just not true. Companies are challenged to offer not only consistently high levels of service across all channels, new and traditional, but also synchronized service. A customer engagement might start out as a Web chat, but it may not stay there – whether the customer wants in-store delivery, a phone conversation, a personal demo and some self-service capabilities, all the information from all those points of contact need to flow seamlessly across channels for the complete context. It shouldn’t matter whether the customer is purchasing a product from the company’s Web site or tweeting a service complaint – any interaction should be consistent, synchronized and seamless. Further, the company’s technology infrastructure needs to scale that customer experience, deliver it consistently, sustain it indefinitely and provide it profitably.

Appeal to human emotions
Again in my scenario, the rep calls him the following day to check in and offer him a substantial discount on wireless speakers to make up for the whole experience. This type of treatment is more than just icing on the cake. “Delighting” customers with personalized, meaningful service is a sure-fire way to cut through all the other competitive noise in the marketplace and be remembered long after the transaction is complete. After all, any customer would expect a replacement unit for a damaged product, but the above-and-beyond treatment will get the customer singing your praises – usually on social media. As a recent McKinsey Quarterly article says, by focusing on the human side of customer service, companies can lower costs by 10% and improve customer satisfaction by up to 30%.

Mobile technologies
Of course, the service Joe received in my scenario would not have been possible without extending customer engagement capabilities to mobile technologies, including video chat and remote diagnostics. Together with the Web, mobility is by far the world’s most influential mega trend, and as such, it is changing the face of customer service. Consider that, according to Pew Resesarch, 46% of Americans own a smartphone, an 11-point increase since last May, and they outnumber the 41% of adults who own a cellphone that is not a smartphone.

Pervasive knowledge for self-service
Lastly, the more digitally savvy customers get, the more they are happily turning to self-service capabilities on company Web sites. Self-service portals, according to James Kobielus at Forrester Research, are key to delivering personalized service, speeding transactions and enhancing the customer experience. In our example, Joe would be happy to find on the company Web site a good knowledgebase and analytics tools to choose which wireless speakers will work best with his 3-D projector and – someday – even provide capabilities like remote diagnostics for the next time a purchase takes a bad turn.

What megatrends do you think are changing customer service as we know it? Please share your stories and ideas with us.