We are in the final weeks of 2018. Soon another year will be behind us.

As you reflect on the past year and customer service in your organization, how did you do? There were probably several great accomplishments in there. Perhaps it was the completion of an important project? Turning around a particularly challenging escalation? Take a moment to note those successes and remind your customer service team of those wins. Customer service is tough work, and it’s important to take the victory laps when you can. Go ahead and celebrate, I’ll wait.

If you haven’t already started, it’s time to begin thinking about the coming year. What are the challenges you continue to face? How can you move the needle on customer service? What are you going to do to improve things in 2019? Here are three topics you might consider.

Address the underlying issue

Customer service exists because customers experience problems. It could be an issue with how much they were charged. It might be items arrived damaged. Instructions on how to use a product or service aren’t as clear as they could be. Whatever the reason, customer service is there to assist. But customer service didn’t cause the problem–it originated elsewhere. That incorrect charge arose because of an issue in the billing department. Products damaged-on-arrival were as a result of poor manufacturing or faulty packing at shipment. Those unclear directions were written by the documentation team.

You get the idea. And these are not the one-off situations, problems encountered only by one or a few customers. They are the ones that are impacting or will potentially impact a large volume of customers. These types of scenarios have two negative consequences. The first is a hit to the customer experience–the customer didn’t expect to encounter the problem, nor to spend time trying to solve it. The second impact is the cost of taking that same call, email, or chat over-and-over.

The solution to these neverending scenarios is end-to-end customer service: involving other teams in customer service. Rather than the problem staying in customer service’s realm and being repeatedly addressed, it is assigned to the department where the root cause of the issue can be identified and resolved. Modern customer service platforms make this possible by associating the growing case volume for a particular issue to a single problem that can then be assigned to the responsible area, routed with workflow to those who can triage and solve it, and tracked to completion.

This isn’t possible without a company-wide commitment to customer service and improving the customer experience. All departments must put the customer at the center of their work. This mindset could come from the top-down or it could be driven by customer service forging relationships across the company. Either way, everyone must be committed to working together to continually improve the customer experience. If this doesn’t exist in your company today, start building that culture in the new year to make end-to-end customer service possible.

Deliver solutions proactively

Most customer service today is delivered reactively. That’s understandable, given that underlying Customer Relationship Management (or CRM) systems and associated processes in use today were designed over twenty years ago only as a means of engaging with customers and tracking their issues. But in today’s customer experience battlefield, it’s not enough.

2019 is the year to change all that.

Proactive customer service begins with keeping tabs on customer issues and quickly recognizing problem trends. As those trends emerge, customers also likely to encounter the issue must be identified. As a solution is developed, customers must be kept in the loop.

It sounds like a lot of work, but the best customer service platforms make it all possible. They tie it all together into an efficient, managed series of steps to identify the problem; isolate the currently- and likely-affected customers; and communicate the problem’s existence, ongoing status to resolve it, and the solution when available.

The prerequisite to make this work well is data: how customers use your products and services, how to contact them, and how to track issues so it’s possible to recognize trends sooner. Run some hypothetical scenarios to see if you currently have the information and tools necessary to deliver proactive customer service; if you don’t, map out the business process changes necessary to make proactive service possible in the future.

Help customers help themselves

Connecting customer service to your entire organization and delivering more service proactively are huge changes to the way you assist customers. That doesn’t mean you neglect the basics, though.

Forrester has been beating the self-service drum for several years. Their research has shown that not only will customers start their search for answers online, but that they actually prefer to use self-service. Chatbots, in particular, are seeing tremendous uptake. Gartner predicts by 2020, they will be in use by twenty-five percent of customer service operations. As an Inc. magazine article pointed out “by 2020, you’re more likely to have a conversation with this than with your spouse.

Online self-service includes a broad range of offerings. Knowledge bases offer a searchable library of step-by-step solutions. Online communities connect customers with questions to their peers and experts inside the company. Chatbots provide conversational assistance to common issues. Solutions for common problems can be automated with workflow.

Do you offer a complete range of self-service to your customers? When was the last time you evaluated some of the newest technologies in the latest customer service platforms to address gaps?

Resolve to improve service

Improving the customer experience by connecting the entire organization. Preemptively addressing customer issues. Adding to self-service options.

Any of these are great endeavors to consider for the coming year. And each of these is an opportunity to have a profound impact on customer service. As 2018 comes to a close, how do you resolve to uplevel your customer service in 2019?

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