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Some businesses feel at least a step behind their customers when it comes to customer service. If this is you, don’t panic! You’re not alone and it wasn’t all that long ago when having customers send you emails about issues felt like a foreign concept. But, regardless of the era, it’s always been customers that have pushed the boundaries and driven strategy initiatives in the customer service industry.

So, how can you better prepare your team for 2018? Here are 4 things to consider when planning your 2018 customer service strategy…

1) Don’t get too caught up in “big picture” trends – A lot of times when seeking out information to assist in strategic planning, the insights you’ll find will be grandiose and futuristic. Sure, AI and bots are going to impact the industry in the future, but especially in B2B (business to business) they aren’t going to revolutionize the way agents work overnight. At the end of the day, customer service is a process-oriented industry and it will stay that way in 2018. It’s obviously important to account for future trends, but focusing on how you can increase agent efficiency in months instead of years is more important to the immediate bottom line of your business.

2) Let the customer guide you, but don’t sacrifice brand integrity – While you want to meet the evolving needs of customers, focusing too much on forthcoming industry concepts can impact your brand in a negative way. It’s important to always ensure your customer service is aligned with what you stand for as a company. What exactly does this mean? It correlates to creating a customer service experience that matches your customer base and the product(s) you are providing to customers. For example, sometimes it’s OK to not offer extensive chat service if you’re a high-end brand because you want to “wow” customers with outstanding phone and email support. This is rare and you better have the right agents for it, but when done correctly it can create an experience that is high touch and aligns with the principles of the brand.

3) The demand for good agents is stronger than ever – Customer service teams may be able to do more with a smaller staff thanks to customer service software solutions, but this doesn’t mean the demand for good agents is going away anytime soon. Hiring the right people to represent your brand is becoming more important in customer service as more companies realize the capabilities of the team to not only retain customers but also upsell when appropriate. Some businesses are now going so far as to add four figure signing bonuses for new agents that are highly skilled and qualified. Experience is obviously important, but so is channel flexibility as companies look for agents who are proficient at providing service via phone, email, and chat.

4) Plan proactive customer service (but be smart about it) – In this era of customer service, sometimes getting customers to talk to you can be difficult. Believe it or not, it really is OK if they don’t want to speak to you. Some customers are perfectly happy and don’t have anything to say. But it’s important to give them an opportunity to talk from time to time to even if they don’t appear to be interested in chatting. You’d be surprised how often a customer says no to setting up a call but is willing to talk when you reach out just to “check in”. You can discover some great insights for your customer service strategy by making a few phone calls on a Friday afternoon. Sure, they might not be “over the moon” to speak with you, but if you have the right person on the other end of the line you can make the conversation positive and beneficial for both parties. With this said, if a customer reacts negatively to this tactic, listen to them and make a note to avoid proactive communication with them in the future.

Hopefully you found these things to consider when planning your 2018 customer service strategy helpful. For a successful year, keep the big picture in the back of your mind but focus right away on doing what you can to improve processes in the short term. When working through these processes, it’s vital that they align with your brand and customer expectations. In addition, do what you can to ensure you have the right people working within your process structure to keep customer satisfaction levels high. Lastly, don’t forget that being smart about proactive customer service holds it all together as impromptu and unfiltered feedback is excellent for ensuring your customer service initiatives make sense. Weaving these four things into your customer service strategy will put you in a good position for success in 2018 and beyond!