December 10th, 2013 by Sherri Lerner

The following post was written by Kate Leggett, a principal analyst serving application development and delivery professionals at Forrester Research.

Companies around the globe want to deliver world-class customer service and are focusing on customer service improvement initiatives to strengthen customer relationships. Successful programs home in on customer retention, boost profitability and revenue, and increase customer engagement. However, implementing a successful world-class customer service program can prove challenging. Many companies still primarily focus on cost control or tactical measures to put out fires. And only 47 percent have a dedicated budget for customer experience initiatives—let alone improving the service experience.

What’s more, in the Age of the Customer, failing to meet customer expectations is costly. Seventy-five percent of consumers move to another channel when online customer service fails, and Forrester estimates that unnecessary service costs to online retailers due to channel escalation top $22 million, on average. In addition, poor service experiences lead to customer defection and service loss. In new research, my colleagues and I maintain that continuously improving your customer service delivery is no longer a nice-to-have—with so much at stake, it’s a business imperative.

In fact, customer service operations are moving away from being managed as cost centers to being managed via a pragmatic balance between cost of operations and customer satisfaction metrics. This focus requires a deep understanding of and alignment with a company’s overall customer engagement strategy and a continued evaluation of customer requirements. It also takes an organization that is agile—quickly able to execute on changes and brave enough to invest in new technologies to exploit new insights. To develop these key attributes, my colleagues and I suggest that firms start by understanding who their customers are—without guessing.


  • Understand their communication and channel preferences. Customers want to interact with companies over a range of channels. Voice, at 73 percent, still remains the most widely used channel, followed by Web self-service at 67 percent, text-based channels with email at 58 percent, and chat at 43 percent. In addition, channel preference is rapidly changing. For example, chat has risen from 30 percent in 2009 to 43 percent in 2012, while email has risen only two percentage points in the same timeframe, from 56 percent to 58 percent. One way in which firms can develop this understanding is to survey their customer base to understand how they want to interact—as channel preference is industry- and demographic-specific.
  • Understand the journeys that they want to take. Customers want to be able to start an interaction in one channel and continue it in another without having to restart the conversation. Organizations must map these cross-channel journeys to effectively support and understand customers in their moment of need. In addition, it is critical to make sure that communication channels are not implemented in silos, as customer service agents must be able to access customer interaction histories across platforms.
  • Collect structured and unstructured feedback. After every interaction, irrespective of communication channel, firms should survey customers on the effectiveness of the service delivered. Customer experience professionals will be able to associate this feedback with the customer record and use it to personalize future interactions. In terms of unstructured feedback, organizations can use social listening platforms to understand overall consumer satisfaction and brand sentiment. This data can then be used to coach customer service agents and ensure customer loyalty.






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