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What Does Tomorrow's Customer Look Like?

Ubiquitous mobility, the proliferation of social media channels and other recent technological innovations have given customers unprecedented power over brands—and this trend is not likely to slow anytime soon. Below are three key areas that I anticipate will fuel customer expectations in the years ahead. 

Brand Ambassadors

The popularity of Yelp, TripAdvisor and other user-generated review sites demonstrates that people are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on the experiences of other consumers. As such, customers are essentially unofficial brand ambassadors—meaning that one customer service experience, be it good or bad, can quickly be disseminated to multiple customers, potential prospects, partners, and competitors.

Heading into 2015 and beyond, we can only expect this trend to grow. Tomorrow’s customer will be further empowered to express frustration with an ineffectual support experience, and consumers evaluating a company’s services will increasingly value this feedback over marketing materials or other third-party endorsements. Established review sites such as the ones mentioned above are not the only channels where customers will be sharing brand experiences—social media will play a critical role as well.

This means that companies will have to monitor conversations across a variety of platforms and ensure that any complaint is recognized as efficiently as possible. In this environment, response time is just as critical as the actual response. Of course, many complex issues cannot be diagnosed and resolved in the real-time world of social media. However, any lag time between a customer complaint and a brand’s response will negatively impact the individual’s experience and breed lasting frustration. In light of these factors, companies must ensure that a dedicated team is in place to monitor and respond to social conversations, directing customers to the appropriate channel to seek additional resources or issue resolution.

Personal Recognition

Customers already expect a seamless experience from their interactions with call centers. It goes without saying that asking a consumer to repeat information each time a ticket is escalated will negatively impact his perception, even if the issue is ultimately resolved. Looking to the future, this expectation will grow to encompass personalization as well.

Let’s say a customer has just spent $3,000 on an entertainment system and experiences an issue with another product from the same company on the following day. The new purchase likely has not even left the warehouse floor, and these historically would be viewed as siloed interactions. But what if the agent opens the session by thanking the customer for his recent purchase, or closes by offering an update on shipping and delivery?

Currently this is seen as a “nice to have” rather than a customer service necessity, however, it’s likely that the balance here will soon shift. Consumers will also expect that agents are aware of their preferences for service delivery, and adapt their approach accordingly.

Visualize the Problem

We live in a visual world and the customer experience is no exception. In the future, expect to see video offered as a support channel, in addition to phone, chat, and other more traditional methods. This will ensure consumers and customer service agents are instantly aligned on the nature of the issue, and eliminate inefficiencies stemming from miscommunication or erroneous descriptions. 

More importantly, issues that historically required an on-site technician visit can be more efficiently resolved remotely with video. For example, perhaps poor performance on a newly installed solar panel is due to the way in which the panes are positioned. This level of detail is difficult to communicate and determine unless both parties are viewing the same video. As connected devices grow more prevalent, this capability will become more critical and consumers will increasingly expect the inclusion of video as a support channel.

These are just a few of the trends at work impacting the customer experience. As these and other trends come to fruition, consumers will only grow more vocal in their demands—and more empowered to express frustration when organizations fail to deliver on their needs. As such, the companies that can evolve now in anticipation of the customer of tomorrow will be best positioned for success in 2015 and beyond.