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Customer service in 2014: 3 predictions

****At Casengo we’re customer service specialists, not futurists. But you don’t need a crystal ball to see the major shift in consumer expectations taking place right now. If we had to give our top 3 predictions for customer service in 2014, we would have to say it’s all about speeding things up.

Prediction 1: Goods will be delivered faster and for free

It all started with Amazon. The international online megastore has been slowly but surely raising the customer service bar since its launch as a bookseller nearly 20 years ago. Its latest trick? Whether you believe that the company is serious about 30-minute drone delivery or not, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that customers would want and even expect that sort of service in the future.

Delivery by drone is presumably beyond your SME’s reach in 2014, but you’d better believe that 3 to 5 day delivery is not fast enough to meet customer expectations anymore. Customers expect their goods the next business day if possible – and at most the day after that.

As for shipping costs… It’s a funny little psychological quirk, but most customers don’t want to fork out more in shipping than they do on their actual online purchases, regardless of how much money they are saving by buying online. “It just feels like a waste of money,” Emily (Casengo’s Chief Word Officer) told me a couple of weeks ago. She spent a while trying to track down steel-cut oats in the Netherlands. “In the end, I found them in a German web shop. But I couldn’t bring myself to buy them, because the shipping would have cost me more than the oats.”

As a webshop owner, you might argue that you can’t afford to offer free shipping to customers who are only buying a few small items. If most of your customers are just purchasing packets of oats, steel-cut or otherwise, then that’s probably true. But if you sell plenty of other items, free shipping makes an excellent loss leader to get customers in through your virtual door. It doesn’t make sense for a customer to balk at paying few extra euros/dollars/pounds for shipping, but it’s the way things are. Accepting reality and offering free shipping can net you a lot of extra sales.

Prediction 2: Customer service will be available 24/7 through social media.

Now, we don’t dare suggest that every business will be offering around-the-clock customer service by the end of next year. But KLM has got the ball rolling with its promise to respond to Facebook and Twitter questions within an hour, and to other requests within a day, in ten different languages no less! This sets the challenge for major airlines to follow suit, and we can then expect that other major businesses will want to offer minimum-time response guarantees fairly soon.

Just don’t go overboard: a speedy answer to a question is one thing, but sometimes a fast reply to a comment is just too fast for customer comfort.

Prediction 3: Live chat is where it’s at.

I know what you’re thinking: we would say that, wouldn’t we? But it’s not just us – pundits around the world are predicting that live chat is the way of the future. It’s the logical next step in a culture that increasingly believes that, as Carrie Fisher once quipped, “instant gratification takes too long”. The best customer service is the type that fulfils a customer’s needs before the customer is even aware of them, but it’s just not possible to do that all the time. So the next best thing is to be there, waiting, for the moment that your customer has a question and can simply type it into the chat box on your web page. Of course, with Casengo’s hybrid chat the big advantage is that you don’t actually have to be there waiting – the chat session presents as an email in your Casengo inbox, but it’s all the same to the customer: they get an instant response to their question, resulting in higher conversion rates. In other words, win-win.

As the owner of an SME, you can’t expect to be all things to all people. You’re certainly not going to be able to compete with businesses like Amazon or KLM on delivery or on social media response times. But if you keep these predictions in mind as you continue to work on your customer service strategy, you’ll have an edge that many other businesses won’t.