Time used to feel like a reasonably straight line into the future, but now it’s more like the impossibly tangled string of Christmas lights I have not yet been brave enough to face: an unpredictable and untraceable disarray of days, where 18 months ago feels like yesterday but bedtime is somehow still 1,000 years in the future.
However, the calendar insists that 2022 is upon us, and with it new opportunities to create the sort of customer service experiences we all want to deliver. What signs and omens can we divine that might help us chart a path forward?
12 customer service trends for 2022
If you were ever truly bored, you could go back and Google all the “Customer Service Trends for 20XX” posts for the last decade, and you’d see a reasonably linear progression.
Here, I’ll save you the search: Customers expect better service, self-service is growing, AI is slowly improving, more people like messaging, and more use mobile clients. No sudden leaps or surprises there.
But these last 18 months have been different. Millions of people have suddenly been forced to work outside of the office, and their companies have had to figure out how to make that happen. That’s an enormous disruption to the rate of change, and it will have a real impact. Here are our predictions for customer service trends in 2022.
1. Customer service and experience will be an increasingly important differentiator
The pandemic has pushed a whole lot of businesses into providing online access to their services. With more companies providing faster access to similar services and products, often at similar prices, customers will be swayed by reliable, proven customer service.
Focus on experience:
2. Customers will churn more easily
That same breadth of choices will mean that customers have an easier time finding a replacement provider if the quality of product or experience is not high enough. Successful companies will be those that build a reputation for trustworthiness and consistent quality.
Take action on churn:
3. More people working on mobile devices
Many of those who moved out of office spaces will be working from multiple locations using mobile equipment. How well does your website work on a phone or tablet? Are your customer service options effective for mobile users?
Understand mobile commerce:
4. Both customers and staff will demand more flexibility
Those who have tasted a different working style may not go back to strict office hours. If customers want to get their work done at 5 a.m. or 11 p.m. because those times suit them best, they will want support in those hours, too.
Customer service work was always suited to flexible hours, but companies were not always interested in supporting them. With so many more roles available, offering greater flexibility might be required to attract and keep the best applicants.
Hire the best team:
5. Outsourcing will grow to manage unpredictable spikes
COVID-19 made predicting customer service volumes very difficult, and many companies had to throw out their forecasting models. Using third parties to better cope with sudden shifts in volume is suddenly appealing to a broader range of companies.
Find the right partner:
6. Supply chain disruptions will continue to create support demands
Problems with product and part availability and overloaded last-mile shipping have generated vast numbers of customer service queries. Even once the worst of the pandemic passes, the knock-on effects will continue for many months and so will related customer service volume spikes.
Keep up to date:
7. Customer service burnout is a high risk
In a time where almost every customer is at a higher level of stress than normal, customer service work is even more difficult. Uncertainty and higher volumes add additional problems into the mix, making customer service burnout more likely to occur.
Get help handling burnout:
8. Retaining customer service staff will be harder
Enormous growth in remote work and a hot job market means that your best staff members have a wider range of options to choose from. Add to that the increased risk of burnout, and it’s clear that deliberate effort will be needed to retain staff.
Keep your team engaged:
9. Video as a support tool will become more common
How many people in the last year have learned how to “jump on a Zoom”? People who are comfortable with the technology and have the right setup at home will be more interested in screen sharing and generally getting help over video. Have you identified where video support makes the most sense for your company?
Explore video as a channel:
10. The shift to messaging and real-time channels may accelerate
After being forced to interact through digital channels, some customers have come to prefer a quick chat over an in-store visit or phone queue. The slow demographic shift away from phone support may have jumped forward during this time. Keep an eye on your channel metrics.
Offer chat and proactive messaging:
11. Some customers will be more willing to self-serve
One major reason customers don’t use a knowledge base and instead prefer a phone call is a lack of confidence with online tools. While those people will still exist, some of their number will have built enough confidence through pandemic-related experience to give it a try. Make sure they have a good experience!
Create better self-service experiences:
12. Companies will be challenged by remote work
We’ve written a lot about building a remote-friendly work environment at Help Scout. Even for us, as a remote-first organization, it is hard work.
For companies who started out in offices and have had to scramble to work remotely, there will be even more effort required to adapt. If they have started hiring globally, that adds even more complexity.
We should expect ongoing challenges with internal communication, unclear processes, and disengaged staff as our customers work through drastic changes. That will inevitably affect the way they engage with our own products and service teams.
Build an effective remote team:
Customer service technology outlook for 2022
In addition to the cultural and human changes affecting our work in 2022, the usual technological changes continue to occur. Here are our top three customer service areas to watch in the next year.
Customer data management as a critical technology
The root of high-quality, consistent customer service is understanding who your customer is and what they really need. When you’re using many different tools and you have more than a handful of customer service staff, getting a clear picture of a customer can be challenging.
Many tools and platforms already exist in this space, but there is plenty of work yet to be done. Finding ways to collect, connect, and use all that customer data in meaningful ways is an area to focus on over the next few years.
AI tools to supplement human staff
AI has been on these prediction lists for years. This year will not bring all-powerful AI customer service agents who replace our human staff (nor should it). However, we do expect to see AI used as an amplification tool — a way to help folks create more effective customer service interactions with less effort.
Think of the AI equivalent of Gary Walsh on the show “VEEP,” whispering into Selina Meyer’s ear about the important person to whom she is about to speak — except, you know, in an actually helpful way.
Self-service options more important than ever
In this unpredictable time, and with a customer base more used to online service than ever before, a really solid self-service option is essential. A great knowledge base helps absorb unexpected spikes in volume and can deliver excellent customer experiences 24/7.
Start with people
COVID-19 forced a whole lot of customers and companies to adopt new technologies and new work practices much more quickly than they otherwise would have.
As that difficult transition ends, the technical and structural aspects of that shift will become standard practice. Merely offering online service or allowing remote work will not be a differentiator.
Companies will need to compete on how they offer those services and approaches. By adopting a people-centered approach, based on a deeper understanding of the needs of both customers and customer-facing staff, companies will be able to stay ahead of their competition in 2022.