In the Age Of The Customer, executives don’t decide how customer-centric their companies are – customers. In an attempt to move the needle on customer service operations, in order to keep customers satisfied and loyal to your brand, these are the top trends that you should be paying attention to. You can get my full report here.

Deliver pain-free customer service

Trend 1: Customers Demand Omnichannel Service

Customers want to use a breadth of communication channels for customer service. Across all demographics, voice is still the primary communication channel used, but is quickly followed by self-service channels, chat and email. In addition, channel usage rates are quickly changing. Customers want consistent service experiences across these channels. They also expect to be able to start an interaction in one channel and complete it in another. In 2014 and beyond, customer service professionals will work on better understanding the channel preference of their customer base, and guiding customers to the right channel based on their on the complexity and time-sensitivity of their inquiry.

Trend 2: Customer Service Will Adopt a Mobile-First Mindset

Customer service mobile applications remain nascent as more companies focus on their mobile marketing, sales and ecommerce mobility strategies. In 2014, companies will look to aligning mobile strategies, technology investments and user experiences across functional groups like marketing, customer service, ecommerce and IT. More companies will move away from duplicating their web presence for their mobile offering, and will focus on deploying the right usage scenarios that add value to customers in a mobile environment, with focused user experiences that allow tasks to be efficiently accomplished.

Trend 3: BPM Tools Are Being Used To Standardize Service Delivery

In 2013, we started to see more organizations formalize agent actions in order to streamline service delivery, minimize agent training times, ensure regulatory and company policy compliance, and control costs. In 2014, expect to see continued focus on guiding agents through the service resolution process as well as focus on the end-to-end process that may involve back-office tasks. Customer service vendors will continue to mature their offerings with simpler visual modeling tools geared toward the business user. Expect, as well, to see out-of-the-box best-practice process flows and industry-specific solutions. Expect to see better reporting and analytics in order to monitor overall key performance indicators (KPIs), as well to optimize the success of each process flow.

Proactively engage customers for service

Trend 4: Customers Expect Outbound Notifications

Forrester's Forrsights Networks And Telecommunications Survey shows that 29% of enterprises are planning to invest in proactive outbound communications in the next 12 months. In addition, several vendor acquisitions in 2013 have focused on merging these capabilities into a greater customer service solution, bridging the gap that traditionally exists between inbound and outbound communications. This year, expect organizations to continue to adopt proactive outbound communication compliant with outbound regulations, and rely on vendor expertise in specific verticals to help pinpoint implicit and explicit preferences to personalize service.

Trend 5: Companies Will Explore Proactive Engagement

Proactive engagements anticipate the what, when, where and how for customers, and prioritize information and functionality to speed customer time-to-completion. For example customer behavior can be monitored as customers interact with a company, tracking, for example, the pages that the user navigates to and time spent on pages. This data is coupled with customer insight from other information systems and is used to proactively reach out to customers via, for example an invitation to chat, or an offer, or a multimedia tutorial – at the right time when assistance is required. In 2014, expect organizations to explore the power of proactive pre-purchase and post-purchase engagements.

Trend 6: Knowledge Will Evolve From Purely Reactive To Giving Advice

Customer service agents rely on knowledge management solutions to effectively answer customer inquiries. In addition 67% of consumers use web self-service knowledge to find answers to their questions. But structured knowledge has its downfalls. Knowledge is often difficult to locate, difficult to maintain and is not often contextual. During 2014, expect organizations to (1) look for ways to complement the power of structured knowledge management with user generated content from discussion forums; (2) use virtual agents to support more natural conversations; (3) make knowledge practices more agile so that knowledge can evolve in line with customer demand; (4) use analytics to track the effectiveness of knowledge usage; (5) explore using social listening insights to stay ahead of the curve on knowledge creation.

Personalize customer service interactions

Trend 7: Decisioning Will Power Offers, Actions and Connections

Many organizations use a combination of rules and predictive analytics to present personalized cross-sell and up-sell offers to customers, or to decide whether to present an offer at all based on customer sentiment. In addition, predictive analytics are used to recommend the right content to customers and connect a customer to the right resource based on customer data and behavioral attributes. In 2014, customer service organizations will continue to investigate methods to recommend agent “next-best actions” during the service resolution process to offer service tailored to the customer’s unique needs and past purchase history. Predictive analytics will continue to be explored to recommend the right content to customers, and connect customers to agents in order to increase satisfaction and reduce overall costs.

Trend 8: Customer Feedback Will Be Used To Operationalize Insights

Companies use feedback about its products, services, and organizational processes so that they can improve the quality of their products and services. Forrester observes that 60% of companies gather feedback about their interactions with a company; however only 33% analyze customer insight across organizational boundaries. In 2014, customer service organizations will leverage customer feedback on two fronts: (1) they will double down on their efforts to gather customer feedback across communication channels and touchpoints and act on it; (2) direct customer feedback will be tied to agent performance and will start to be used as a metric to measure the success of operations.

Trend 9: Analytics Will Improve End-to-End Service

Customer communication channels and touchpoints are often managed by different functional organizations within a company. Few companies extend the measurement approaches of voice-only call centers to other communication channels. Forrester reports that 58% of companies inconsistently measure, or fail to measure their customer’s cross channel journey. Without these metrics, organizations can’t answer basic questions such as cost, reason for cross-channel escalations, and overall customer satisfaction. In 2014, expect customer service organizations to start moving forward with more holistic measurement programs for communication channels and touchpoints.

Focus on productivity for optimized service

Trend 10: The Agent Experience Is No Longer An Afterthought

Customer service agents, who use tens or even hundreds of disconnected applications during their workday, are demanding that their solutions be more usable, so that they can focus on solving the customer’s issues and delivering differentiated service. Expect customer service leaders to work on simplifying the agent workspace by removing extraneous data elements from agent screens, automating tasks to increase agent productivity, and making relevant information to help personalize the interaction.

Trend 11: Customer Service Organizations Are Adopting SaaS Solutions for Agility

Forrester data shows that 15% of organizations have already replaced all or most of their on-premise customer service applications with software-as-a-service (SaaS)solutions; and 24% complement their existing solutions with SaaS. The main benefits of SaaS include increased business agility, and speed of deployment, and allowing for more focus on other projects critical to the success of the business. Vendors are doubling-down on efforts to offer comprehensive customer service SaaS solutions. In addition, a new crop of SaaS based social customer service solutions have gained market attention. Expect customer service operations to continue to leverage SaaS solution to complement and extend existing capabilities.

Trend 12: Reliable Data At The Right Time Will Become A Cornerstone of Good Service

Customer service agents need the right data, at the right point in the service process to provide the right answers to customer questions. Good, reliable data is the result of mature data quality and data governance practices. Unfortunately for many companies, data governance is not a priority, and only 15% of organizations surveyed in 2013 identified their data governance maturity as high. In 2014, data pros who support customer service operations will continue to face challenges in convincing business process owners to take ownership and accountability for the quality and usefulness of the supporting customer data.