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Issue 19 | November/December 2016

Baseball legend Yogi Berra once quipped, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."

I've concluded that making accurate predictions is actually pretty easy—if you keep dates out. For example, I expected home agents to become commonplace; and I predicted that social media would encourage (pressure) many companies to improve service. Both were right. Both were early (home agents by fifteen years and social by a few). I'm not an economist, but I can tell you there is a recession coming....... and another boom. Just don't ask me when. ☺

You don't have to get too clever to build a strong customer service strategy, and here we discuss three trends you can count on. Thanks so much for reading, and have a wonderful 2017!

I hope you enjoy this issue.

Warm Regards,

Brad Cleveland

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By any measure, 2016 has been a dynamic year for customer service. Customer expectations evolved at a fast clip, social continued to emerge as a powerful service channel, and many organizations made genuine strides to become more customer-centric (with a notable trend to cultivate services that are mobile-friendly).

These themes will undoubtedly continue. So what else can we expect in the coming year? Let me suggest three major trends that will help shape 2017 (listed here in no specific order).

Mainstreaming chatbots. Here's a factoid to chew on: More people are using messenger apps than social networks. More than 2.5 billion people currently have at least one messaging app (e.g., WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Viber, etc.) installed on their smartphones, a number that some analysts believe will reach 3.6 billion by 2018 (source: The Economist). Predictably, many organizations are rapidly deploying capabilities to interact with customers via a chat/messaging interface.

If this sounds like the makings of a bad B movie, go to your mobile and give one or two applications a try. I transfer American Express points flawlessly. Bots help Whole Foods' customers shop, and 1-800 Flowers' bot enables customers to order flower arrangements. The game changer: machines that use AI to learn as they interact. A robust community of technology and support companies has emerged in this space.

Supporting those who serve. As technology and automation (i.e., bots) proliferate, the human connection is becoming more important than ever. We'll see more organizations adapt and operationalize the perspective of Jan Carlzon, former CEO of Scandinavian Airlines, when he conveyed this message to the broad organization: "If you're not serving the customer, your job is to be serving someone who is."

When an organization stands behind customer service, employee engagement tends to thrive—and there is a powerful connection between employee engagement and business results. (Example: Gallup concludes that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share.)

As Southwest Airlines writes on their company blog, "In our ‘order of importance,' we put our employees first, then our customers, then our shareholders. Many companies feel you have to appease the customers or shareholders first... We believe that, if we treat our employees right, they will treat our customers right, and in turn that results in increased business and profits that make everyone happy."

Effective Personalization. Personalization has been around for years, but both data analytics and customer expectations have evolved. Variables such as customer demographics, likes and dislikes, purchase history, and the context of how customers engage (channels, location, social communities, etc.) can be harnessed to deliver personalized services customers love. Examples include:

  • Alerts for new products or sales
  • Intelligent call routing
  • Security alerts and fraud protection
  • Customized content
  • Guided website search and navigation
  • And others...

Amazon—who has become a bellwether for mass-market personalization—attributes up to 35% of its revenue to cross-selling. As customers browse Amazon's website, the company uses both purchase histories of those customers and the histories and preferences of other customers to offer relevant and targeted product recommendations.

When misapplied, personalization can be a big turnoff (or downright creepy)—this is an area you have to get right. Doing so requires a full complement of disciplines that include customer service, marketing, IT, and others. Ironically, the renewed focus on personalization is forcing many organizations to better understand and refine the end-to-end customer journey—a positive development for customers, regardless of personalization.

These and other trends will help define what promises to be an active year in the growth and evolution of customer services. My take on the overall messages? This is an important and exciting season of development—one that, more than ever, requires a cross-functional approach.

Recent Issues

  • By 2018, more than 50% of organizations will redirect investments to customer experience innovations. (Gartner, 2016)
  • By 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen (i.e., using intelligent personal assistants like Alexa or Siri). (Gartner, 2016)
  • 81% of millennials have a more favorable view of a brand if the customer service portal is mobile-responsive, compared with 66% overall and 53% of consumers over 55. (Parature, 2016)
  • 52% of 18- to 34-year old consumers have used social media to ask a customer service question, compared with 31% of consumers overall and 13% of age 55+ consumers. (Parature, 2016)
  • Customers say the two most important aspects of a satisfying customer service experience include not having to repeat information or be passed to another agent (39%) and first-contact resolution (24%). (Microsoft, 2016)
  • Customers are 5.2 times more likely to purchase from companies with a great customer experience. (Kapost, 2016)

Do a quick self-assessment of your mobile customer service. How would you rate each of the following:

  • Content is mobile-friendly, accessible and properly formatted.
  • Links are tap-friendly, with a comfortable minimum "hit area" between clickable elements.
  • You track mobile service inquiries to identify usability issues and act on improvement opportunities.
  • Support options such as click-to-call, live chat, order tracking and others are easy to find.

Public workshop opportunity with Brad: Scottsdale, AZ, March 14–17,2017; courses include contact center strategy and management.

Brad is speaking at TEDx Sun Valley, on "Thriving in an Always-On World," November 30, 2016, Sun Valley Opera House.

Brad was recently interviewed by Jeff Guylay on the radio program, In Search of Insight.

See the frequently updated statistics page at, with sections on customer expectations, contact centers, and social/mobile/tech.

*Brad delivers many private keynotes, workshops, and executive briefings to organizations and associations. For more information, contact

Brad has devoted his career to maximizing the value of customer-facing services. As a speaker, consultant, entrepreneur, executive, and president/CEO, he has seen change from many perspectives and has a deep understanding of the critical importance of customer service delivery to an organization's success. He has worked across 45 states and in 60 countries, and has been privileged to assist in the evolution of service delivery for clients such as American Express, Apple, Coca-Cola, USAA, and others, as well as for governments across the globe. Brad serves as a senior advisor to the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), and is an in-demand speaker and consultant.

To inquire about consulting or speaking, connect through any of the channels below.

© 2016 Brad Cleveland   All Rights Reserved