This past year was full of exciting developments when it comes to customer service. Technology continues to be a critical enabler in the process, though many concurrently argue that the human component cannot be detached from the customer experience.

Customers have high expectations—and they continue to expand. They want to choose their engagement channel and when they use them, engage using multiple devices, and have a fully integrated experience as they move across engagement channels.

Technology also makes it immensely easier for customers to take their business elsewhere, not to mention posting brand experiences—good and bad—on their social channels. Indeed, nearly one-third of customers share their negative experiences online. And this trend appears to be increasing; on the B2B front alone, customers are 58 percent more likely to tell others about their customer experiences.

It should go without saying that how businesses treat their customers has never been more important than today. As we look back on customer service in 2016, we identified the five trends that are transforming and shaping the next generation of customer service.

1.     Omnichannel Engagement

The days of funneling all customer service through a centralized call center are over. A one-size-fits-all approach no longer works. Customers want to choose their engagement channel based on their requirements—where they are at, what device they are using, and the question they need help answers. Sometimes a customer may want to self-serve and answer the question; this requires an easy-to-navigate, easy-to-use knowledgebase (e.g., FAQs, community forums, etc.). In other instances, they want to engage via phone, live web chat, or email.

2.     Integrated Customer Experiences

A majority of customers—B2B and B2C—expect businesses to respond to their service requests in real time. They also expect to have the ability to move seamlessly across channels and receive personalized experiences regardless of device and channel. For example, 57 percent of customers indicate the ability to obtain instant information and service on their mobile devices is “important” or “very important.” But the reality is that 68 percent of customers report they must repeat themselves when they move between channels and cite this occurrence as a reason for looking for other vendors. Much work remains to be done on this front.

3.     Human Touch/Interactions

There is a growing recognition that companies in their search for technological automation have missed the boat by minimizing the human factor in customer service interactions. For certain questions and problems, customers want to interact with another human. This necessitates that companies have the right systems in place to route their customers to the human experts—whether through traditional or digital channels—who can resolve the problem or answer the question. And this high-touch customer service expectation isn’t necessarily an additional cost to the business: 45 percent of customers indicate they are willing to pay more to get a higher level of service.

4.     Big Data and Personalization

Most companies have a plethora of data on their customers. The challenge is finding and leveraging it for actionable customer service insights. Convincing customers that you’re going to use their information to create personalized customer experiences for them isn’t the problem; for example, 89 percent of B2B buyers expect companies to understand their business needs and expectations—and this includes customer service interactions (69 percent demand personalized service).

5.     Educating Through Recommendations and Tips

If customers don’t know they need your solution, then you’re not ready to sell them anything; they aren’t going to buy it. Online communities and forums are underutilized by most businesses.

Customers appreciate tips and recommendations from their businesses, and customer service interactions are the perfect opportunity for these types of exchanges. For example, Backcountry.com employs customer service agents (called “Gearheads”) who are subject-matter experts in different areas of the business (e.g., rock climbing, snowboarding, backpacking). These Gearheads accumulate followers and deliver proactive recommendations and tips to their customers. And this educational customer service approach works; Backcountry.com reports their Gearheads generate up to six times the amount of revenue of a traditional call center service agent.

Much has been accomplished over the past few years in the realm of customer service. Customers get faster and better service, while businesses reduce cost and drive revenue growth. Davinci Virtual Office Solutions has worked with thousands of businesses to help them deliver omnichannel customer service experiences to build advocates and drive revenue. Check out Davinci Live Receptionists and Live Web Chat services and begin realizing the difference great customer service can mean to your business today.