How Customer Service Changed in 2020

It’s been the year of change. Disruption. Digital adoption. As a result of the global coronavirus pandemic, 2020 has been anything but business as usual. Here are the major impacts we’ve seen in the customer service industry this year and our advice for how companies can get ready for the new year to come.

The Top 7 Changes in the Customer Service Industry in 2020

#1: More customer service teams are working remotely

Due to the pandemic, nearly half—42% of—the country’s workforce is working from home full time, nearly twice the rate of those working on site (26%), according to new research from Stanford University.

Companies across the board have had to quickly pivot to offering remote customer service, and while, overall, the transition is good for cost savings, recruiting, and retention, there have been new challenges for managers, who have had to find new ways to reward and recognize customer service team members no longer working in shared offices, onboard agents virtually, measure and maintain service quality remotely, share customer feedback, and offer micro-coaching in the moment. 

(Get our resource bundle: Empowering Remote Customer Service Agents.)

#2: Customer loyalty is no longer a given

With 73% of customers in the U.S. having tried out new brands and places to shop and 75% to 83% planning to continue after COVID-19, the three factors that influence whether shoppers will consider a new brand include value, quality, and availability, according to McKinsey’s survey of consumer sentiment and behavior.

#3: Customer service is in greater demand than ever

With in-person interactions at physical locations impacted by the pandemic, Boston Consulting Group has found that call center volume has increased by 14% and usage of website and app-based self-service tools have jumped by 20% for the banking industry.

NBC reports that companies have experienced a higher volume of customer service complaints in 2020 compared to 2019, due in part to certain industries being directly impacted by the pandemic (such as travel companies and retailers) as well as due to poor communications and experiences during the shift from in-person experiences to online interactions with brands. 

#4: Brands have had to adapt to offering support wherever customers expect help—including increasingly via digital channels

To keep up with the surge in customer service demand, companies have relied on a variety of support channels, including email, social, chat, and calls. 

The average customer uses up to nine channels to browse a given company’s products and services, get help, and complete purchases, with in-person interactions dropping from their usual first place to third place and email and phone claiming the top two spots this year, reports ZDNet

Consumers have shifted from shopping and doing business in person to increasingly interacting with companies online, with food and household brands seeing an average growth of digital consumers by more than 30% across the globe, according to McKinsey.

Over 750,000 websites have added digital customer care offerings to their platforms, a 500% increase since the start of the pandemic. 

When companies fail to support digital customers, their business may suffer. For instance, 41% of insurance policyholders plan to switch companies due to poor digital customer experiences. 

#5: Even at this time of accelerated digital adoption, customers want to interact with real people and prefer phone calls for urgent and complex issues

Even in the face of this increase in digital adoption, most people (83%) want to directly interact with another person when reaching out to a company, up from 78% in 2019. 

Accenture reports that 57% of customers rank phone call support as their top choice when they need to ask questions and explain issues and 58% prefer it for urgent problems. 

#6: Customers expect greater flexibility and more empathy

Nearly half (45%) of all shoppers want companies to offer free returns. Meanwhile 99% of customers say they want brands to be more trustworthy and another 68% expect businesses to be empathetic, reports ZDNet. 

#7: Customers have embraced touch-free offerings

There’s been a 20% jump in consumer preference for contact-free in-person interactions, reports McKinsey, with drive-through, curbside pickup, delivery, and touchless payment options all seeing gains this year. 

Our Customer Service Predictions for 2021

We asked top customer service leaders across industries for their best insights about what changes to expect in the year to come. Sign up for exclusive early access to these findings and to get even more 2020 customer service statistics along with expert advice for how to prepare your customer service team for 2021.