Has customer service now truly shifted from a cost centre to a value differentiator for businesses? Since we attended (and enjoyed) the first-ever Salesforce Service Innovation Summit, we decided to summarise several topics and trends that emerged here to help you finetune your focus for the year ahead.

What were the headlines and highlights? And what do they mean for you? 

1. Aegon’s shift to the experience economy

Today customers can find and choose anything they want in a matter of clicks and swipes. They can check-out within minutes, and receive their physical delivery in under a day.

In previous years, ‘time well-saved’ was the primary focus for customer service departments: how efficiently a customer query could be resolved still seems to be the main performance metric for commerce brands whose main goal is to continually compress time.

But just like there can only be one brand with the lowest price, there’s only so close brands can get to instant case resolution… And why would we automatically assume they would want to?

As insurance leader Aegon highlighted in their talk, referencing Joe Pine’s book ‘The Experience Economy’, a customer’s ‘time well-saved’ is not so much a sustainable differentiator as creating ‘time well-spent’.

How can you use service interactions as opportunities to engage, increase customer lifetime value and contribute to their overall positive experience?

Enhancing and enriching rather than reducing and minimising time spent with customers worked wonders for Aegon, just as it does for brands like Disney and Netflix.

And this is where innovation really kicks in.

2. Ahold’s surprise route to NPS increase

Round one of the Salesforce Service Innovation Summit proved something else that many would see as counterintuitive to customer experience: reducing channels can mean better time spent.

Long have we been taught that ‘multi-channel’ and then ‘omnichannel’ is the way forward for retailers… Be everywhere and anywhere in serving your customers. But for retail giant Ahold, removing email from their available service channels actually increased their NPS.

By channelling queries instead through web, chat, and phone, Ahold listened to where their customers truly were, sharpened their focus accordingly and managed to smartly redistribute their resources to improve what was already working.

So how to connect all those insights to make decisions like these?

3. Salesforce’s new features connecting voice and text chat

As is the tradition with such innovation summits, exciting new Salesforce capabilities were introduced to the audience last week.

With 93% of customers still using their phone for service-related queries, Salesforce presented a new solution for contact centres to connect speech and text with their current CTI (computer telephony integration), to automate and improve service delivery.

This service cloud capability reduces the amount of note-taking and searching agents have to do whilst on calls to customers. By interpreting voice as text, this helps service centres focus on what’s really important – the conversation and content of the customer experience. Meanwhile, matching knowledge articles are automatically generated to the service console as the call is in progress to reduce manual work.

4. Service agents of the near future

Understanding voice as text opens up opportunities for brands to generate insights across different modes of communication and put them to work.

Salesforce’s next step will be to introduce a computerised service agent.

Soon, you’ll have no idea that the service agent you’re instantly connected to is really an algorithm sharing the right resources with you, chatting in the warm and helpful way you prefer. You won’t have a clue when the algorithm seamlessly hands you over to Sarah the service agent because you’ve asked a niche or multi-strand question that requires further human research.

You won’t know the difference because there is value in making our systems seem more human in the right ways – both to help agents and to hear customers say ‘that was time better spent’ and ‘I’d do it again’.