In my opinion: TELUS International on the top customer service trends for 2013

 TELUS International: need for retailers to match customers with like-minded agents

TELUS International: need for retailers to match customers with like-minded agents

Al Rose, VP retail and internet properties at TELUS Internationala provider of contact centre and customer care solutions to global clients, explores the top trends poised to impact retail customer service in 2013

It has been an interesting year for retailers with 2012 seeing the influential rise of the tech-savvy Millennial shopper, the continued proliferation of online retailing, and the changing nature of how consumers prefer to communicate. From a customer care perspective, we’ve seen a desire for personalised, accessible and shareable customer service experiences that prove to further shake up the retail industry. 

So what’s in store for serving customers in 2013? I expect companies to tailor their services more to meet customer preferences. Whether in the communication channel or the type of customer service representative hired, matching service needs to delivery will become a more important measurement of success. At TELUS International, we are placing an increasing emphasis at our contact centres to align the right medium, like social media customer care, to the right message for each type of consumer. 

Consumer conversations will become more personal

Consumer conversations will become more personal

Further predictions on trends we’ll see in the retail industry over the next 12 months include: 

Savvy customers

Given the abundance of information on the web, consumers will increasingly ask more varied and detailed questions when speaking to retail customer service representatives. This includes bargaining over price or seeking personal recommendations before making purchasing decisions. 

Super agents

Savvier consumers means there is a real opportunity for companies to approach their customer experience in a new way. Retailers will focus on creating highly-trained agents with the ability to offer customer care, manage sales inquiries, and provide tailored advice based on customer needs. To do this, training will continue to evolve, empowering agents to handle these conversational, trusted advisor type interactions. We’ll also see a growing need for retailers to match customers with like-minded agents – for example, Millennials serving Millennials, or gamers serving gamers. 

Big data

Big data will gain prominence in 2013. Expect to see the sophistication of metrics and the use of unstructured data to provide better business intelligence. Data will increasingly be collected in real-time, and a whole new set of tools to capitalise on this data will emerge. However, retailers will need to tread carefully in how they leverage their customer data. There is always the danger that stores might alienate potential consumers if they are perceived to invade privacy with aggressive data collection. Some retailers have learned this lesson already the hard way with consumer backlash.  

Socialising service

Expect to see more integration of marketing and customer service to better utilise social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Smart companies are using social media channels to deal with reactive customer service enquiries and boost brand loyalty by building a rapport with customers. A recent example saw the clothing company Free People crowd source their product photos from their customers’ Instagram and Twitter accounts.  

Personalising the automatic

Retailers will automate their customer service systems even further to reduce costs and improve efficiency. But at the same time, these same retailers will need to balance automation with the ability to mine a customer’s existing data for past preferences to make experiences uniquely personal.    

Press 1 for returns, 2 for billing – IVR improves

Retailers will increasingly integrate data analytics into interactive voice recognition (IVR) systems. The need to minimise customer frustration through improved information delivery on IVR systems is a never ending pursuit. The integration of text and email notifications into IVR systems will continue to gain acceptance.

Bytes versus bricks

As real estate prices increase and revenue growth is challenged, retailers will continue to move more services online. Most consumers now browse a company’s website before visiting a store. Yet, there is increasing frustration and a growing disconnect between what is displayed online and what is available in store. Retailers need to better align their online and in-store offerings. For many retailers these functions operate in silos and the inconsistencies are confusing and frustrating for their customers.

The VIP customer

Retailers will use personal, one-to-one customer service via telephone to cater specifically to high-value customers more frequently. Previously the telephone was the primary avenue for all customers. However this is changing as large customer segments use online chat as their preferred method of communicating with companies. 

Navigating channels

Retailers will continue to see a rise in the number of customer questions received via online chat, a channel we’ve explored in our recent white paper, along with social media and mobile applications. Not only are these channels more personal and instantaneous, they are the primary communication vehicles of a growing demographic – the tech-savvy Millennial shopper. 

Using video as a customer service tool will also increase as having face-to-face conversations adds a new level of personalisation. In contrast, the use of email, which will remain useful for billing records and shipping confirmations, will decline overall. Email responses are often slower making it a less desired communications channel. Retailers will need to remain abreast of new social channels and have a strategy in place when certain channels achieve critical mass. 

Final word 

In 2013, we will see a continuing development of the trends of the past several years. The New Year will offer retailers a chance to catch their collective breaths and perfect the systems they have in place. It is an opportunity to ensure customer touchpoints match consumer needs. Those retailers that manage to successfully synthesise these developments will offer retail experiences worth sharing in 2013. 

About Al Rose – TELUS International:

Al Rose is the VP retail and internet properties at TELUS International – a provider of contact centre and customer care solutions to global clients. TELUS International is the global arm of TELUS, a leading telecommunications company in Canada with $10.6bn of annual revenue and almost 13m customer connections.

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(A Retail Times’ sponsored article)