Companies of all sizes across industries and geographies lack the capabilities needed to keep up with ever increasing customer expectations, according to the The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2019. This article is copyright 2019 The Best Customer Guide.

The report was based on global survey results, focus groups, and the Zendesk Benchmark (an index of product usage data from 45,000 companies using Zendesk). While good customer service outranks convenience and reputation when people are considering which companies to do business with, according to the report, there is a global dip in overall customer satisfaction. Over the past five years, customer satisfaction is down 2.2%, from 94.6% in 2013 to 92.5% in 2018, decreasing nearly a full percentage point in the past year.

At the same time, customer expectations continue to increase. Nearly half of customers surveyed (46%) said their expectations are higher than they were a year ago.

In the Forrester Research report, 'The Five CRM Trends In 2019 That Will Shape Engagement, Relationships, And Revenue', analyst Kate Leggett wrote: "In the age of the customer, executives don't decide how customer-centric their companies are - customers do."

"We are seeing a widening gap between what customers expect and what companies can deliver," said Jeff Titterton, chief marketing officer at Zendesk. "Whether you"re a 100-year-old financial services stalwart or a fast-growing consumer tech startup, your customers are comparing you to the best experiences they've ever had."

According to The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2019, companies in travel, financial services, and retail industries are more likely to be among the leading innovators. Companies such as Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb are built on an entirely new kind of customer experience, raising the stakes for everyone. These businesses stand out for their ability to simplify the purchasing experience, communicate directly with consumers with digital tools, and use powerful data analytics to improve operations.

For those companies still struggling to deliver the experience their customers expect, the report identifies specific areas where businesses of all sizes, in every industry, can close the gap between what customers want and what they're getting. According to the report, the most successful companies do the following:

  1. Invest in an open, flexible platform
    The World Economic Forum said earlier this year that fewer than 10% of business models are economically viable as the world digitizes. Seventy percent of the world's top most valuable companies (Amazon, Apple, Alibaba, Microsoft et al) and 70% of the US$ billion+ "Unicorn" startups (Didi, Airbnb et al) operate a digital platform business model, yet fewer than 2% of other companies do. Nearly 70% of customers expect support teams to collaborate so they don't have to start over when contacting the same company through a different channel. This means companies need to manage customer data across all aspects of the customer experience and ensure a single record of the customer persists across channels, devices, and requests. Pushing data in and out of support software using APIs, apps, and integrations can help businesses see a complete view of their customers. Companies using APIs resolve tickets 21% faster, and their customers spend 35% less time waiting for agents to respond, all while managing more than three times as many requests.
  2. Meet customers where they are
    The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2019 findings show that 40% of customers prefer to use search or help centers before contacting support, yet only 20% of support teams provide self-service. When they do have to contact customer service, customers want to be able to switch between channels and pick the one that best meets their needs. A whopping 85% of customers will use a different contact method if they don't get a response from their initial request, with 44% waiting less than an hour before doing so.
  3. Lean in to proactive engagement
    While 30% of support teams are currently using proactive engagement for sales and marketing, according to the report, there are key benefits often overlooked, including reducing customer effort, preventing issues with a product, and minimizing support tickets for customer service agents. The vast majority of customers, nearly 90%, said they look more favorably on or are neutral about companies that reach out proactively.
  4. Bet on AI
    High performing businesses are twice as likely to use AI. In fact, companies using AI powered features by Zendesk have saved 225,000 agent hours and given 2,800 years back to customers. They're resolving tickets 21% faster while handling six times the volume of requests. That said, 85% of enterprise companies aren't yet using AI.

The report combined data from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. To learn more about the most important trends in customer experiences in 2019 and beyond, visit http://zendesk.com/customer-experience-trends to download the report and view the Customer Support Performance Scorecard, a personalized rating to help companies assess their own customer experiences.