More than two-thirds (67%) of Australian business leaders give themselves high marks for their customer service, however only 16% of agents feel satisfied with the quality of training they receive, according to the global Zendesk Customer Experience (CX) Trends Report 2022.

Customers are noticing too, with half believing that businesses need to improve agent training, highlighting the disconnect between Australian business leaders and their support agents on the level of customer service they provide.

“Businesses cannot afford to take a transactional approach to their relationships with customers. Customer service is now a key differentiator, but this year’s report reveals gaps exist between expectation and delivery,” Zendesk chief technology officer, Adrian McDermott said.

 “Customers are noticing this gap and voting with their business – and that’s perhaps the clearest signal to businesses that change needs to happen, and fast.”

Customer service can drive growth

The majority of Australian respondents (77%) see a direct link between customer service and business performance, with two-thirds (66%) estimating that customer service has a positive impact on business growth.

Customer expectations can drive or stifle growth plans. As customers spend more online, two in five (44%) say that their customer service expectations have increased in the past year. Channels play a big part in meeting these increased expectations and particularly, being where the customer is. Despite this, Australian businesses are not investing enough to support their CX teams to drive growth, with only half (50%) having a strategic plan for CX over the next three years.

Nine in 10 (90%) Australian customers say they are willing to spend more with companies who personalise their customer service experience, while 84% of customers say they are willing to spend more to buy from companies that offer them the chance to find the answers they need themselves.

The Agent X factor

Increased expectations lead to increased pressure on agents, who act as the front line. In fact, the research found that a significant number of respondents across APAC (68%) agree that customer service agents are essential to driving sales.

When it comes to resolving issues, almost half of the customers surveyed across APAC are looking for agents who are helpful and empathetic. And customers will parlay this goodwill in a positive experience to being open to recommendations from service agents.

Many businesses, though, have yet to recalibrate their view of customer service as a cost centre, meaning investments in optimising the function have not kept pace with growth or increasing customer expectations. So, while a majority of businesses acknowledge customer service agents as being pivotal to driving sales, a very small number of those same agents are extremely satisfied with their workloads.

CX teams in Australia are burnt out and undervalued with only 11% of agents saying they are extremely satisfied with their workloads and only 7% are extremely satisfied with the career paths available to them.

Closing gaps and mapping growth paths

The majority (68%) of Australian business leaders say that their organisation views customer service as a critical business priority, but 45% report that it’s still not owned by the C-suite. While the insights clearly indicate a business case for investments in customer experience, this isn’t necessarily being followed through with executive sponsorship or the right tools or programs, such as training for agents or investment in artificial intelligence (AI).

In fact, Australia is falling behind other APAC countries when it comes to AI adoption, with only one-quarter of businesses allocating 25% of their CX technology budgets to AI and more than half (54%) have been ad-hoc in their AI implementation.