As I reflect on the busy year 2017 shaped up to be, its hard not to see the commonalities and trends many of us face when it comes to customer service. I racked up 90,000 travel miles this year and no matter where the plane took me or if I talked to contact center newbies or veterans, the conversations all seemed so similar. Whether its balancing a personable, high-touch style with the efficiency of technology-based applications or swapping out old processes for more customer-centric ones, there are some clear key customer service trends to keep an eye on in 2018.
The rise (and balance) of AI
From conferences to tech blogs, everyone was talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI) this year. Virtual assistants like Suri and Alexa have become immensely popular in our personal lives, but we’ve also leveraged the same technology to assist customers. Not only can AI help trim costs, but it can siphon off lower tier support requests, freeing up your agents to handle more complex issues and questions.
With all the good AI can do, there are still two major challenges companies using bots will face. First, ensuring bots are deployed on the right channels because not all channels are created equal. Second, finding proper balance between human agents and bots to create finely tuned hybrid workforces.
Deeper channels, not just more options
Many companies have expanded the number of customer service channels to include convenient options like chat and email. While customers love options, they also expect their chosen channel to get the job done completely. No one likes to start a chat session only to be told they have to call the customer service line. It’s not just about having the right channels in place but properly training agents on how to communicate best through that method and ensuring they have the knowledge and access to resolve conversations themselves.
Personalized customer experiences
Businesses collect an assortment of customer information—demographics, behavior, interests—but few use it to their advantage or to the customer’s benefit. While more companies have started using this information to tailor deals and offers, a few have expanded into predictive technologies. These tools can help reduce customer effort and increase sales by predicting the customer’s next several website clicks based on buying and pages viewed on your website.
When I talk to companies about this technology, I always get the same response: Spooky. But these technologies deliver a lot of value to customers. It’s essentially like having an invisible sales rep walk alongside the customer. Especially with jargon-heavy industries like healthcare and insurance, it’s a means to prevent frustration and promote a simpler buying process.
As mobile usage increases, there’s been more chatter about using visual IVR menus. These would allow callers to select from multiple choice menus on their mobile phone rather than just selecting from keypad/speaking options. This will better accommodate those who have hearing impairments. For those customers unfamiliar with your terminology, it will give some additional time and context for them to understand their options and pick the right support path. It’s expected to also help reduce the number of agent re-routed calls for both of these reasons, a common pain point for call centers.
Focus on millennial acquisition
Millennials have become the key buyer demographic to market to and they’re challenging a lot of long-standing customer service beliefs and practices. For instance, millennials are a driving force behind the new focus on self-serve portals. It’s the age of DIY and they want to troubleshoot on their own time.
Millennials hold incredible influence over other buyers largely due to social media. It’s the megaphone they use to cheer and jeer the brands they buy from, and it’s what they turn to when researching their next purchase. Millennials also put more value on good experiences and reputation than they do costs, further showing the value and growing demand for customer centricity.
While 2017 was a fascinating year full of new tech we’re all just beginning to understand and a heightened focus on customer experience, I’m excited to see what 2018 brings. Who will excel in customer service this year? How will customers continue to challenge our processes? What other technologies will make our work lives easier?
Most exciting of all? Can I break 100,000 miles traveled in a single year? I think so, and I hope to see some of you along the way, whether it’s sitting next to you at a conference or bumping into you at Starbucks.