Across industries, research reports are predicting that businesses can expect more change in the next five years than in the last 50. That certainly seems true enough in the contact center world where the pace of change has been accelerating exponentially—often with dizzying effects for the three key elements of the contact center operations framework: people, process and technology.
Today’s constantly evolving contact center environment calls for leaders who are both a stabilizing force for the current operation and a visionary who sees the potential for what it can become. Digital transformation, harnessing big data, rapidly rising customer expectations, finding the right balance of automation and the human touch, redefining the frontline agent’s role, evolving skill sets, generational expectations, providing agents with better growth opportunities and work-life balance… these are just some of the challenges that industry experts have discussed in recent issues of Pipeline.
As we round the corner toward 2020 and beyond, we wondered which trends those responsible for driving their organizations’ customer experience are focusing on in the near-term, and how they see customer care evolving. In this feature panel, we reached out to top industry executives for their insights. My deepest appreciation to CX experts Malcolm Angell, Nate Brown, Lisa Oswald, Debbie Szumylo and Jennifer Thomas for sharing their thoughts!
NEAR-TERM: What are the most significant trends that will impact service delivery and contact center management over the next year?
Design a Workforce to Help Drive Change
There will be a massive “upscaling” trend in the next one to three years for contact center talent. The expectations being put on today’s agent are tremendous… it requires a level of skill that very few training programs even attempt to cover. Many of us will need to completely rewrite our training regimens to better align with reality, and that’s only the beginning. Traditional QA programs, restrictive processes and legacy metrics will be a thing of the past. Between disruptive technologies and rising customer expectations, every day is a new horizon. It is our responsibility to design a workforce not only capable of surviving these changes, but helping to drive it.
A Strategic Approach to AI Keeps the Customer at the Forefront
Generally speaking, I think artificial intelligence is going to continue to have a significant impact on how call centers operate. There will be a very fine line between customers continuing to crave a human touch and companies looking to cut costs and become more efficient by trying to move toward artificial intelligence. However, just like every other trend of late, those with well-thought-out strategic approaches that keep the customer at the forefront will do well and those who jump onboard just to jump onboard will fail.
Forced Shift in Tech Due to Generational Shifts in Workforce and Customers
I think the biggest trend we’ll see is a forced shift in technologies and the way staff and customers interact with these items. There’s been talk for years about technology shifts to mobile, social, cloud and also generational shifts in the workforce, and those items cannot be delayed or ignored anymore. Just as the rotary phone and “ma bell” had an ultimate cutoff date, we have reached a new cutoff date. Being in the cloud is now seemingly a must to survive and thrive.
According to Forbes, the generation after millennials, Generation Z, which they defined as people born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, made up 25% of the U.S. population in 2015, making them a larger cohort than the baby boomers or millennials. What this tells us is that, if you have archaic systems in your contact center, the largest incoming working cohort in the country needs newer technology to be productive and innovative.
This same group is also not only the newest population in the workforce, it is also many companies’ newest cohort of customers. This requires a transformation of services being provided by contact centers. Digital delivery of items, simple self-service solutions and concise communications are key to customer satisfaction. Queen’s song lyrics—“I want it all and I want it now”—seems to play on a loop in my head when developing our next iterations of customer support.
LONG-TERM: How do you see customer care evolving over the next five years?
Ensure that CX Strategy Keeps Pace with Technological Change
For me, every year is an exciting year in Contact Center Land (although my wife may not agree). Computer processing power is doubling every two years—as forecast by Intel’s co-founder Gordon Moore back in 1965 (aka Moore’s Law). The growth in new technology, such as artificial intelligence, is driving the ongoing evolution in customer expectations for faster, more convenient and effortless service delivery.
In what is being increasingly termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution, customers are demanding more ways to interact with organizations, at a faster pace and requiring less effort than at any point in our history.
Probably the biggest challenge facing contact center managers over the next five years will be understanding the implications and keeping pace with this rapid evolution in technology and customer expectations. No easy feat!
If it’s any consolation, as the speed of change continues to accelerate even the experts often get things wrong. For example, in the 1980s, McKinsey & Company told AT&T not to enter the cellphone market because in 2000 there would be fewer than 1 million phones in use. The reality was that, in 2000, there were over 100 million cell phones in use.
Undaunted, experts had another go and in 2002 predicted that the mobile market would grow 16% year-on-year. In fact, the mobile market doubled from 2002 to 2004, doubled again from 2004 to 2006, and doubled yet again from 2006 to 2008.
In regard to the evolution of customer expectations, it used to be that customers were generally content with a smile, polite and consistent service, ease of doing business with you and at least some choice as to how they could interact.
With the emergence of digitization, customers still wanted these fundamentals but began also expecting the ability to transact online, via mobile and social media. They also expected a fast response and were happy to take advantage of self-service options if given the option. Security of their data was however a significant factor for customers. Customers were happy to provide some of their personal details, but there was a strong expectation that these would be kept safe.
More recently, “personalization” has been the key to meeting customer expectations. Again, all previous expectations remain firmly in place but, as well as data security, customers expect something in return for handing over their personal information. Think about Facebook and other social media platforms and the enormous amount of personal information people are prepared to share in return for the benefits these platforms offer.
A customer’s current expectation is if an organization has their information, it should use and tailor it to tell the customer about the things that they need to know. It’s no longer just about service, it’s about the experience. Customers today appear prepared to provide more personal data if it means they can enjoy a better experience and better, faster service.
I see the coming five years as a transition period from “personalization” to “proactive” service. Customer expectations will be that organizations will proactively contact them, rather than wait for the customer’s call if there is a problem or if there is something they need to know about. For example, water and power utility providers will be expected to proactively reach out to customers where an outage or major water leak has, or is about to occur. Customers will also expect to be advised about specific events or services that they would be interested in.
I’m also sensing a growing level of customer impatience with organizations who aren’t keeping up with technological advancements, particularly regarding self-help options such as online transactions, mobile phone apps and increasingly, unassisted solutions driven by artificial intelligence such as chatbots.
Similarly, customer expectations are high regarding what is being termed “interactive care” which includes webchat, mobile chat, SMS and social media. In some cases, I believe customers will use availability of these channels as a deciding factor in selecting with whom they choose to do business. Can you imagine a bank that doesn’t offer an online service or mobile app?
Research conducted in 2018 by Execs In The Know, a global community of customer experience professionals, supports this trend. Its Consumer Benchmark Survey noted a significant annual increase of over 40% in the use of webchat, text/SMS and mobile chat. It also found that social media as a customer channel declined by 22%. The same survey also found that the perception of online chat as a convenient channel of care increased from 20% in 2015 to 30% in 2018.
Since my career in call centers began in 1995, people have been confidentially assuring me that it won’t be long before call centers will cease to exist. I didn’t believe it then and, despite Moore’s Law and the almost frightening pace of technological change, I don’t believe it now. The next five years will undoubtedly see a continuation of the ongoing trend of customers turning to self-service channels to resolve simpler issues such as a change of address, password resets and balance inquiries.
However, phone and email channels will remain firmly in place for complex inquiries such as account closure, booking a complex flight or travel itinerary, or an explanation of how a change in government legislation might impact their investment portfolio. These questions often take longer to resolve but are opportunities to build positive customer relationships and increased customer loyalty.
Further to this, the increasingly sophisticated utilization and analysis of Big Data to reveal patterns and trends in human behavior and interactions has raised the challenge of personalization and engaging at scale, i.e. taking the output from big data analysis and applying this at the individual customer level to ensure expectations of a great experience are met at every touchpoint of the customer journey. This will require organizations to work cross-functionally and, more than ever before, break down the silos and internal walls that plague us all.
We’re all facing the reality of Moore’s Law and the rapid growth of artificial intelligence. The challenge for contact center managers will be to ensure their customer experience strategies are designed around both traditional channels and emerging technologies to provide a proactive and timely customer experience.
Customer Care Moves Beyond “Break-Fix” Mentality
As customer care continues to evolve, it will become considerably more strategic and proactive. Very few organizations will have teams “standing by” waiting to handle inbound customer requests. Future agents will be equipped with monitoring tools we can only dream about now… and will likely be alerted when a “moment of need” has occurred based on a particular behavior. Once triggered, the agent will proactively reach out to customer and guide them through the next stage of their journey. This will take customer care beyond the defensive “break-fix” mentality, and toward the realm of designing better experiences.
Integration of UX and CX Practices to Deliver a Perfect Customer Experience
While customer experience and user experience are considered different disciplines, with different definitions, practically speaking, UX sounds a whole lot like CX. The International Organization for Standardization calls UX a “person’s perceptions and responses resulting from the use and or anticipated use of a product, system or service.” In other words, user experience is how you feel about what’s in front of you in the moment you’re using it. That describes your customer in the moment they are interacting with your contact center.
But what if you could eradicate 100% of your customer contacts? That would mean everything about your brand is designed perfectly and everything works perfectly. That means instead of handling password reset questions or processing refunds, you could be delivering value-added services to your customers to drive loyalty and revenue.
Good UX negates the need for good customer service (and the opposite is true, too).
Progressive service leaders, those with an eye on the future, should actively promote the integration of UX and CX practices as the ultimate strategy for delivering a perfect customer experience. After all, that’s our job.
Contact Center Will Inform the Business with Customer Insights and Knowledge
For a long time, contact centers have had a stigma of high turnover, no-brainer roles and low-value employees. The contact center IS the heart of where the golden nuggets of customer insight are captured. The role of the contact center will become significantly bigger. No more “one-and-done” issue resolution, but long-term relationship-building with the ability to feed that data into the business. With the technology available today and in the future, the contact center will be the brains of the data center that informs the business of what each and every customer is doing, even before they do it. Contact centers will lead sales, marketing, operations and product development based on the customer knowledge they are gathering with each and every interaction.