When invited to compile this list of customer service trends for 2020, naturally the first thing I did was look back at all of the predictions made the previous year. The influence of AI in the contact center was strongly touted, but in 2020 (after a number of false starts), artificial intelligence will finally start to take center stage in customer experience management.
In previous years, there have been many attempts to implement artificial intelligence in customer service, but outside of some help around the edges—more advanced routing, basic sentiment detection, etc., most attempts have failed to make a significant impact. The majority of people who have a problem still end up phoning, and after clicking through an annoying IVR menu, get their problem resolved the old fashioned way: talking to a human.
With the coming of the internet, and webchat systems, people thought it could be different. A whole host of chatbot companies emerged, and people were excited for a fleeting moment in time. Unfortunately, the bots (which for the most part were made up of simple, rule-based decision trees) ended up being not very good at managing the vast majority of conversations, especially with the huge long tail of customer service requests that most companies had to deal with. Customers would quickly get frustrated, and then end up phoning anyway—negating the whole point.
As we begin the new year, brands and the people they serve have a better handle on the capabilities of intelligent automation and are now finally putting it to use. The application of this technology has never been better, and it’s at the heart of some of the key trends that will have a huge influence on the world of customer service in the coming year. What’s more, the advent of messaging channels for customer service make applying automation possible.
Going Deep within a Specific Channel: Rise of Unichannel Approach to Customer Service
So, after covering AI in my introduction, this one is a bit of a gear change. It’s also at odds with a whole host of articles from the last year that championed the adoption of an omnichannel approach to customer service. Essentially, the hypothesis is that your customers are everywhere on all sorts of different channels so you should offer support on all of them.
In an ideal world, you’d offer unrivaled customer support across every channel with low handling times and CSAT scores that are off the charts. When you come back to the real world, however, you realize that’s just not realistic. You end up being a jack of all trades and master of none. Isn’t it better to be a master of some or at least one?
A unichannel approach proposes that you identify which channels perform most efficiently and effectively for you, and then invest in going deeper on those channels. It’s not exactly rocket science, but when it comes to messaging, it’s a trend that I hope contact centers continue to adopt.
Customers Self-Serving with Chatbots
This may be something that’s already happening, but 2020 is the year that chatbots will become universally more useful. The developments in AI and natural language processing mean that bots can be utilized across a variety of different applications with higher rates of success.
In fact, Gartner anticipates that 85% of all customer service queries will be handled by a bot in 2020. They also predict that you’ll have more conversations with a chatbot than you do with your spouse. Even for a tech enthusiast like me, that’s probably a little bit too dystopian for my tastes.
Humans and Bots Working Together
It’s only natural for human agents to feel trepidation about the introduction of chatbots. After all, they’re able to service customers 24/7 and don’t require a salary. However, the future of the contact center is both humans and bots working in harmony to deliver efficient service—all in the name of happier customers.
The most common, highest volume queries should be allocated to bots who can resolve them without the need for human interaction. This will, in turn, relieve agents from the constraints of repetitious service and allow them to utilize their emotional intelligence to provide a richer, more genuine experience for the customer.
The rise of the machines is well and truly upon us, but they haven’t got the keys to the contact center just yet!
Full Customer Experiences within Social Media and Messaging Apps
This isn’t necessarily something happening within contact centers, but it’s certainly a development which will have an effect on the way you deliver customer service.
Currently, when you think of e-commerce you relate it to consumers making purchases via websites. However, in 2020, the full online shopping experience is coming to social media and messaging apps.
Consumers love using social media such as Instagram to discover new products but, until now, they’ve had to leave the app to make a purchase via a website. This is all set to change with the launch of Facebook Pay.
Initially introduced for users to make payments on Facebook, the social media giant is set to roll out Facebook Pay to its full roster of applications, including Instagram and Whatsapp. This will enable brands to provide full shopping experiences within apps: from browsing catalogs and product discovery, to making purchases and receiving customer support.
As you well know, having a thorough understanding of the customer journey is key to providing relevant customer support. In 2020, it’s imperative that the contact center is aligned with the latest experiences being offered by your brand.
Preemptive Customer Service
In an ideal world, the cost of a contact center is a relatively simple equation. You work out how many queries you receive, how long on average it takes to handle each query and then hire enough agents to maintain a steady flow of successful resolutions.
However, I’m under no illusions. I know that, as well as having happy customers, the key metric which most contact center managers are concerned about is the bottom line. So, what can you do to bring down costs? Reducing the number of queries you receive is easier said than done, but a preemptive approach to customer service may be the solution.
We took a look at data from our airline partners and found that the three most common queries they receive are:
- “What’s my flight status?”
- “Where’s my baggage?”
- “I’d like to buy additional baggage.”
All three of these cases are ripe for automation as they genuinely occur within specific timeframes.
For example, take “What’s my flight status?” It’s not a question that you ask two weeks prior to your flight. No, you ask it on the same day. So, rather than wait for your customers to ask you, why not send them a message on the morning of their flight letting them know of its current status?
That’s a great first step to preemptive customer service, but how about taking it a little further? Let’s say the flight is delayed. You could send a further update to make the customer aware of the delay and provide some contact information should they need any further assistance. You can’t always remove the need for customers to get in touch, but you can point them in the right direction from the start rather than making them navigate their way through various websites and menus to find the solution they need.
Think about the three most common queries you receive. Is there a way that you can handle them preemptively?
Investing in the Customer
In 2020 and beyond, it’s no longer an option for brands not to invest in their customer care functions. And while we never know what’s around the corner with technology advancing all the time, the contact center can ill afford to stand still. With so many options for the consumer of today, brands that innovate and harness emerging technology, such as automation, bots and messaging, in line with platform changes and capabilities, will be in the best position to capitalize on the effect of providing outstanding customer service.