HGS VP of Solutions and Capabilities, Lauren Kindzierski
In 2017, the need to create effortless customer engagement and revolutionize customer support is more than an imperative to compete on great customer experiences that wow consumers. Effortless experiences that lead with self-service and intelligently integrate people at key moments of truth are the fastest way to control costs and balance the needs of the business to move beyond the traditional voice contact center. Smarter, faster, and more affordable technology, bundled with professional services and a delivery capability that is packaged in an as-a-service consumption model will make sophisticated solutions easier to try. Proving the concept, showing ROI, and deciding to scale will become a less painful and risky proposition as service providers increase their appetite to partner to drive results. So what should you expect to be talking about with your service provider this year? These are some of the hottest emerging customer experience trends affecting our industry:
1. Intelligent Self Service
Millennial customers—75.4 million in the U.S. alone—are about to become the most important (and disruptive) customers businesses will ever see. Millennials have surpassed the Baby Boomer generation in size, and are about to control the largest share of wallet, as well. According to Forbes, it’s estimated they will spend $200 billion annually by 2017. They demand effortless experiences—and answers within seconds, not minutes—demanding more intelligent self-service options. There are many forms of self service, from website FAQs, how-to videos, peer-to-peer communities, and idea portals, to top tip guides and more. However, it’s not enough to just have these self-service channels available to customers. In 2017, customer service professionals will begin to take a smarter, more strategic self-service approach to increase the issue resolution rate. For example, organizations will begin to lead with self-service first, driving customers to a help center, instead of to a 1-800 number.
2. Chatbots: Conversational Commerce and Service
By now, most have heard of the term “chatbot,” short for “chat robot,” which has quickly become the hottest new tech innovation. A chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation, or chat, through artificial intelligence. Chatbots can respond to customers with structured messages including text, images, links, and call-to-action buttons. These bots allow a customer to make a reservation, pay a bill, find the nearest store, review an e-commerce order, and more, all without human interaction. They unlock the ability for brands to provide personalized, conversational commerce and service similar to talking to a human customer service or sales rep, but at a scale that is much cheaper than a traditional call center. For this reason, be prepared to see chatbots (and other forms of automation) being deployed across service channels such as chat, social, and text in 2017 as organizations undergo digital transformations.
3. The End of Channel Preference, and the Beginning of Channel Guidance
For the past decade, new communication channels have been emerging from phone, to email, to chat, to social. Now mobile and SMS have entered the scene. In 2016, customer service professionals continued to work hard to figure out how to best integrate and connect all of the disparate communication channels. Additionally, there is a need to find a solution to integrate all of the back-end data structure, to personalize and reduce effort along the customer journey. In 2017, companies will start to switch from offering a wide array of channel options and letting customers choose their preferred channel, to strategically guiding customers in their online help centers to the best channel for resolution, depending on the reason for contact. In some complex cases, the best channel may be a phone call. In simpler cases, it may be text or a how-to video.
4. Contextual Knowledge Bases for Personalization, Prediction
Customer engagement is fueled by customer data. Personalization is one of the most powerful trends in the customer service industry. While personalization has been around (and trending) for a number years, today’s brands have the ability to capture even more actionable data to learn about their digital customers’ behavior, preference, emotion, and expectations, in order to better service their needs. Key learnings as to customer behavior, channel choice, purchase history, and service interactions are important data sources that can be used to build predictive models for issue resolution. As companies gain a deeper understanding of customers through research and predictive analytics, they will use that information to develop more individualized customer experiences. In 2017, it’s not enough to have a knowledge base. Instead, focus on creating a contextual knowledge base that can be used by both agents and customers, which will predict the right answer based on that particular customer’s data, situation, location, and needs. The end result is faster responses, increased issue resolution, reduced customer effort, and happier customers.
5. Customer Intelligence and Real-time Dashboards
In 2017, real-time voice of the customer dashboards will enable service professionals to keep a pulse on customer sentiment and feedback. This single dashboard will capture relevant data points in real-time and use text analytics to decode what’s being said and the sentiment towards each topic, such as phone call transcripts (voice-to-text), social media conversations, product rating and reviews, chat logs, idea portals, and customer online community discussions. This customer intelligence will help customer care centers proactively identify a PR crisis waiting to happen, capture new ideas, and uncover quality or warranty issues, spot trends, and most importantly, personalize engagement with the customer.
6. Mobile Convergence Requires “On-the-go” Customer Support Strategies
By the end of 2016, the number of smartphone users reached 2.1 billion in the world globally. Consumers have become “rewired” mentally and emotionally to their smartphones and tablet devices. According to a Hailo Survey of the top uses for mobile devices, consumers use digital messaging more than they use the actual “phone” feature on their smartphone. The next highest activity they do is search the Internet, followed by engage on social networking sites. It’s no wonder that mobile on-the-go strategies are top on the list for many customer service professionals. In 2017, expect to see more customer service teams jump on board to provide text message customer service, mobile messaging via Facebook Messenger, and interactive visual IVRs that help guide customers to the right answer fast.
7. Rise and Recruitment of More CX Data Scientists and Analytics Professionals
Today, every customer service professional is tasked with the challenge of decoding the voice of the customer, and then communicating it to executive leadership teams across the globe. What makes this such a challenging task? Customer service teams live in a world of “unstructured” data, including phone calls, chats, social media messages, and text transcripts. Teams need some type of analytics tool to help make sense of the data and ultimately learn what customers are saying, requesting, complaining about, praising, and questioning. With the rise in digital conversations, hiring the right data professionals is going to become critical in 2017. These team members are the ones to build and execute those digital strategies that are essential to survive and thrive in today’s marketplace.
8. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and 3D Hologram Displays
Augmented reality (AR) is the blending of virtual reality and real life, as developers can create images within applications that blend in with contents in the real world. The best way to describe AR is a blur between virtual reality and gamification. Think Pokemon Go. In 2017, AR technology will assist customer service in differentiating their tech support strategies. Customer service professionals are even experimenting with smart diagnostic tools so that the customer can aim their smart phone at a product, and have the app diagnose or troubleshoot the problem. After a diagnosis is found, the app will guide customers to the online help center for a step-by-step resolution. This saves the customer time from trying to explain what they see or what they are experiencing. In 2017 be on the lookout for 3D hologram displays throughout retail stores. These 3D displays are designed to engage prospective buyers, giving them interactive tutorials on how to use the product and ultimately helping to sell more of it.
9. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Automation
In 2017, we will begin to see a collaboration between man and machine to deliver the next generation of customer experience. We’ll see robots start to do most of the heavy lifting, such as helping customer service teams find the right answer fast, while human agents oversee the process and become the final editor of responses to the customer. In 2016, Salesforce unveiled its new AI and machine learning engine, “Salesforce Einstein.” Einstein learns from all your data—CRM data, email, calendar, social, ERP, and IoT— and delivers predictions and recommendations in the context of what you’re trying to do—even automation of tasks. For customer service, Einstein can be employed to proactively resolve cases, make smarter decisions, and focus more attention on customers. Another example, is IBM’s Watson, which will analyze consumer habits and patterns and provide proactive customer support by anticipating problems before they arise, mitigating the need for reactive human assistance. In 2016, many software-as-a-service providers in the customer service space have formed partnerships with IBM to deploy Watson inside their solutions to make their products more intelligent, and more powerful. In 2017, be prepared to see more technology vendors rolling out products that are backed by AI solutions to make our agents’ work easier, more intelligent, and more proactive.
10. Digital Assistance—Voice Search
Apple (Siri), Amazon (Alexa), Microsoft (Cortana), and Google (Google Now) are all competing to make the best digital assistant. A digital assistant, also called a virtual assistant, is an application program that can understand natural language and complete electronic tasks for the end user. There can be a lot of uses for customer service to leverage the power of a digital assistant. For example, Nuance recently rolled out its version of the digital assistant referred to as “Nina.” Nina delivers engaging self-service platforms for your customers to transact, navigate, ask questions, and get exactly what they need. Customers converse with Nina through voice or text, and Nina delivers instant, accurate, and successful outcomes in a natural, human-like way. Accenture also rolled out its Interactive Digital Assistant, which combines artificial intelligence, live agents, and social media to manage and optimize customer interaction across channels in a manner driven by automation. Over time, continuously learning through human interactions, the Digital Assistant’s artificial intelligence capabilities will expand to handle more and more interactions, allowing live agents to focus their time and talents on high-value customers and more complex or critical issues. In 2017, be prepared to see more customer service technology vendors rolling out voice or text digital assistant products to help customers find the right answer fast via self-service. No live agent necessary!