The future of CX is already upon us. From automation to prescriptive analytics, progressive companies are finding ways to better serve customers AND relieve agents of the monotony that creates churn in the support world. From startups to large enterprise, there isn’t a business out there that isn’t customer obsessed. And, if you don’t know what that means, you may need to home in on why customer experience is not just key to your business but critical. 2018 has seen some trends emerge that have the potential to make a lasting impact on customer support systems. And, 2019 will continue to build on these trends.
- Sharing economy: why drive for Uber when you can work from home?
This year we saw a rise in “community-based” agents — ad hoc experts willing to lend expertise for a price. Freelancers are drawn to customer support gigs for flexible working hours, to engage with a product they care about, and as a way to make a little extra cash on nights and weekends. This pivot from full-time staff that work on-prem and keep banking hours, to decentralized staff that create their own hours has flipped the script for companies and customers alike. Companies are unencumbered by benefits packages, time off requests, etc. and customers get the help they need at any hour and from peers that may know products better than the “pros.” This is especially relevant with specialized skills/technical depth related to commonly used devices or brands (Apple, Samsung, and Nokia) or deep expertise on general purpose platforms like Pinterest and OfferUp. This trend will create the resurgence of the agent at the center and companies will need to focus on their happiness/satisfaction to be successful.
- To bot or not is no longer the question
Depending on who you ask, bots are either revolutionizing customer support or ruining it. This often-controversial customer support asset is surfacing as a cost-effective alternative to traditional support systems, but its success depends heavily on three key factors: the ability to connect with customers in a personal way (i.e., don’t behave like a bot!), deliver meaningful, relevant content, and be cost controlled. With those elements in place, companies can deflect up to 30% (or more) of front end traffic and free up agents for more meaningful work. Bots are now part of all channels: email, chat, and voice. The effective implementation of bots across Fortune 500 companies is less than 5% but we will see this grow significantly in the coming years. Bots will only solve for the top 5-10 intents that are simple and informational in nature. Bots that complete tasks like product exchange or shipping address updates are the ones that will transform experiences for businesses and customers alike.
- Millennials are driving the self-service trend
There is a significant percentage of people who do not call in a support query. They are averse to the hold music, misunderstandings that can crop up regarding their order or account, and even language barriers—on both sides! These folks prefer to conduct their search for answers online and this can actually serve companies well. There are insights to be gained from those who prefer to “go it alone.” AI will be a core part of every knowledge base and response mechanism to enable accurate and precise/concise answers to any question that customers can be served with.
- Lifetime value created through data insights
With AI technologies, companies can create feedback loops that detect when and where customers are most likely to disengage or level off when using your products, services, or surfing your site. This data can be used to make adjustments to customer support and success team process and refine the interactions as well as product feedback improvement to reduce churn or improve conversions to up-sell. The realm of customer experience that focuses on the customer journey and sentiment as they traverse through the product/service is helping define the lifetime value of a customer. There is tremendous opportunity and emergence of customer data platforms that go beyond the 360-degree view of a customer to enable cohorts and clusters to enable better targeting for up-sell/cross-sell.
- Siri and search engines surge ahead
Consumers don’t call manufacturers or support lines anymore when a home appliance or device backfires. In fact, these days it’s either a plea to Alexa, Siri, or Google Search for problem solving. Even YouTube rises up as the DIY go-to for simple stuff. Content will always be king, but how it’s delivered matters even more. Through short snippet videos, knowledge articles, and chatbot, vague online searches can be qualified and begin to return specific resolutions. It is possible that 2019 will be the year a third-party platform will perfect how-to solution curation. Some sites are already there when it comes to specific verticals like medical questions and legal advice. In the future, YouTube and other how-to websites may be able to significantly monetize expertise and content as well by offering answers to customer questions for a fee. Customers would have access to a trusted, global network of experts to get second opinions and product support for a modest price. Think Apple Support without the hold time, hefty annual cost, and even the attitude.
Thanks to peer-to-peer feedback on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor for instance, consumers now trust other consumers for support and guidance—even more than the manufacturer or retailer.
- Support for Support Agents is on the rise
Smart support leaders understand that AI will not cannibalize the role of the support agent—but instead, augment it. There’s only so much a team of humans can address in any one day—from ticket inundation to nuanced customer queries that require more than one touch. A common thread among the previous points is that customer support will continue to improve ticket efficiency and customer communication with the help of emerging customer support system technology. AI greatly streamlines customer support systems by mining previously resolved tickets for what made them successful, and passing that valuable knowledge over to agents. AI technology will first be used to empower agents with the right answers, and then eventually improve CSAT scores by reducing handle time. It’s a safe bet that AI will soon be as integral to customer support as the cloud is now to IT due to its accessibility and broad utility.
- Cost vs Revenue center
The age-old debate about customer support centers transforming from cost centers to customer experience centers that are helping generate revenue is still a pipe dream. We are seeing the lines blur where customer support agents are asked to up-sell after a good save but not expected to go mainstream. The notion of making all support agents your sales agents is challenging considering the hard wiring in the DNA of a sales vs a support persona. In addition, the training/investment will require businesses to hire them as full-time professionals. That said, companies like GoDaddy and HubSpot have in fact managed to implement an impressive program where there's a large pool of agents that do both sales and service at the same time. Look out!
2019 is sure to see a rise in greater personalization as more companies embrace deep learning technology. The more we know about our customers (collectively) the better we can get about serving them. The Amazon model brought forth an incredibly progressive experience (albeit a little “big brother-ish” at the onset) offering up the right “add on” purchase to customers seeking specific solutions, and others are getting there, too. We’ll see more relevant re-targeting, agents that don’t have to ask all the cursory questions related to a customer’s account b/c it will already be transparent, and more prescriptive help across all channels instead of reactive recommendations. 2019 will be a period of continued growth and learning for support agents because for the first time in history, they will have the support of an intelligent system that makes their job more fulfilling, position them more strategically for success with customers, and ultimately for promotion within.