Written by Jennifer Spencer, founder of Accelerant PR
New technology and higher customer expectations are rapidly changing the game for customer service and the customer experience. The short version? Digital is taking over and customers want more, faster. If you want to meet the needs of your customers and stay ahead of the competition, then, you have to prepare for these changes and understand how they will impact your business and your job. Let’s break it down.
1. The Switch To Digital Is Happening Fast
Everywhere you look – from airport kiosks to grocery store checkouts to online banking and bill pay – one thing is clear: the switch to digital is accelerating. And much of it is due to technology advances. Specifically, as McKinsey & Company notes, the number of support channels are increasing every day: among other things, today’s customers have access to support via the web, mobile apps, phone, email, and SMS. Online, new and old technologies are being transformed by the advances in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and natural language processing (NLP). These developments have changed the game and completely revolutionized what is possible with technology. In the online space especially, the rise of AI and machine learning has set a new bar for customer service, changing both customer expectations and the way that customers interact with online businesses. Now, more than ever, customers are demanding quick response times, easy access, personalized service and dynamic self-service options across all channels.
2. Customer Service Representatives are Losing Effectiveness
In this world of endless connectedness and instant satisfaction, customers want service now – and they do not want anything holding them back. In this context, the simple fact is that customer service representatives simply can’t keep up on their own – and they shouldn’t have to. Up to 80% of the questions that customer service reps get each day are repetitive, low-level questions that can be easily answered by AI-powered self-service software.That means that 80% of their time is spent reading, organizing, and responding to questions and problems that they really shouldn’t have to face. From a business standpoint, this is costly and largely ineffective.
On top of that, it creates job dissatisfaction and high turnover rates among the service representatives – they’re bored and they’re not optimizing their time to actually solve problems and help.
3. The Customer Care Job Will Change
This definitely doesn’t mean that customer service reps are out. On the contrary, it just means that, with the continued rise of digital technology, there’s a big change coming. In this new context, companies will shift toward digital support for these low level, repetitive questions, and they will begin to train highly skilled agents to provide customer service for the more complex, personalized, high-value interactions. In other words, there will be a huge shift from human to digital for low-value, repetitive customer inquiries. This shift in the customer service model will ultimately help both agents and businesses by reducing their need to service low-value calls (or low-value transactional activities) through higher-cost customer care channels. Although the number of support agent roles may drop, the value they create for customers and for their companies will rise – as will job satisfaction.
4. Customers Will Have Higher Expectations
According to McKinsey’s research, a growing number of online users are “digital natives,” meaning that they grew up using the Internet and receiving digital care and customer support. These users want immediate, personalized service experiences, and “when they don’t receive it, substantial numbers defect, often after just one bad customer experience.1” That should be a huge call-to-action for online businesses and websites. The message? Catch up or get out. With customer expectations being so high, there is simply no room for error or falling behind. On top of that, lots of digital-native companies are already meeting these expectations and setting the bar with scalable, fast and easy-to-use technology. In short, what you did last year just won’t work next year, and if you wait to make the switch to smarter digital solutions, you’ll lose big business.
5. The “Help Island” Will Die
These higher customer expectations mean that online businesses are going to have to make a lot of changes on their sites in order to maintain their success – starting now. Why the rush? Those that are still sending their customers to outdated “help islands” like help centers, static FAQ pages, or knowledge base searches are already putting themselves at a disadvantage.
These tools are static, confusing and difficult to navigate, making them a complete user experience nightmare. In fact, research shows that static “help islands” typically have less than a 1% engagement rate, and that number will surely drop even lower as smart, easy-to-access help content continues to take over in the online space. That means that 99% of the great content or useful information that is housed on these islands will go completely unseen and unutilized. No company should waste their time on such an unproductive channel.
6. Inbound Calls Will Drop – But Other Channels Will Increase
Inbound transaction calls will experience a big decline in the near future, and customer care will shift toward higher levels of customization and personalization. What will that look like? Well, a McKinsey survey said that in 2015, digital-care channels (such as web chat, social media, and email) accounted for 30% of all their customer-care interactions. By 2020, they believe, that share will grow to 48%. Some specific technologies that are projected to make it big? Predictive self-service software, behavioral routing software and artificial intelligence agents such as chatbots. On top of that, “new-age Internet robots and virtual assistants will serve as gatekeepers for critical channels, such as chat, voice, and automated interactive-voice-response systems (IVRs).” Gartner Research is even more aggressive in their predictions of how fast the digital user experience will change. Per Gartner, by 2020, “85% of customer engagements with an enterprise won’t involve a human.”
7. Self-Service Will Lead The Pack
How will companies support 85% of their customer engagements without a human? In three words – smart self-service. There is no other way to get there. And that is great news for consumers and for businesses. Because of these advances in technology and the higher expectations of end users, customers now have more power than ever – and they want to use that power and have a greater self-service experience. In fact, up to 75% of users claim that they do not want to talk to a support representative. Instead, they want to be empowered to help themselves and have an easy path to a support agent if needed.
AI powered self-service solutions will take over to handle frequent, repetitive questions and low-value customer inquiries. As McKinsey puts it, “such channels are poised to become the gateway and triage medium for all of today’s live telephone contacts,” identifying and solving customer problems without needing any human interaction. New solutions such as AnswerDash provide this kind of smart self-service help by overlaying predictive, personalized Q&A across a business’ website, mobile app or messaging platforms. These new SaaS self-service solutions automatically leverage a company’s KB and deliver the predictive Q&A in a pop-out tab on each page of a website, making it dynamic and contextual. Instead of forcing the user to leave the page or type to search or find answers, predictive self-service can provide answers to common questions that are relevant to that page and personalized to the user persona or individual. That way, customers can find the answers and information that they’re looking for on their own, at their point of need.
8. Chatbots Will Be Huge
Messaging platforms and chat capabilities have been wildly popular for years: between WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger alone, there are over 2 billion chat users – and that’s just scratching the surface of what’s available. Today, more and more companies are using these platforms to connect with their consumers and provide quick, convenient customer support. This, too, is going to experience a huge digital shift. Why? Once again, real people just can’t respond instantly or around the clock, and that’s exactly what today’s digital natives want. In fact, 51% of people say that a business needs to be available 24/7, and 64% believe that a business should be available via messaging applications. These numbers are only growing, and companies need a strong solution to meet their customers’ expectations. That’s where chatbots come in.
By using artificial intelligence to predict users’ inquiries or simulate human conversation, chatbots can instantly handle frequent and repetitive customer questions, driving down support costs, decreasing customer wait time, and providing a quick and efficient customer support experience. With smart routing, chatbots can also hand off more complex inquiries to support reps, meaning that customers will always get the answers and support that they’re looking for.
9. Customer Support Costs Will No Longer Grow Linearly With the Business
The good news is that support costs will drop dramatically. With all these digital changes on the horizon, companies will have to invest in customer service and customer experience technologies in order to stay profitable and relevant. The key here, as McKinsey notes, will be to balance costs against scalability and implementation speed, choosing the technology that will give you the greatest ROI and the simplest format. In the big picture, this means huge changes for customer service and customer experience teams: roles will shift, teams will change, and CEOs and investors will make the switch to self-service, chatbots and automation their #1 investment priority. On top of that, customer support will no longer grow linear to business growth. What does that mean? In the past, it was pretty cut and dry – when a company doubled their business, they doubled their support staff and costs. Well, those days are over. Now, with the rise of AI technologies such as dynamic self-service, companies are investing in technologies that are able to improve the quality of their UX and customer service at a radically lower cost. These new technologies can now cut support tickets and support costs by up to 50% and still increase their customer’s satisfaction. It’s a no-brainer.
10. User Experience Will Take The Crown
User experience (UX) is everything when it comes to customer satisfaction. Today’s consumers want a frictionless, intuitive online experience, and they want to be able to help themselves as much as possible. If a website is unresponsive or difficult to navigate, they will bounce and go to a competitor’s site. That means that superior UX will be a key competitive weapon for online brands. This is already happening. Big companies like Amazon and Apple are setting the bar for UX, and customer expectations are already increasing as a result. Every digital company, will need a CXO if it wants to stay relevant and profitable, and that person will have head seat at the leadership table.
11. Millennials Will Drive the New Model
We mentioned “digital natives” before, and it’s worth pointing out that these natives are by and large millennials. The millennial generation is rapidly changing the new model, so it’s important to have a firm understanding of this demographic’s online behavior and expectations. While this will certainly change depending on factors like industry, age, gender, etc., some statistics are true across the board: a whopping 68% of millennial consumers have higher expectations for customer service today than they had just one year ago. On top of that, a full 84% of these consumers have used a self-service portal for customer care. And when they do talk to a representative, you better believe they want a personalized experience with someone knowledgeable and quick to respond.
So what does all of this mean? If you don’t have a millennial strategy, you are already behind. With this demographic estimated to spend over $200 billion in 2017, it’s clear that the online world of tomorrow will be all millennials. Make sure that your business model and customer support services give them exactly that if you want to catch their attention and win what multi-billion dollar business.
The Bottom Line?
The online world is moving away from customer support representatives for the low hanging fruit, and if you do things the old way you will fall behind and your customers will shop elsewhere. This isn’t just a question of customer support – it’s also about converting leads, closing sales and building a sustainable business model. This can only be done by investing in new technologies, transforming your digital experience with dynamic self-service support, refocusing your support agents and staying on top of all of the technological advances of today. Your business demands it and your consumer demands it. Are you planning ahead and preparing your company for this transition? If your CEO or COO hasn’t asked you, “What is our company’s smart self-service strategy?” yet, they will. Be ready.