The future of customer service is well and truly on our doorstep. From AI-powered omnichannel customer service experiences to customer communities and hybrid home-office business models, embracing these trends will be key to maintaining a competitive edge. Although some trends and practices may not affect your business for some time, getting prepared now will make adopting them much easier in the future.
This post considers what the future of customer service could look like and offers ways to prepare your business for new technologies and practices as they unfold.
A glimpse into the future of customer service
One morning, Jack accesses his customer-owned bank’s self-service hub on his mobile device. He’d like to increase his credit limit and request a replacement card but is having difficulties, so turns to webchat. The AI-powered bot already sees that Jack is having difficulties and answers some of his questions, but intuitively knows when to pass him automatically to a customer service representative without Jack having to dial the number.
In minutes, information about Jack’s query and actions that morning on the app pop up on the customer service team member’s screen (who is working from home) so she doesn’t need to ask Jack to explain his issue in detail. Based on this, an AI assistant provides her with suggestions of how to help him. While Jack is on the phone, he can complete security identification using SMS and the online self-service hub. Once his credit increase has been approved, he receives an automated SMS to confirm the details.
A few days later his card arrives in the mail, and he receives a follow-up email from the bank with discount offers from their rewards partner.
The future of customer service is all about fast, low-effort but high-gain experiences where customers can help themselves, and customer service staff are empowered to make decisions in the moment. The scenarios above perfectly demonstrate that providing these experiences now and in the future is inextricably linked to advances in technology, specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation and the use of social media. However, rather than pushing human customer service staff out of the way, this digital centric future elevates their role to solve complex queries and close the customer service loop.
The main drivers shaping the future of customer service include:
- Artificial intelligence (AI) is already being used extensively in customer service, and it’s becoming more sophisticated every day. Some organisations are already use AI to triage phone queries, offer predictive support to customers online and on mobiles, allow bots to intelligently hand-over to a human, and offer suggestions to customer service staff so they can enact comprehensive, speedy resolutions to queries. In the future, AI will be able to better interpret the nuances of human speech and emotion and use this to provide highly personalised customer service.
- More sophisticated automation of routine tasks to free up customer service staff to handle the most difficult cases.
- Hybrid home-office business models where customer service staff work partly from home and partly in the office, thanks to cloud contact centre software with detailed dashboards and management tools.
- A preference for using optimised mobile self-service portals, apps and SMS.
- Rising customer expectations for fast, low-effort customer experiences using multiple channels that suit them. You may not like Twitter, but if your customers do, you need to meet them there.
- A holistic approach to gathering and analysing data across customer touchpoints will provide deeper insights about the customer experience.
- Self-service will be essential for businesses of all sizes as customers expect to be able to find answers online regardless of the type of business or location.
- Social media and video support will become as normal as phone support. This requires customers service staff to possess high levels of written communication
Practical steps you can take now
Taking time now to build resilience in your staff and systems will stand you in good stead as the major trends impacting the future of customer service gain momentum.
However, this involves more than purchasing the latest technology platform: you will need to take action to train and support staff to use the software correctly and continue to practice the fundamentals of customer service in the face of social and technological change.
Preparing your people
Take care of your employees so they can take care of your customers
It’s common sense, but it’s amazing how often it gets forgotten: if your customer service staff have a positive experience at work, this will translate to a positive experience for your customers. Your staff members are crucially important assets and need to be looked after as such. When you do so, they’ll be better able to handle technological, process or policy changes to your customer service strategy.
You can do this by onboarding them correctly, ensuring their working environment – whether at home or in an office – is comfortable and has everything they need to do their jobs effectively, monitor their emotional and physical well-being, keep them connected with each other, offer praise and recognition, and remunerate them appropriately.
Support remote working for the long term
Remote working is here to stay – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many employees prefer the flexible, commute-free lifestyle it delivers, and employers are reaping the rewards of having happier staff. While some customer service centres are returning to office-based operations, many are choosing to adopt a permanent hybrid remote-office business model. Making this model a success for your business is possible by following our best-practice guide.
Keep the fundamentals of customer service front-of-mind
Although your customers expect a plethora of digital self-service options, the COPC Inc and AusContact Association 2021 Customer Experience Survey, revealed that 73% prefer to use human driven support channels.
Unfortunately, in our day-to-day busyness we can forget the basics like building rapport with customers, showing empathy, using active listening, handling customer complaints correctly, and identifying vulnerable customers to provide appropriate support. Arrange regular refresher training in core customer service skills and link them to any new technologies and processes you are introducing.
Upskill your staff to handle complex queries
Advances in self-service technology and chatbots, and a reduction of in-person interactions to prevent COVID-19 transmission, has changed the nature of enquiries: customers are comfortable using bots and online self-service portals for straightforward transactions and save complex problems for customer support staff. This divide will widen as organisations use greater levels of automation, and introduce sophisticated AI and machine learning into their customer service journeys.
Your phone-based customer service staff will need rapid upskilling on how to use your digital customer service channels, crisis communications, trouble-shooting, and product knowledge so they can meet people where they are in their journey and resolve complicated issues effectively.
Incorporate gig workers into your recruitment strategy
As remote and flexible working becomes the norm, permanent full-time roles will become less desirable. This means your approach to recruitment and rostering will need to change to ensure you always have the right combination of skills on deck.
Reviewing your recruitment strategy to include gig workers (people who hold multiple temporary roles with different organisations) and workers from previously untapped markets not only creates a more flexible workforce, the diverse skills these workers possess will help you leverage new technologies and customer service trends. For example, seeking candidates who are experts at social media will allow you to offer social media-based customer service more quickly and effectively than retraining your existing staff.
Bear in mind, however that this new flexible workforce will require access to comprehensive online training resources, detailed knowledge banks and channels for open communication.
Preparing your systems and technology
Ask your customers what they want to see from customer service in the future
Following customer service trends without considering what customers actually want is a recipe for failure. For example, offering customer support via social media when your customers prefer talking over the phone is a way to waste money, fast.
Not all customer service trends and new technologies will be appropriate for your business or your customers, so take the time to listen to what they need and build the experience they want.
Ensure your self-service option(s) offer a high-quality, seamless experience
Firstly, if you are only using IVR, it’s time to invest in a variety of online and phone-based self-service options. Customers don’t think about the size of your business when they have a problem, they’ll seek help using the channels they are most comfortable with, starting online.
It’s crucial that all self-service options – from apps to self-service portals, IVR, chatbots and knowledge bases – offer a high-quality experience with consistent messages and information delivered by each.
Start using multi-channel contact centre software now
True omni-channel communication is heavily influencing technological trends in the customer service and contact centre spaces. It occurs where interactions with one channel (like self-service) technology flows seamlessly into another (over the phone or webchat) without the customer repeating their query, personal information or previous attempts at resolution. The customer experience is consistent regardless of the channel they use. AI-enabled bots handle many queries but automatically pass customers to a human when they reach the limit of their ability.
Omni-channel technology and AI-directed customer service journeys are in their infancy, but you can lay the foundations now by using multi-channel contact centre software to offer customer service via mobile apps, SMS, live web-chat, over-the-phone and email with lower levels of integration.
Optimise your mobile customer experience
We are living in a mobile world – from checking our bank balances to booking holidays and ordering dinner. Younger generations expect to receive customer support via their devices – if this capability isn’t available, they’ll take their business elsewhere.
Optimising your mobile customer experience now will set you up for success as AI and automation develop. This means creating low-effort experiences specifically for mobile devices, providing ways to transition between mobile and other channels, and allowing customers to interact on mobile self-service while on the phone with a team member.
Invest in a scalable, cloud-based contact centre software system
Cloud-based contact centre software allows you to integrate with other cloud-based systems, support a remote workforce and transition smoothly as new technology comes online.
Cloud-based systems also allow you to move away from a physical phone system to a VOIP-based phone service, increasing the flexibility of your operations and reducing your overhead costs.