The Future of Service is More Human
It feels like just a few years ago much of the customer service industry was talking about a future of service ideal scenario that was fully automated. While that might have been interesting from a cost-control perspective, many of us rankled at the thought of interacting only with technology.
My personal prediction is that we will indeed continue to embrace things like artificial intelligence in order to serve customers, but it will be used instead to provide them with a more human experience–one in which they are understood and guided to outcomes by a pairing of humans and technology that will drive amazing experiences.
Where are we now?
Before we look at the future, let’s consider where we are today. In March of 2021, we’re at what we presume to be the tail end of the Covid-19 lockdowns in the U.S. One year ago customer trends changed significantly overnight. People were working from home, they were shopping online more, and many customer operations got busier than ever.
This required a shift in business agility across organizations, especially in the way we serve customers. Most businesses are now seeing increased contacts. People are multi-tasking while they work from home and are therefore able to spend more time resolving their issues. They want guidance from brands across multiple channels including voice, chat, SMS, and social media.
Many contact centers moved to a work from home model, forced to deal with the challenges of at-home distractions, how to measure remote agents, technical limitations of on premise systems, and security concerns. Furthermore, to offset the increased demand, automation and self-service capabilities were enhanced. This left agents handling more complex issues as the automation was handling the low-hanging fruit.
Some of the things that businesses put in place as temporary measures may now become customer demands. Customers enjoy the new options for convenience. Some businesses have embraced this new agility, and should be careful not to lose. It is likely that customers will demand even more autonomy, more information, and better overall service.
Where should I be headed now?
First and foremost, embrace the fundamentals. Get your customer operation up to today’s standards. Provide service on every channel–phone, email, web, chat, SMS, and social media. Collect the right data to help you coach your agents, see problem areas, and find opportunities. Provide customers and employees with well-organized and curated knowledge that’s easy to find. Provide your agents with a single pane of glass to serve the customer–that means integration between your CRM and other customer-data stores. Automate everything you can. Provide self-service to your customers through customer portals and bots. Align your customers’ experience so that it is excellent in-person, online, and in communications.
Take it to the next level by intelligently surfacing information to agents. Lead agents through challenging encounters–institutionalizing the best practices. Implement case swarming and in-context coaching and assistance. Introduce AI-based efficiency to help close cases faster–not just providing AI, but well-trained and maintained AI. Gamify the agent experience–providing real-time metrics, offering leaderboards, and providing digital badges or awards regularly. Find opportunities within the service interaction to reinforce marketing messages and to build greater brand loyalty. Introduce telemetry to understand the details of every interaction. Go beyond measurement to deep analysis and research–finding hidden opportunities. Find and deal with outliers. Use insights from your analysis to re-imagine the customer and agent experiences. We may not get away from measuring CSAT or AHT in the future–but we’ll focus on them only as ways to drive the ultimate goal–good, lasting customer relationships.
What comes next?
As I look into the crystal ball at the future of service, there is still a little haziness, but some forms are taking shape. Let me offer my best predictions from what I see.
My main prediction is that we’re going to use artificial intelligence as a driver to provide more personalized service to customers. We’ll use it to better match customers to employees to solve problems. We’ll use it to provide feedback on the customer’s sentiment throughout an interaction and potentially automate calls for assistance. We’ll use it to surface the right information at the right time in the interaction. We’ll use it to predict which offers are going to best drive the customer to their end goal. We’ll use it to handle the ebb and flow of interactions pulling in agents in a just-in-time model.
We will do a better job of understanding the customer’s journey. Knowing where they’ve been and how they got to us will help us to better point them in the right direction. It will also help us to avoid the annoyance of offering paths they have already taken. We’ll use that knowledge to help us build better journeys in the future as well–for everyone, but also custom-tailored journeys per individual based on what works.
Customers will interact with the whole brand. Instead of receiving offers from marketing, being pursued by sales, and having service handled when there’s an issue…it will feel like one conversation with a friend. The brand will provide the customer with a thoughtful offer–not offering something that won’t fit or doesn’t match preferences. The customer will respond to the brand to begin the sale. If there’s an issue, they will simply respond to the same thread regarding said issue, and will receive support from the brand to get help. The conversation will never end, instead it will feel like building a relationship with the brand and that the brand itself is on the other end of the line to help.
There will be automation. There will be artificial intelligence. But instead of technology making the experience feel cold, it will make the experience feel more human. The customer will feel known and cared for. The focus will not be on “ending the interaction successfully” but in the customers’ goals being satisfied. Brands will be empathetic–rewarding agents who connect with customers rather than those that simply end interactions quickly.
The future of service I see is more human, and I believe that for the companies that embrace it there will be more profits and far happier customers.
Last month I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel with some thought-leaders in service for a discussion about these very themes. If you’re interested in the future of service, it is worth a watch.
I would love to connect with you on how PolSource could help you move toward the future. Please contact us if you’re interested.