Customer Service: The Difference Between Success and Failure

Over the decade that Zendesk has been in business, we've witnessed real transformation within call centers and customer service departments. Once upon a time they were considered distant, static, unwieldy cost centers, the last line of defense before a customer gave up on a company forever. Now, companies regard their customer service departments as truly strategic assets. This makes sense: The agents that work in them have regular, tireless, consistent, direct feedback from your customers.

It is this realization that has led business leaders to invest in service technologies and the people who use these services. No longer is customer service a part-time or contracted job. Companies are now offering true career paths so that agents live and breathe their brand ethos and represent the companies for which they work in a positive light.

This bodes well for an exciting next 10 years in the customer service space, when I expect we'll see an even more significant wave of innovation.

Here are some predictions on how we can expect to see customer service evolve over the next decade:

Just When You Thought You Figured Out Millennials - Say Hello to Generation Z.

We've been hearing about the millennial generation for so long now that it can be surprising to realize that many are well into their 30s. Yes, you read that right. According to Pew Research, people born in 1981 still fall into the millennial designation. Now, we have to make way for a new generation of customer: Generation Z.

These younger people have never known a time without the internet and have little to no memory of a world without social media, apps, or smartphones. Generation Z knows only on-demand transportation and geo-targeted Snapchat filters. They don't care to click on advertisements and don't remember a time before "Skip Ad." They are true digital natives who research before they buy.

They will expect all companies to meet them where they are and will not tolerate upselling. Give them the answers they need, and only what they need, when and where they want them and you'll remain on their good sides.

With these qualities in mind, it is completely reasonable to expect that in the next decade, businesses without full engagement with their customer service departments via all channels, including social, SMS, and even voice-activated devices (more on that later), will not survive.

It is also completely reasonable to expect that, when it comes to bots, anything less than a human-like, authentic interaction backed by a robust knowledge bank will turn this generation off. Only the best bot technology will survive.

Seamless Omnichannel is the Body Language of the Future.

Ten years ago, Zendesk was revolutionary in that it offered email customer support in addition to phone. Today, we support multiple channels, including Facebook Messenger, Twitter, WeChat, Apple, SMS, and more. Tomorrow there will be no distinction between channels at all.

I think of it this way: As humans, we use so much more than words to communicate. We use facial expressions, hand gestures, and vocal inflections. These nuances are what contribute to connections made between people. So it's only logical that we want to communicate with companies in much the same way. Companies must prepare to take in however we prefer to speak to them (phone, voice, text, email) and interpret them as a whole so that the experience feels closer to a true human interaction.

Part of this is the use of context. Context will become even more important to the customer service experience. If a customer is sending a text, he wants an immediate, concise, and clear-cut response. And agents will have no excuse if they do not know that the same customer emailed and Facebook messaged twice previously. People look for interactions not communications processes.

Soon, customers should not need to look up anything at all to get in touch with companies. Through a click or a voice prompt with Alexa, they will reach an agent or a bot immediately. That voice on the other end will know precisely what they need; there will be no exchange of account numbers or past interaction histories.

Underpinning all of this is a strong machine learning backbone because that is what is required to take in significant amounts of data, generate context, and eventually assist agents or bots in their support of the customer.

A More Blended, Holistic Approach to Solving for the Customer Is Emerging.

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that the average person's image of a call center is of a centralized warehouse filled with people who treat every call not as a unique interaction with a customer but as a task that must be resolved, no matter how well, as soon as possible. But throughout the next decade, we are going to see the rise of federated service. Customers will be put in touch with small teams of specialists who truly understand the nature of the problem and how to resolve it. Just like a care team of nurses, surgeons, and anesthesiologists get you through critical surgery, customer service will see a more holistic and blended approach to solving for the customer.

And these teams will not be sitting in the traditional call center. They will be made up of people who are working flexible schedules from their homes anywhere in the world via cell phones or other devices.

We are already seeing enterprise companies using the technologies and strategies of smaller and newer organizations on the scene. The industrialized nature of support is melting away in favor of agility.

Your customer service team is on the front lines of interaction with the people who keep your business afloat. It makes sense to empower them.

Matt Price is senior vice president of product portfolio at Zendesk.