Four Under-the-Radar Customer Service Trends for 2018

Trends never obey the calendar. The planet, and we who live on it, are constantly changing. Still, there's a natural rhythm that causes us to stop and evaluate things as the new year rolls around. 2018 is no different. So, as customer demands continue to evolve, this is a perfect time to look at how proactive customer service makes the dream of a frictionless experience more real than ever.

Past studies predicted customer experience would overtake price and product as the overall differentiator separating companies from their competitors by 2020. Personally, I believe we're already there, which means investing in seamless and personalized customer service is no longer a matter of gaining an advantage but a matter of survival. With more than 50 percent of organizations redirecting their investments toward enhancing the customer experience, now is the time to understand the top trends and pinpoint areas of improvement.

True Omnichannel Customer Service

Companies with strong omnichannel strategies have the potential to retain up to 89 percent of customers. While many companies claim to offer this type of customer experience, most digital channels are siloed. The lack of unity across channels is why more than 87 percent of customers believe companies should put more effort into a seamless experience. Don't miss an important distinction here. Customers are more interested in a seamless experience than in having another channel.

Since more than 55 percent of companies have not implemented a cross-channel strategy, customer service teams need to integrate all channels into a single interface and transcribe all interactions. Doing so will allow a dialogue that starts on Twitter to continue via SMS or voice call with all the relevant data preserved across all channels. This approach will also relieve unwanted friction across all customer touchpoints while allowing agents to quickly review an issue's history, easily switch between channels, and solve issues at increasingly higher rates.

Agent-first Mentality

To ensure the customer experience is generating dramatic improvements in customer loyalty, companies must focus on fueling the channels that produce award-winning experiences: customer service agents. These individuals hold unlimited control and determine if a customer has a pleasant or dreadful experience. Since 89 percent of individuals have stopped doing business with a company because of poor customer service, it's time to realize that customer experience is a symptom, not the root problem. By addressing the core issue of agent experience, the customer will be more satisfied.

One of the keys to creating happier and more engaged customer service teams is relevant and meaningful training opportunities. According to a recent ICMI study, 50 percent of agents reported leaving their jobs because of a lack of training. With only30 percent of contact center decision-makers training agents to support multiple channels, companies need to arm agents with the tools and authority to feel knowledgeable through proper training programs. Not only will an agent-first approach improve employee turnover and customer loyalty dramatically, but it will also save companies several thousands of dollars annually by not having to replace departing employees.

Artificial Intelligence & Data Collection

Since AI will power 95 percent of customer interactions by 2025, automated solutions will garner incredible momentum in 2018 as they allow companies to shorten wait times and provide more efficient services.

AI plays a key role in customer support teams by anticipating customers' inquiries and predicting what they will ask. Each time a chatbot interacts with a human, it learns to recognize specific patterns and stores that data for future reference. Over time, chatbots begin to understand language, not just commands, allowing businesses to increase efficiency while gaining helpful market insights in the process.

As massive amounts of data collection will continuously improve automation tactics fueled by AI, it will also be vital for companies to determine additional ways for the new information to be leveraged. With this data, companies will be able to not only solve customer service problems, but prevent them from occurring again.

The Rise of the Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things has exploded into a highly lucrative marketplace worth more than $737 billion and continues to integrate into all aspects of life and technology. As it stamps its position in industries worldwide, IoT will play a crucial role in the customer service industry by knitting together customer channels, agent expertise, and automation into a more proactive system.

For IoT to have value in the consumer market, companies need access to technology that not only captures and stores data, but can think and act on that data. In the past, if consumers' power went out, they'd have to call the electric company and wait on hold to report the problem. Now, with IoT, contact centers can immediately notify customers of the issue and proactively dispatch utility workers to fix it.

With the number of IoT-connected devices expected to reach 28 billion worldwide by 2021, according to Ericcson's Mobility Report, proactive chatbots connected to devices fueled by IoT will funnel customer inquiries through the channels based on customer preferences, saving companies millions in time and capital. Today's modern communications platforms are making IoT tools more practical and accessible to businesses, not just data scientists in laboratories.

Customer service has become increasingly multifaceted over the years as demographics shift and technology evolves. Understanding expectations is a never-ending task and remains a crucial component to company longevity. Rather than struggling to keep up with the ever-changing demands of today's consumers, businesses need to conquer the continuous customer service battle in 2018 by thinking bigger and finding tools that will help them reach their goals.

Cameron Weeks is CEO of Sharpen, a contact center platform provider. Weeks launched Sharpen while studying at Purdue University in 2007 and has grown the business into a leading communication software company.

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