The 2018 Prediction That Will Transform Customer Experience

It's the time of year for predictions, and Forrester has dropped a bomb on 2018: customer satisfaction levels are going to drop. Why? Blame the bots. More specifically, companies rolling out bots before they're ready.

The analyst firm believes that artificial intelligence is very much in the toddler phase right now, particularly when it comes to customer engagement. When applied in this area, AI requires a lot of fine-tuning and optimization for it to reach the kind of standard needed for interaction with humans. In other words, this technology has a ways to go. But that's not going to stop a lot of companies from adopting it anyway. According to Forrester, "customer satisfaction levels will drop as companies drive more traffic to chatbots, self-service, and chat that are not fully optimized to engage customers effectively. As companies look to increase customer engagement on digital, lofty goals are being set, particularly in the area of call deflection. Some companies have goals of decreasing call volumes by more than 50 percent in just under two years."

This is a worrisome prediction. In today's marketplace, a company's particular product or service is no longer enough to differentiate it from its competitors. It's the customer experience it delivers that truly sets it apart. And, according to leading CX experts, humans will have to remain front and center of that delivery if the experience is to be a special one.

There are two trends in customer service that will lead us into 2018:

  1. Hyper-Competition in technology markets, as digital competition allows global competitors to scale rapidly. This competition drives an increasing importance for companies to build engagement with their customer bases. Bots support rational engagements, but in most instances, person-to-person interactions drive the highest emotional (strongest) forms of engagement.
  2. People today are inundated with more information on a daily basis than in any other time in history, and it is not always easy to interpret what is helpful and what is not. This digital evolution is leading to a reversion to human engagement to help solve problems fully and effectively.

We refer to this combination of trends as the Era of Engagement.

So while bots, artificial intelligence, and machine learning complement many aspects of the customer experience—enriching insights, improving processes, and increasing personalization, to name but a few, humans will still primarily want to engage with humans in many situations. Psychological studies have shown that we prefer communicating with others person-to-person despite all of the communication technology at our fingertips. Moreover, in today's "Attention Economy," where people's attention is treated as a scarce resource, customers want their issues resolved as quickly and comprehensively as possible. While bots can handle the basic issues by themselves more complex ones must be solved by humans.

With all that said, a slight dip in customer satisfaction in return for a significant reduction in spend is a trade-off that many businesses might be willing to make. But this is a false economy. Last year our friends at Forrester found that CX leaders grow revenue faster than CX laggards, with leaders seeing a 17 percent compound average revenue growth rate (CAGR), compared to only 3 percent for their CX laggard counterparts. Slashing call volumes in half might save 10 cents, but the resulting dip in customer satisfaction might cost a dollar.

So what does all this mean for the future? In a word, it will be "blended". Humans and bots can achieve greater things working together than they can individually, and so clever companies are marrying the two. Take data, for example. The amount of data available to companies is growing at a rate never before seen, with deep metrics that reveal precise trends and the road bumps in the customer journey. Individually, humans and bots cannot make the most of all this data, but together they can turn it into something incredibly powerful: rich and real feedback on what customers want moving forward. Combine this with the volume-handling and process-streamlining ability of AI, and the power of the human/bot union becomes clear.

While humans will remain critical to any customer experience strategy, AI is quickly going to become critical to that strategy. One without the other will not cut it. As Forrester asserts, "In 2018, it's time to make AI work." And the evidence shows that AI works best when paired with humans.

Brian Hannon is chief commercial officer at Voxpro. He has extensive global business process outsourcing experience. Prior to his current role, he was business development director at Conduit. He also has experience working in finance and the international tech start-up market.