Automation Defines Customer Service in 2020

Now more than ever, customer service is king among companies. Even near-monopolies like cable company Comcast and major airlines like United are eager to avoid being ranked among the worst companies for customer satisfaction, at least, not again.

When even billion-dollar companies fail to deliver excellent customer support, what hope is there for smaller businessess and startups looking to enhance their own departments? A lot, as it turns out. Customer service in 2020 is entirely oriented around your goals. If you direct them in the right place, with a sincere drive toward improvement, your customers will note the efforts and respond in kind.

Looking ahead, here are a few ideas to keep in mind as you enhance your customer service department. Remember, while it's a good idea to take note of trends in the industry, providing your customers with a customized experience is always a winning strategy.

AI & Humans: An Omnichannel Approach

Artificial intelligence-powered chatbots saw widespread implementation throughout the late 2010s as technology finally started to catch up with customers' needs. Chatbots have become a low-cost and easy solution to providing instant answers to customer queries.

Yet there are downsides to a chatbot-only approach. Disclosing a chatbot's identity prior to the online conversation reduces conversion by nearly 80 percent, a terrifying statistic that could spell life or death for companies focused on their bottom lines.

What does this mean for the future of chatbots? While companies are unlikely to scale back in the short term, a multichannel approach to customer service is much more likely, and advisable. Having human customer support reps isn't as much of a cost when they can lead to higher sales, compared to the apparent potential chilling effect of chatbots.

Supporting Customers at Their Convenience

One of the main appeals of chatbot implementation lies in their 24/7 use. Obviously a chatbot needs no sleep, meaning it can provide the same answers at the same speed whether it's the break of dawn or the middle of the night.

Now that this level of convenience has been established, customers will expect their needs to be met in any way at any hour. This is a tall order for managers, leaders, and staff who are constantly pressed for time, a defining trait of virtually all successful companies.

24/7 human customer support is possible, however. While reaching this level of service takes time, the goal is still in reach for companies that prioritize their customers' needs. One method is to provide AI chatbots for smaller queries, such as FAQ questions or call scheduling, before handing tickets over to live agents to handle at their earliest convenience.

Remember, customer support isn't solely done over the phone. Even a customer service email that's clearly been written by a human can be hugely effective in satisfying and retaining customers. Globally, 63 percent of customers have used email to handle their company queries, making it the second-most popular channel behind the telephone. Only 10 percent of customers have used social media or chatbots, and while those numbers will increase, it's simply untenable to sacrifice customer convenience by foregoing the long-standing methods.

B2B Customer Service Takes Precedence

The popular image of customer service involves a single customer calling a large corporation to receive feedback, lodge a complaint, or simply ask questions hey couldn't solve on hisown. This B2C approach to customer service has long-defined best practices, and while there are broad similarities in B2B, standards are evolving rapidly.

Much of this change has been driven by the immense value in B2B. Amazon Business, the company's B2B arm, is expected to cross $32 billion in revenue by 2023, yet even with that massive revenue, it's largely been ignored by investors.>

Amazon, Apple, Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM - the more companies invest in the cloud, the more B2B becomes a lucrative and essential market. Missing out on excellent customer service in these spaces means losing profitable, long-term relationships needed to help both companies thrive.

Providing an individualized experience to an entire company can seem like a daunting challenge, one B2B companies have all too often seen fit to ignore. Looking ahead, there's simply no room to avoid meeting this challenge head-on. Companies with better customer service departments are simply more profitable, no matter the product, service, or industry.

A 5 percent increase in customer retention can increase profits by as much as 95 percent, according to Harvard Business Review. As customer service increasingly becomes the number-one differentiator for companies, there's simply no room to miss out on the upcoming trends for 2020. Maintaining that edge isn't just an advantage; it's the essence of what it means to run a successful enterprise in the digital era.

Eric Schurke is vice president of operations at VoiceNation.