Bold Predictions: Where the Contact Center Industry is Heading in 2017
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Bold Predictions: Where the Contact Center Industry is Heading in 2017

As we all settle back in after the holidays and begin planning for a new year, consider not only what you have planned but what these Top 50 Thought Leaders predict will be trending.

Want to stay ahead of future trends? Be sure to check out our brand new Contact Center Expo & Conference session track: Future Trends in Customer Service. The future of the contact center industry

Expectation Economy

Companies are going to look beyond—way beyond—their competitors for best practices in customer service. Thanks in great part to the Experience Economy, consumers are getting accustomed to personalized, proactive, and empathetic customer experiences. And because they get and like them in one industry, or from one company, it means they expect them from all. If brands simply look at their peer group, they'll miss out on the customer experience being driven by other, perhaps more disruptive segments. This is known as expectation transfer, wherein a customer's expectations in one industry or service transfer to most, if not all.

Firms like TrendWatching feel that the Experience Economy, bolstered by promoters, is evolving into the Expectation Economy. Expectation sits on three pillars: rising quality, positive impact, and personal expression.

Not surprisingly, customers are expecting higher quality—from products, from service, and from customer support. Continuous innovations have led us all to believe that what we buy, use, or need tomorrow is better than yesterday. And because of promoter tools like review sites and social, there is clear transparency among users. We expect everything to be great (including customer service), or we'll tell everyone about it.

Brands will also need to be paying attention to CSR initiatives, as many consumers want to work with companies that make a positive impact. And this extends into customer service. If you claim to be a "green company" and "environmentally supportive," then don't force customers to print or fax when they need to send back-up materials into customer support. It's not enough to say you make a "positive impact," you best be authentic about it.

Finally, personal expression comes into play. Today, status is less about what you have and more about who you are and what you prefer. How does this apply to customer service? Think channels. A great way for contact centers to facilitate customer self-expression is to offer unique (and appropriate) channels—Facebook Messenger, IM, and AI-assists.

What's big in 2017? Brands will stop looking at their closest competitor for what's next, what's important, and what's relevant. Instead, they'll look to the companies driving innovation and customer experience. Customers have expectations and they will transfer to you.

Sarah Stealey Reed  | @stealeyreed

Chatbots

Unfortunately, 2017 will see more automation in the customer experience. Too many companies see the contact center as a loss center and are trying to automate their way to higher profits. One such automation is the chatbot, which has come to social media.

Chatbots first came on the scene around 2011, but they made a big splash in 2016. Both Facebook and Twitter announced new features that allow company accounts to enable text recognition to automate private message responses. These features go far beyond the automated response tools some brands use to try to quickly engage tweets and messages.  Bots

The new chatbots can respond to customer inquiries using key words to give the appearance of personal interaction. For the customer on the go, who wants a very transactional interaction, this is a big win. However, like their older cousins, telephone IVR systems, there are some limitations to the types of input/output options, as well as regulatory concerns. One example of this is in financial services. Customers are unable to get financial account balances via social media, so chatbots will only serve as a traffic director to a different channel, instead of personally connecting.

For the contact center that relies on building relationships and increasing wallet-share through cross-selling, this is a big problem. It is much more difficult to upsell an angry customer that has been through any automated system for something they thought was simple, only to find out they still need to speak with a real person.

Al Hopper  | @AlHopper_

AI-driven Efficiency

We’re already hearing buzz about the infiltration of artificial intelligence (AI) into the contact center. In 2016 we have become totally enamored with chat bots powered by machine learning. In 2017, however, we need to remember that there are so many ways AI can impact the contact center and drive efficiencies beyond the self-help and customer communication piece that chat bots handle.

Pretty much any process in the contact center is fair game for AI-driven efficiency in the name of improved customer experience and lower support costs. Companies are already emerging with the ability to automatically grade customer interactions, saving valuable supervisor time spent evaluating customer interactions. Still, others promise to monitor the vital signs of contact center agents in hopes of a healthier workforce with lower attrition.

This is just the beginning. We are in the era where if you can dream it, you can build it. Prepare to continue to have your mind blown in 2017.

Jeremy Watkin | @jtwatkin

The Customer Experience

As I look to the future of the contact center industry, it equally exhilarates and terrifies me. The advancements in technology, investments in properly training people, and the intentional design of customer experiences are exhilarating.  Knowing that many organizations will over-automate, harmfully cut corners, and underestimate the importance of an integrated experience in ensuring customer success is terrifying.  The importance of “getting things right” is greater than ever before, as it is clear to me that there is tremendous opportunity ahead for contact centers and that their significance is only going to increase as we move into the coming years.

For 2017, I predict that we’ll see organizations “double-down” on their commitments to improving the customer experience and finding more effective measurements of customer success.  Ensuring customer success will mean increased investments in self-service and automation technologies as companies aim to meet customer requests for faster and more intuitive service.  It also means additional investments in agent training, better agent-facing tools, and resources, and potentially paying out higher wages, as well.  With the simple tasks continuing to automate, organizations will be unsuccessful in treating the role of agent as a minimum wage, entry-level kind of job. It will be specialized and deliver incredible value to the organization and customers alike.

It’s for all of these positive reasons that I find the future exhilarating, but I also know that some leaders will look at the increased cost of delivering a positive customer experience and they’ll decide that it’s simply not worth it.  While I know that it won’t be sustainable for those companies, we should all find the damage that they’ll cause--as they effectively put themselves out of business--terrifying.

Justin Robbins | @justinmrobbins

Social Media Customer Service

The contact center has evolved tremendously in the last 15 years, as a result of both increasing technological capabilities and shifting consumer demands. Back when I started working in the contact center space, the term “Social Media” hadn’t even been crafted to describe what has become the most prominent form of human to human communication. As the platforms have matured, many companies have wisely opened Social Media up as a Customer Service channel. Unfortunately, many more companies have not.

As demographics continue shifting towards a majority of people that’ve never experienced life without the internet, the expectations for Social Media Customer Service will continue to grow. Companies that have long resisted, with notions of Social Media not being a business tool, will continue to see the light in growing numbers as their competitors use it to improve Customer Experience. Whether they are successful in implementation remains to be seen, but there are a growing number of software companies, consultants, and BPOs with the expertise to ease the transition. I suspect this adoption trend continues chugging along in 2017.

Scott Ontiveroz  | @scottontiveroz

Employee Engagement

As I sit and ponder about what is to come, I am quickly reminded of what has always been.

When I started in the industry 20 years ago it was a problem. When I was a frontline supervisor, it was a problem. When I became a contact center manager, it was a problem. Since my days in operations, it has been a problem. It’s been a chronic, yet repairable problem. But most companies have not elected to fix it.

Employee engagement, agent turnover, contact center morale, and various other tags have been placed on this agent experience issue for the past 30 years.

At ICMI’s Contact Center Demo & Conference in Dallas last year, Justin Robbins shared some findings from research ICMI was conducting about contact center needs. He shared initial findings of the data and some not so surprising surprises (at least for me).

But companies are beginning to approach a cross-roads. They can’t avoid it anymore. With the increased need for omni-channel support and customers becoming more savvy and knowledgeable, companies need more highly skilled agents. What this means for companies is that they have to do a better job at engaging and retaining their top agents. They need more skilled agents to fulfill the needs of the growing expectations of consumers.

Collaboration

We have begun the larger paradigm shift in companies realizing that the employee experience is the precursor of the customer experience. All executive leaders have been repeatedly exposed to real facts about the customer experience being the key battleground in retaining and growing customers.

So I think more companies will go beyond the typical employee survey/feedback, that’s rarely acted on and to start engaging employees better and faster by using tools like An Even Better Place to Work (http://www.beyondmorale.com/better) and similar to emotionally engage employees and build stronger workplace cultures.

2017 will be the year when we see more action on employee engagement.

Jim Rembach  | @beyondmorale

The Rise of Customer Experience Practitioners

There is no doubt that Artificial Intelligence and Social Media will play a big role in the evolution of Customer Experience (CX).  My bold prediction, however, takes a different path.  This is the year Customer Experience will move beyond the "touchy feely" concept to which so many business leaders offer lip-service, but rarely associate meaningful, specific actions.  We define CX as being the sum of all the touch points a customer has with an organization over the duration of the entire relationship – yet most organizations take a very segmented approach at best.  When we practice CX only in certain pockets, such as customer service, its power is greatly diminished.  In 2017, business will recruit true CX leaders who can design and execute a holistic customer journey across the entire organization. This will require executives to offer unprecedented levels of control and authority to dedicated CX practitioners.  This is the only way to rise above specific departmental agendas, and act in accordance to a larger customer-centric picture.

When CX is in the driver seat, things like artificial intelligence can have a significant impact on customer, as part of the larger strategy.  Otherwise we will continue to see choppy, confusing interactions depending on where we are in the customer journey.  It offers little value to have great chat bots in customer service, but a completely different voice form the marketing brand, all of which have no relevance to the knowledge base or the promotion sales is running, etc etc etc. The best customer experiences are seamless and consistent.  As 2017 sees more CX practitioners placed in executive level positions, we will all benefit from enhanced decision making and intentional customer journey design.

Nate Brown | @customerisfirst

Technology Ecosystems

There will invariably be continued attention on the customer experience going forward, and with some luck, more attention on the employee experience. I've got my fingers crossed for both. Companies looking to invest in either of these areas will undoubtedly review various technology solutions to help with these initiatives. However, there likely isn’t a single provider that is perfectly tailored to every one of your needs meaning that you’ll engage multiple different companies – creating a fragmented approach. Getting technology from multiple providers to integrate with each other can be challenging, as lots of providers don’t build their solutions to natively integrate with that of other companies. Some larger tech companies develop open source integrations for a basic way to connect systems, programs or data together. There are increasing numbers of tech companies developing a partnership ecosystem to provide maximum solution options for customers to leverage. The benefit of this ecosystems model versus simply piecing things together individually is the pre-built software-to-software integrations.

My bold prediction for the next year and beyond is that tech companies will expand their ecosystems faster with more in-depth integrations - alleviating the workload and ramp up time for their clients. Instead of buying your technology from one provider you’ll simply buy within a single ecosystem to ensure compatibility and integration options.

Patrick Russell | @Patrick_Saas



Topics: Strategy & Planning, Technology, Social Media, Customer Experience, Culture & Morale, Self-Service

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