Published: January 05, 2016 | Comments
As we look back on 2015, it’s tempting to refer to that age-old adage: “The more things change, the more things stay the same.”
This year, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
That’s because 2015 was the year the technology really made its presence known in customer service. Automation, artificial intelligence, social media, CRM integrations, texting--all were integral parts of the 2015 service experience.
In fact, 2015 was the year that:
Customer service got smart. This year, artificial intelligence wasn’t just limited to the realms of science fiction a la Age of Ultron—it was also slowly incorporated into different companies’ service offerings. Amazon made its entry into the home automation market with Alexa, a virtual assistant that can field questions ranging from the time of day to traffic predictions to good restaurants nearby. On the enterprise-level side, IBM continued to expand the capabilities of Jeopardy-winning Watson, adding self-service into varied industries like healthcare, education and finance, among others.
Customer service got automated. Over 55% of customers would like a self-service experience, which provides businesses with the unique opportunity to speed up the customer experience while decreasing costs. In the restaurant industry, established chains like Outback Steakhouse and Olive Garden let customers order via tablets, while market newcomer Eatsa automated the bulk of the food delivery process. Automated self-service also extended to digital channels—companies like AT&T automated social media responses (not always with the best outcome), while Uber, Snooze and more texted customers about the status of their ride or table.
Customer service got focused. Over 80% of companies want to use customer service as a way to differentiate themselves from their competition. But what defines a good customer service experience? In 2015, we interviewed over 60 industry influencers and found that the best way to improve customer service was to focus on the employee experience. By focusing on employees and treating them with respect, companies can ensure that they pass that goodwill onto customers. Case in point: Zappos or Google.
Customer service got diversified. In 2015, companies made an effort to diversify their service offerings, providing support on established and emerging channels.
Mobile. In 2015, companies increasingly relied on mobile to interact with their customers. This year saw the official launch of Apple Pay, Starbucks’ continued success with mobile app payments (more than $9 million in orders processed per week) and Magic’s simple but powerful text concierge service. As mentioned above, more and more companies saw the value of adding texting to their support strategy, making it easier for customers to contact them on a channel they prefer. However, not every attempt to implement mobile customer service was successful—Domino’s unfortunately disappointed some customers with the rollout of its text-to-order service.
Video. Audiovisual communication has been popular among consumers for years, but 2015 was the year when video really started to gain a foothold in B2C interactions. Amazon’s Mayday is probably the most well-known example, but American Express and other companies helped customers solve their problems over video. WebRTC’s open source nature also made it easier for any company to incorporate video into their service offering.
Social. 2015 was the year social platforms got serious about customer service interactions. Twitter released a customer service playbook outlining the benefits of using social for customer service, as well as how to apply it to an organization. Facebook also launched a new feature that keeps track of how long it takes company pages to respond to customer messages, giving customers better insight into the responsiveness of an organization. This is especially important, given the fact that over 40% of customers expect a response on social in 60 minutes or less.
Voice. Voice is still king in contact center service interactions, but times are changing. Research from Dimension Data found that while voice accounts for 65% of all contact center interactions, digital interactions will surpass voice by the end of 2017. And with Internet-based companies making a concerted attempt to direct customers towards digital, with other companies ditching corporate voicemail, it became very clear in that businesses couldn’t just rely on voice for communication.
Web chat. Over 70% of contact centers will offer web chat by the end of 2016, up from just 33% in 2015. There are several reasons why companies would want to invest in web chat—it’s cheaper than voice, agents can handle multiple conversations at once and respond in real-time, etc. And there’s a reason companies from Nordstrom to Nike are using web chat to interact with customers—while 91% of customers are happy with web chat’s ability to solve customer support issues, 62% of customers are more inclined to buy a product if live chat is available.
Looking ahead to 2016
2015 was an exciting year for customer service, with lots of progress made in digital interactions and automation. 2016 is set to be an equally exciting year, if not more so, as companies continue to build on the advances made in 2015. We can’t say for sure what will happen in customer service in 2016, but we’ve got a few ideas.
Below are our customer service predictions for 2016.
Continued rise in cloud computing. In 2016, businesses will continue to migrate to the cloud for its accessibility, storage, simplicity, and security, among other benefits. In fact, 88% of businesses are currently using the public cloud. In addition, Gartner predicts that by 2020, roughly 25% of organizations will use cloud-based CRMs. Cloud-based software-as-a-service, or SaaS, will also become more prevalent, growing at a rate of 21.3% per year and making up 14.2% of software spending. SaaS revenue is predicted to hit $32.8 billion in revenue in 2016, up 17% from 2015.
Delivering on the omnichannel promise. In 2013, Zendesk research found that over 85% of customers thought companies needed to do a better job of providing a seamless experience. In 2015, companies were on the right track but weren’t quite there yet—nearly 50% of contact centers named integration of Web, contact center and CRM systems as their top challenge, with integration of systems to enable channel hopping close behind (41%). We predict that in 2016, companies will continue to take steps toward providing an omnichannel experience. Companies will find and use service platforms that manage and can integrate with multiple service channels/CRMs and similar systems.
Personalization. This trend is a combination of the previous two trends—cloud services will enable companies to provide a personalized experience across channels. We predict that the ability to integrate customer data into service interactions will become increasingly mainstream in 2016, both in response to consumer demand and a desire to differentiate on great customer experiences. The SaaS pricing model of most cloud services will also make it easy for businesses of any size to provide great customer service.
Proactive customer service. The Internet of Things is rapidly changing our personal and professional lives. IoT-based companies, but other businesses as well, will leverage customer data to provide a proactive service experience. Although IoT is primarily focused on the B2C experience (think FitBit or any smartfridge), other organizations can learn from IoT innovations. Take, for example, the proactive service experience industry pundits anticipate will take shape in the IoT industry: Gartner predicts that by 2018, five percent of IoT devices will automatically trigger service cases.
More artificial intelligence. In 2016, AI will continue to get smarter, and its presence in business will continue to grow. This is evidenced by the amount of venture capital being put toward AI-centered businesses, which grew from $75 million in 2013 to $300 million in 2014. And while artificial intelligence is primarily being used for voice recognition and response, Gartner predicts that 10% of computers will be able to learn from past interactions by 2017. At OneReach, we’re helping to make this possible through the use of AI in IVRs or self-service.
Moving towards a mobile-first future. Our world is becoming increasingly mobilized—nearly two billion global citizens now own a smartphone. This mobile change extends to customer service, where 62% of companies think mobile service is a competitive differentiator and 64% of customers would prefer to text customer service. Texting is poised to make a big gain in the customer service field, with more than 60% of contact centers offering it by 2017. In 2016, we predict that companies will continue to provide customer service on mobile devices, whether it’s via text message, mobile applications, mobile websites, or other channels.
More digital/emerging channels. As mentioned above, customer service interactions will shift to focus on emerging digital channels, both in response to consumer preference and cost savings. Take, for instance, the increased use emerging channels: One in four contact centers will offer video by the end of 2017, one in two contact centers will offer a smartphone app by the end of 2017, and three out of five contact centers will offer texting/IM by the end of 2017.
2015 was a big year for customer service, and 2016 is set to be an even bigger one. We predict that new applications of technology like artificial intelligence and automation will define customer service in the coming years, as they already have today. Companies and contact centers that embrace these changes are poised to make an impact on the market that will be felt for years to come.