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Customer Service Tech Trends That Will Thrive and Die in 2018

Technology in today's Age of the Customer is simultaneously increasing customer expectations and making service more complex. In the last few years, smarter algorithms, artificial intelligence (AI), self-service channels and analytics have exploded, and 56% of global consumers say they have higher expectations for customer service now than they had just one year ago. To help you stay ahead of the customer service curve this year, we've compiled the trends that are most likely to thrive and die in 2018.

Technology Trends

A trend that will die: Prioritizing efficiency and effectiveness over emotive interactions

According to Forrester, the equation for customer experience includes three variables: Did the customer achieve their goal, how easy was it, and how did it make them feel. That third piece of the formula - how an experience makes the customer feel - is the most important, and makes up 50 percent of the equation. Therefore, providing interactions that create positive emotional experiences will be key to competing in customer experience.

Many businesses have struggled with how to operationalize the emotive aspects of service, and tend to focus more on the efficiency and effectiveness parts of the equation. But in 2018 and beyond, companies must adopt technology that will give them visibility into customer sentiment, and help them optimize processes and communication in ways that create more emotionally engaging experiences for customers.

A trend that will thrive: Data-driven personalization

Advanced analytics, powered by artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies, can now help brands comb through huge, previously unstructured data sets to discover what customers are thinking and feeling. These tools can capture powerful data from contact center calls, social media, and messaging apps, combine it with information from the Customer Relationship Management system, and arm service agents with real-time intelligence like which products a customer owns, open cases, VIP caller status, and sentiment.

Using this highly targeted data, businesses can personalize each customer conversation to build a rapport, deliver better advice and recommendations, and establish the emotive interactions that have become so key to the customer experience. Additionally, service managers can use these insights to improve their teams' operations, reduce potential frustrations in the customer journey, and coach agents' communication skills to ensure customers can solve problems more efficiently and feel good at the end of each conversation. In 2018, expect to see business investing in technology like speech analytics and AI-enhanced self-service platforms to stay in front of the competition.

A trend that will die: Forcing customers to use a specific channel

More than 60 percent of consumers expect companies to interact with them in real time - on any device and any channel. A customer might research a product using their smartphone then visit a bricks and mortar store to see how the product looks and feels before finally using a tablet or desktop to complete the purchase. And if they require after-sales support, they might ask a question on social media, send an email or call for more detailed advice.

If your business still forces customers to use specific channels for specific actions, it could end up costing you. According to Aberdeen Group, companies with the strongest omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers, compared to 33% for companies with weak omnichannel strategies. Forward-looking service organizations must adopt robust omnichannel solutions, such as intelligent call routing, to automate the real-time CX process across multiple channels - including voice, social, web, IVR - so customers can enjoy a seamless experience across each touchpoint.

A trend that will thrive: Conversational commerce

Messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have developed into a commercial ecosystem, where users shop and engage with businesses. Coined conversational commerce, this trend is allowing brands to provide their ever-demanding customers with real-time service, 24 hours a day.

A recent report revealed that there are now more than 100,000 Facebook Messenger bots for businesses, providing customers with the one-on-one service they crave as well as offering companies key insights into purchasing behavior. However, organizations should ensure that there is always an option to reach a live agent if the customer becomes frustrated or confused. Technologies like cloud-based ACD/IVR and intelligent call routing allow a caller to be easily routed to an agent with the skills to help them.

A trend that will thrive: Balancing automation and human service

Chatbots and virtual agents help connected customers feel empowered. They cut out the middleman, allowing customers to resolve basic inquiries without having to pick up the phone. While using self-service as the first point of contact for simple support issues saves time and money, there is a price to pay when things become emotional or complex, and the personal touch is needed.

Even though we have the technology to automate most things, research indicates that seven out of 10 people still believe that speaking to someone on the phone is the fastest way to resolve an issue. For this reason, businesses will need to find the right balance between automation and human support to deliver the service that customers demand. After all, when it comes to creating more emotive customer experiences, there are no substitutes for people-to-people interactions.

Which customer service trends do you think will thrive or die? Share your thoughts below.