Most businesses today compete primarily on the basis of customer experience. That means that customer service is now a key differentiator, coming in the above product, brand reputation, and effective sales and marketing.
As a result, technology plays an important role in helping brands stand out. It adds speed, insights, context, and value to customer service models -- all of which people have come to expect.
Though, as customer service leaders know, both technology and customer expectations are changing quickly. Staying relevant requires attention to the latest innovations and trends. In this article, we'll review 12 ways technology will change customer service in the coming years.
#1. Technology will enable customer service to become a profit center
Perhaps the most significant change we'll see in customer service is the shift from cost driver to profit center. According to Gartner Research, technology will help 40% of customer service organizations become profit centers by 2025.
"Historically, the service profit chain required significant leadership commitment, a customer-centric culture, and investment in time, resources, and technologies. However, as more customers migrate from in-person to digital-first channels, some of these barriers to entry will be lowered," says Gartner Research contributor Gloria Omale.
As customer service organizations become the leaders in digital customer engagement, they will add more value to the total customer experience. In effect, customer service will be a core driver of business outcomes and profitability.
This overarching shift sets the tone for the rest of the changes on our list. Integrating technology into customer service processes should be a top priority moving forward.
#2. The responsibilities of contact centers will evolve
As the role of customer service changes, the responsibility of the contact center changes with it. Armed with better customer relationship management (CRM) software and communication tools, contact centers will take on broader functions.
"We'll increasingly see the contact center have full and official ownership of all inbound customer interactions, encompassing both operations and marketing, revenue generation, and customer service," says Jonathan Allan, CMO at Puzzel.
"We'll continue to see more customer insight being captured in the contact center and being deployed strategically elsewhere in the business," he says.
Customer communication platforms and integrated software are what will make this a reality. They will help remove silos that exist between departments, making it possible for contact centers to take on a wider role.
Contact centers can't meaningfully take on revenue generation responsibilities, for example, if there's a lack of communication with sales. Instead, businesses will rely on technology to facilitate next-gen collaboration.
#3. More organizations will embrace proactive support
Proactive support involves anticipating customer needs and offering solutions before customers even ask. It helps set expectations, keeps people informed, and ultimately leads to better customer experience outcomes.
Amazon, for example, uses a proactive approach when dealing with delays in delivery. Instead of waiting for customers to complain, Amazon reaches out to inform them of the new delivery date. For Prime members, Amazon might even offer a credit towards the next purchase, all without the customer ever reaching out.
Proactive support requires connected technology and interoperability -- which, until recently, posed a challenge for many organizations. Now, we're living in a world where connected devices and the IoT (Internet of things) are part of our daily lives.
"In the IoT era, just like products are evolving to become 'smart' products, customer service needs to evolve into a 'smart' service model," says Frank Palermo, EVP & Head of Technology, Media, and Telecommunications at Virtusa.
"The real value in IoT is not just connecting devices to their users, but to deliver an integrated management platform driven by big data to centralize and automate customer service," explains Palermo.
The benefits of implementing a proactive service approach are significant. According to Gartner Research, it improves customer experience outcomes, such as lower effort and higher satisfaction, Net Promoter Score (NPS), and perceptions of product value. It also provides significant cost advantages because it reduces inbound calls and messages.
Gartner Research also predicts that by 2025, proactive (outbound) customer engagement interactions will outnumber reactive (inbound) customer engagement interactions. Currently, only 13% of people report receiving proactive customer support, which means that we're in for a significant shift over the next four years.
#4. Customer service will get even more conversational
Customers want to use the chat apps that they use every day (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) to communicate with businesses. Chat apps are convenient, immediate, and easy to use. They're also asynchronous, meaning that customers don't have to actively wait on hold for a response.
For businesses, messaging apps are cost-effective. They reduce inbound calls, increase agent productivity, and enhance the overall customer experience. It's a win-win for businesses and customers.
Facebook, Google, and Apple are each making strides to enhance their business messaging solutions, creating a framework for connected, seamless experiences. We're seeing more and more business interactions take place on messaging apps, and this shift is unlikely to slow down.
In search of truly omnichannel experiences, leading global players are using messaging apps as a digital hub. Instead of requiring customers to bounce between their app, website, and or live chat channels, they are consolidating their support via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2025, 80% of customer service organizations will have abandoned native mobile apps in favor of messaging for a better customer experience. “By transitioning to messaging platforms, customer service and support leaders will reduce dependency on native mobile app experiences, reduce cost, increase digital and self-service effectiveness, and achieve a persistent experience for customer engagement,” says Philip Jenkins, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner.
#5. Phone and email communication will decline
Not surprisingly, the rise of business messaging and self-service will lead to a decline in phone calls and email communication. Businesses and customers will trade long hold times and email exchanges for the convenience that messaging provides.
The increased spending power of digital natives will only accelerate the shift away from traditional channels. Millennials, born between the years 1981 and 1996, now account for a quarter of the population of the United States. That makes them the largest living generation.
Having spent their formative years online, Millennials hate phone calls and appreciate convenience. They are tired of brands sending them irrelevant emails and feel frustrated when content is not personalized. Enhancing digital experiences will be critical for brands to win the loyalty of these younger buyers.
"When we look at the younger generation that we have today, they are not used to waiting to watch their TV shows on TV. They are used to Disney+ and Netflix, so they just click a button and they see what they want," says Marta Lopez, COO of Webhelp.
"This is the experience that they are expecting from any company. So, if they need something at 2 pm, they want to send a message, or use some kind of do-it-yourself process to have what they need," she says.
#6. Customer service agents will become more important
As customer service organizations continue to adopt purposeful automation, the role of customer service agents will become more important. Automation will handle and close the majority of inbound inquiries, freeing up customer service agents for more complex work.
"Instead of pressure to go through as many issues as possible, or having to deal with constantly frustrated customers, (think churn and burn call centers) agents can now focus on the human aspect of their job and have technology that helps them at every step," says Nikoletta Bika, senior content specialist at Acquire.
This means that when customers do reach a human support agent, the interaction will bring more value to the business. Agents will add an important human touch to the equation; social intelligence, empathy, and creativity, and other uniquely human attributes will become increasingly important attributes for agents to possess.
#7. Social media will move past one-to-many conversations
Most brands currently use social media to communicate with their audience publicly. They post on their wall, and it appears in the feeds of those who follow them. But the rise in business messaging means that more private conversations will take place on social media, instead of the public dialogue that we’re used to seeing.
Historically, this dialogue has been difficult to manage. Conversations existed across multiple channels, teams had limited access, and collaboration was difficult. Today, it is possible to aggregate private social conversations and route them like any other business message.
"Customer service and social media have melded together," said Lindsay Patton-Carson, social media supervisor at Evoke KYNE. "If your brand has social media profiles, you are absolutely going to have to perform customer service on social media. There isn't a way to get around it."
#8. APIs and third parties will power faster transformations
APIs (application programming interfaces) aren't a new concept, but they have become increasingly sophisticated in the past few years. Now, they are driving digital transformations at breakneck speed.
APIs make it possible for customer service organizations to get rid of (or build on top of) legacy systems. They are the easiest way to connect systems together so they can exchange information. In short, they're enabling customer service organizations to open up new channels, design better workflows, and design service models for the 21st century.
APIs are particularly important in the customer service industry, as organizations still struggle with legacy systems. The industry is also facing challenges related to new work from home orders, making remote connectivity a top priority.
"APIs are one of the most efficient ways to modernize legacy systems. Instead of having to code fragile connectors for every application, creating intricate interdependencies that render the organization less flexible, APIs provide a reusable way to connect and integrate multiple systems," says Lori Angalich, VP of Marketing at Lightwell.
#9. Omnichannel experiences will be easier to execute
There's no denying the importance of omnichannel experiences. Seamless, unified experiences result in measurable revenue gains. However, when it comes to actually execute omnichannel strategies, most customer service teams struggle.
Most companies today can execute a multichannel strategy across channels like voice, email, web. However, integrating these channels in a meaningful way is still a challenge. This lack of integration makes contextual experiences difficult and leads to frustrating customer service interactions.
Businesses are now realizing that they don't have to be everywhere to be omnichannel. For example, many brands are embracing messaging as a singular point of entry for all of the customers' needs. As a result, they're able to simplify all aspects of a transaction, from discovery to purchase to fulfillment.
Moreover, the technology we've already touched on, like APIs, business messaging, and help desk solutions make omnichannel experiences a reality. Organizations are getting closer than ever to delivering truly seamless experiences.
#10. AI will facilitate a better understanding of customers
Customer service organizations have a great deal of customer information at their fingertips. AI and machine learning help put that data to good use. It makes it easier to collect insights, get more reliable information, and analyze data in a meaningful way.
A key difference between analytics tools of the past and present is the ability for AI to learn, test assumptions, and make predictions. These predictions mean that businesses can be more proactive and relevant. All of this happens in real-time, so that customer service leaders can act on insights when it matters most.
“Among the many technology trends shaping 2019 and beyond, the adoption of AI when it comes to CX is one of the most exciting,” says Jessica Ekholm, VP Analyst, Gartner. “The use of AI technologies such as machine learning, natural-language understanding, and natural-language processing can help analyze customer sentiment and customer feedback at scale, precision and speed not achievable through humans.”
#11. There will be a focus on hyper-personalization and curation
With a better understanding of customers comes the ability to better personalize customer service experiences. In the next few years, we'll see an increased focus on hyper-personalization and curation.
"Personalization comes with a responsibility. Companies today have so much data about individuals, so how you use that data is important. In order to reach audiences, consumers have to feel there is value-added," says Harvard Professor Sunil Gupta.
"If there are too many options, consumers end up confused and won't choose anything. Curation is ever more important."
#12. Businesses will take rethink customer satisfaction metrics
Finally, the changes we've discussed so far will cause businesses to rethink customer satisfaction metrics. We used to measure customer satisfaction through how quickly an agent answered the phone and gave a response, but that is changing quickly.
As we rely on automation to deliver immediacy and convenience, we'll rely on humans to add more empathy and creativity. Customer satisfaction and success will look different depending on the context.
We saw that empathy, in particular, was a key driver of customer satisfaction during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, many brands began measuring empathy to gain a better understanding of how they were performing.
"Amid the challenges of the pandemic, customer care centers have all but done away with any metrics around call duration and are actively encouraging agents to spend more time on the phone with clients, says Adrian Swinscoe, customer experience consultant and advisor.
"While empathy has not been an operational performance metric in the past, it absolutely is prime area of focus now and will continue to be. In an effort to measure empathy, many companies are adding empathy-specific questions to their post-call surveys."