Customer Service Trends to Look Out for in 2019
Not so long ago, contact centers “served” customers by robotically reciting scripts over the phone. My, how things have changed! Now, customers can reach out via multiple channels, and agents are more conversational. For 2019, all customer service trends point in one direction: an increasing focus on total customer experience.
From the CEO on down, company executives now recognize that customer experience is a brand differentiator — one that significantly impacts customer retention and revenue growth. Customer experience includes every touchpoint — online, in-store, and contact center interactions. To outperform competitors in 2019, companies will re-engineer their customer experience efforts with an eye toward cross-functional collaboration throughout the organization.
Increased Urgency for Digital Transformation
Customers now expect companies to know who they are and deliver experiences tailored to their individual preferences. At the same time, customers are interacting with companies through more and more channels including websites, retail stores, social media, messaging, email, web chat, texting, and — oh, yes, voice calls. The challenge in 2019? To provide seamless, personalized experiences to customers across all of these touchpoints.
Many contact centers are still trying to accommodate multiple channels using legacy technology and/or solutions from multiple vendors, none of it integrated. This fragmentation frustrates both customers and agents. In 2019, companies will focus on the channels that best match their customers’ preferences. That will require the ability to collect data from all systems that support each touchpoint, and then centrally process and analyze that data.
Traditionally, many contact centers focused on analytics to drive efficiency. Key metrics included average handle time, average speed of answer, agent utilization rates, and, more recently, customer-focused KPIs such as first call resolution, customer satisfaction scores, and Net Promoter Score. But the goal was still big-picture patterns and trends. That still matters, but in 2019 contact centers that want to personalize experiences will study their customer behavior data.
Individualized Proactive Customer Support
Proactive customer support isn’t new. Take webchat, for example. If a customer is browsing a website and lingers on one page, or revisits the same page several times, a pop-up appears to ask if they need assistance. But today’s customers want more — offers and experiences tailored to their individual preferences. Companies will use data about each individual to drive which channel they use to communicate with them as well as which specific products, promotions, or support are offered.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has gotten smarter in the past couple of years. Chatbots on websites gather customer information and provide basic support. Sophisticated natural language processing is already being used to support more efficient IVR experiences for customers. In 2019, AI will also gather context, to provide more relevant content to consumers during self-help and to help agents as they engage with customers.
Investment in Agents
Investment in automation and technology is crucial for improving the customer experience. To effectively personalize service, agents need tools that display historical information about the customer. AI can support this by delivering relevant messages to agent screens as contacts arrive.
One of the most important customer service trends continues to be human investment. Unemployment is at an all-time low in many areas, making retention of quality agents more competitive than ever. In 2019, contact centers will offer timely, one-on-one feedback and ongoing agent training to develop and retain top talent. Because agents work on the front lines, engaging in interactions that determine customer experience, organizations will also solicit agent input about processes and customer feedback in multiple ways.
Security and Privacy
This year, massive data breaches have filled the headlines. An otherwise exceptional customer experience will be ruined once a customer learns that their personal and financial information has been exposed to hackers or shared with other companies without their consent. Contact centers, and all areas of the organization, must strengthen data protections if they hope to retain customer trust and loyalty. This will require increased security technology, procedures, and employee training.
Customer service trends for 2019 reflect improvements in communication processes, technology, data analysis and usage, and security. But they all aim to boost overall customer experience. And as much as technology continues to expand its presence in contact center operations, companies are also doubling down on attracting and retaining high quality labor.