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Even though tech and customer expectations shift over time, causing changes in customer service, the core qualities of good service remain the same. The customer must find answers quickly and be satisfied with their experience/result. Companies must manage the experience/satisfaction/service relationships, which is especially difficult given the pace of recent trends.
Four of these customer service trends are interconnected; mobile connectivity, self-service portals, improved human interactions, and refined virtual agents. The final trend is more of a “best practice” for companies to remind them of the importance of the customer experience which is crucial to any firm’s long-term success.
Mobile connectivity drives the other trends, because it sets customer expectations. They have a computer in their hand all day (and much of the night), and they expect instant responses and gratification. Armed with their smartphone, consumers engage with companies at their leisure. For businesses, the challenge is building tech tools that allow for 24/7 service, and to ensure these tools are optimized for mobile and that they are reliable. More and more transactions are performed through mobile, so it’s only natural for consumers to expect mobile service interactions. In-app messaging is one tech tool that will become widespread over time since it provides immediacy and convenience.
Consistent and large-scale usage of a self-service web portal largely depends on its usability and features. Customers must be able to perform a variety of meaningful tasks that are simple to execute, even though the back end tech can be complex. For an example, consider Amazon’s structure that allows customers to place orders, manage their account, handle returns, and even sell products themselves without needing any personal interaction. And if something goes wrong, the online chat is instantly available.
Self-service provides a cost savings for the business, but if it’s well designed it also empowers customers to take control of their orders/information/actions on their own terms and timetables. Portals with poor design or limited functionality must be avoided, otherwise customers will waste time contacting support directly instead of resolving their own issues.
Human Interaction is Still Crucial
Artificial intelligence capabilities continue to improve, which helps to refine the ability of virtual assistants to provide relevant and context-based information to customers. For businesses, they can soon offer Siri-like services at an enterprise level, harnessing intelligence that guides customers to the right answer/area/product. But, when the virtual assistant is hindered, or the customer has an issue that is an exception, then there is still the need for the human touch.
Effective phone-based interactions are still required in tandem with digital solutions in order to understand and resolve complex issues. What is crucial from a customer experience standpoint is how this human interaction augments the digital space in order to deliver omnichannel experiences. For example, a customer may start off using your self-service portal but then they may realize their issue is too complex so they will place a phone call. Your customer service agent should have real-time access to the data they entered into your self-service portal so that they do not have to waste time repeating their personal information or their issue.
And customers in a retail store still expect human guidance, especially when they are seeking advice about product selection (comparing TVs) or process guidance (finding the right home improvement parts). Poor human-to-human interactions are a major reason for customer’s abandoning a brand, so seamless omnichannel experiences that combine both digital and the human aspect are vital.
Skilled Virtual Agents
The demand for virtual agents comes from both companies that want to lower costs and the consumers’ demands for convenience and 24/7 access. Businesses that utilize virtual agents must embrace the latest AI tech that truly makes it easier for customers to interact with them and make purchases. Advanced virtual assistances can “know” what the likely forthcoming questions from a consumer are after they pose an initial question. Armed with customer service data, the virtual agent responses are dynamically refined and improved over time, effectively “learning” how to best satisfy the customers.
Self-service portals and virtual assistants are whittling down the sheer number of agents that a company must employ, but it doesn’t eliminate them. Some companies offer complex and layered products or services and simply must provide experienced support staff. However, virtual agent platforms with advanced learning capabilities can handle a large volume of requests, allowing human agents to focus on tougher problems and spend more time trying to encourage sales.
When deciding on a customer service mix, companies must consider “How will our actions impact the customer experience?” It’s the experience that is paramount, so service options must be redesigned to accommodate demanding consumers and find ways to excite them in the process (or at the very least avoid annoying them.)
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