What will tomorrow’s best-in-class customer care look like?
At the beginning of each year we ask our experts from around the world to use their knowledge of innovations, developments and customer behaviors and attitudes to identify 10 key trends that will shape customer care over the coming 12 months. Some will be familiar, established trends set to pick up steam; while others may take you by surprise. Nevertheless, they all come together to form a compelling picture of the customer care realm in 2015.
Smartphones are climbing the podium of customer choice when it comes to customer care.
By the end of 2015, 42% of the global population will own a smartphone1. For these smartphone users, mobile will increasingly define how they communicate, shop and engage with brands.
Used to describe the customer journey as they shift between devices and digital channels, omni-channel is one of the customer care industry’s favorite buzzwords. However, take a moment and consider what the mobile experience represents to customers. Mobile is not simply another digital channel; mobile in itself is a multi/omni channel platform with voice, email, web chat, video chat, SMS and social media capabilities. If a customer wants to communicate with a brand, it’s increasingly likely to be through a mobile device.
As customers hop between the different channels with ease, they see the interactions they have across these channels as one continuous conversation. So even if they pick up the same conversation hours, days, weeks or months after the initial contact, they expect brands to “remember” the context of the situation. That’s why companies are investing heavily in their customers’ mobile journeys; like Hilton Worldwide which is investing US$550 million to optimize their mobile customer experience, from start to finish2.
During 2014 we saw Starbucks and Citibank start using mobile experiences to promote customer loyalty. Starbucks’ m-payment scheme now transacts an average of seven million mobile payments in the US every week3; whilst Citibank introduced its snapshot app which allows customers to access their accounts on the go without having to log in, to lower customer effort and deliver on the demand for convenience. In 2015 we expect this attention and investment in mobile to significantly impact the focus of customer care.
SELF-SERVICE: NO LONGER THE POOR RELATION
The year that self-service gets smart.
When looking to engage a brand for support, today’s customers are spoilt for choice. From the traditional call center to on-device apps and Twitter, there’s no shortage of options. However, look closer and you’ll find that not all support channels are created equally. Make a call to a call center and you have a 90% chance of a successful resolution; jump to social channels or other web-services and that falls to around 70%.
Well, many “digital” channels have historically suffered from poor discoverability, problem coverage and knowledge management processes. Quite simply, customers just can’t find the answer to their problems. What’s more, many customers find self-service digital channels impersonal; they miss the two-way nature of a conversation.
In 2015 this will all start to change. Where web-based self-service tools were historically just knowledge repositories for support content, research into machine-learning and natural language processing is reinventing our view of self-service. A new generation of virtual agents will emerge this year; virtual agents that can learn from terabytes of data to provide contextual, relevant responses instantly and with the same accuracy as a live agent in a call center.
THE DARWINIAN CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Adapting to change is not a choice; it’s a prerequisite for survival.
In 2015, customer experience will be more important than ever before. In fact, 7 out of 10 business leaders claim that customer experience is now critical to their success1.
No brand is “too big to fail” and going forward we’ll see agility become the most pertinent survival mechanism. In 2015, success will start to be determined by a brand’s ability to adapt to the tidal wave of change in customer expectations.
Darwin’s studies showed that the forces of nature push species to adapt over centuries, but in 2015 brands will be afforded far less patience. With customers becoming increasingly dependent on crowd sourced reviews and recommendations, the voice of fellow customers will develop an intrinsic link to sales and market share, and ultimately, survival. Customers will vote with their wallets in a way that won’t give organizations that second chance.
Today, 88%2 of all businesses believe that they deliver “excellent” customer experience. Unfortunately, only 8% of their customers believe the same thing. Such misjudgements of customer expectations can significantly impact the bottom line. Brands that consistently delivered better customer experiences over the past five years produced a cumulative return of 22%3. In contrast, brands that consistently ranked lower for customer experience returned -46%3. In 2015, the financial impact of poor customer experience will only grow in severity.
PROACTIVE CUSTOMER CARE, AT YOUR SERVICE
“He who gives when he is asked has waited too long.”
Customer care, when done right, is a strong point of differentiation. With a brand’s profitability at the mercy of customer experiences and the recommendations and reviews they inspire, 2015 will see many brands going that bit further, extending a helping hand before customers even ask for it.
If a customer has spent more than a few minutes interacting with the help section of a website, or flicking through a mobile help app, there is a good chance they need support; yet more often than not, brands expect customers to initiate the support conversation. This year we hope to see a more proactive approach, potentially even resolving issues before the customer is even aware of them.
Airlines have been working this way for decades, proactively rebooking customer tickets if they miss their connecting flights due to bad weather or airline-related delays. In 2014, Amazon went a step further, with care agents proactively engaging with customers once an order is placed to provide estimated time of arrival for the delivery, and to introduce themselves, highlighting their willingness to help, should the customer need them.
In 2015, this proactivity will start to intercept customer care issues, providing a better customer experience through relationship based interactions, and reducing the likelihood of any damaging reviews. Of course, this engagement can be automated for maximum effectiveness on a large scale with healthy ROI. As automation becomes cheaper and brands can no longer compete solely on price, smart machines will make this feasible in a way that was not possible before.
Looking ahead, this approach towards proactive, personalized and considerate customer care will go from a differentiator in 2015 to the norm in the years to come.
SMART MACHINES MAKE THEIR MARK
Smart machines enable mass personalization.
Great customer care is defined by the ability to serve customers in a bespoke, personalized manner, providing an experience that is exactly right for each unique customer.
Traditionally, achieving a customer care function with these characteristics has been a tall order for companies with a large customer base. Getting to know all of your customers, and using this context to personalize interactions and build meaningful relationships, has until now, been unattainable for medium to large businesses.
But brands can now lean on smart machines to get better acquainted with their customers, without the limitations of scale. Capable of collecting huge volumes of data and processing this to surface valuable and timely customer insights, at an individual level, brands will be better able to add that personal touch. This can manifest in automated customer care, or through brand representatives over the phone or in their stores.
In 2015, we’ll see brands start to unlock their data to provide contextual, and therefore more personal, customer care. Harnessing both big and small data processing, tomorrow’s smart customer care technology will listen to big data to spot trends and prioritize appropriate action, whilst keeping a-pace with upcoming opportunities that lie in smaller bits of data specific to individuals to proactively serve customers.
The year of the super-human care experience.
The “uncanny valley”, a phenomenon first outlined in 1970, describes the negative reaction humans have towards machines that are close to, but not quite human. With the advancements in artificial intelligence, it’s unsurprising that this corner of robotics theory has recently gained renewed interest.
In customer care, this discomfort can be born from automated systems, but also from their human counterparts. Increasingly, care agents are finding themselves zombified, bound to the systems and processes that business operations dictate to them, and so are just as robotic and disconnected from their customers as you’d expect a machine would be.
With the influx of customer care automation, 2015 will see brands start to appreciate and capitalize on the human qualities of customer service agents. To maintain a care mix that meets the needs and preferences of a diverse customer base, brands will need to consider the defining characteristics that drive customers to a specific channel.
As such, over the next 12 months we’ll start to see customer care agents be “re-humanized”. Agents will increasingly exercise their human compassion, empathy, ability to work with the customer, for the customer – and make decisions based on brand values, with the support of smarter and more flexible care systems and tools.
SPEAK TO ME
The year that talking to tech gets easier.
The advent of the mobile-oriented customer will see a new era of sophisticated digital assistants revolutionize how customers interface with both their personal devices and the brands in their lives. In 2015, talking to these digital assistants; (Amazon) Echo, (Google) Now, (Microsoft) Cortana, (Apple) Siri, will become an increasingly common and accepted input mechanism for technology products.
But customers won’t be limited to the voices of their devices’ digital assistant; the same technology advancements in voice recognition will see the beginning of the end for Interactive Voice Response (IVR) frustrations.
Despite automation starting to reshape the care channel hierarchy, voice will continue to be the channel through which most volume passes over the next 12 months. As such, care interactions across telecoms, banking, utilities and healthcare industries will continue to utilize IVR deployments to serve their customers more quickly and efficiently.
With the internet providing a recipe of cheat sheets for customers to bypass IVRs and hop straight onto a call with a live care agent, it’s evident that this piece of the puzzle hasn’t served customers very well thus far. But in 2015, we’ll see IVR systems start to perform much better; in fact, we can expect the once irritatingly obstructive barrier to getting help actually start to manage issues end-to-end, cutting directly to a resolution.
RETAIL STORES: MORE THAN JUST “STORES”
Retail is getting ready to put the customer at the heart of the picture.
In 2015 we’ll see more brands starting to appreciate that a bricks and mortar store has value beyond being just a point of purchase. In fact, for some brands, their retail stores will become central to their omni-channel customer experience delivering collection points, support services and more.
Apple’s much applauded retail stores are a fine example of this, and have been doing so since the inception of their retail strategy in 2006. For Apple customers, an Apple store is more than just a “store”; it functions as a place to resolve customer issues and showroom new releases.
However, as mobile has delivered a world of knowledge into the palm of every shopper on every high street, retail assistants are increasingly at risk of disappointing customers if they don’t have access to the right information at the right time. To meet and exceed customer expectations, brands need greater knowledge integration between their retail store and their wider supply chain and support operations.
Empowering retail with the right services and insights to serve and delight customers in-store will become a key brand differentiator in 2015. This will range from product support to click and collect services, real-time stock availability data, and everything in between, brought together with customer experience in mind.
CHAT COMES OF AGE
It’s fast, it’s convenient – it’s what the new age demands.
Today, the default go-to for customer care is still the contact center – but in 2015 we’ll see the scale start to tip. Instant chat is increasing its prevalence in customer care. Having been used to great effect for pre-sales in 2014, 2015 will see brands proactively start to initiate chat interactions where a customer is detected fumbling through their online support environment.
What is unique about chat within the digital care environment is that it requires less commitment of concentration from the customer when initiating a support interaction, rendering it the most convenient and hassle-free channel for customers.
Voice is ideal for situations where customers are comfortable voicing their issues and potentially being overheard – such as at home or in the car, and providing their complete attention to the task in hand. However, as the mobile-first trend suggests, increasingly, customers are reaching out to brands on the go. In those instances, chat will emerge as the most natural channel for customers to interact though as it gives customers all-important privacy, as well as the freedom to drop and pick up conversations later on.
What’s more, it is also the most efficient form of support for brands as a single agent – human or virtual – can engage in numerous chat conversations at once, whilst also collecting valuable data relative to customer problems, in real-time. Thus, in 2015 chat will emerge as a unique opportunity for brands to inform and build on their existing support knowledge in order to better serve their customers proactively and across the omni-channel landscape.
THE VIRTUAL REALITY RENAISSANCE
Innovative brands to explore virtual and augmented reality to supplement their customer care experience.
After the buzz around virtual reality technology in the 1990s, the following two decades saw somewhat of a lull in both excitement and progress in the field. However, growing interest and activity in virtual reality will see its renaissance in 2015.
Facebook, Google, and Microsoft – the most prolific technology giants, have all waded into the virtual reality pool with big-ticket acquisitions of virtual reality start-ups Oculus Rift, Magic Leap in 2014 and innovations such as Kinect back in 2010.
For consumers, this mass investment and interest may not immediately be clear. However, if you consider that each of these heavyweights work to connect people, organizations and processes to each other from across the globe, it is evident that they see virtual reality as the future of communication.
So how will we see this manifest in 2015? Today, virtual reality is already creeping into customers’ lives; consider Ikea’s 2014 catalogue that allowed customers to use an augmented reality feature on their smart devices to virtually place pieces of furniture from the catalogue within their homes.
In 2015, the physical world and the digital paradigm will continue to close in and we think this could enhance customer care interactions, especially for more technical products that require intricate instructions. By exploiting widely accessible mobile technology, support interactions can now include features like augmented reality walk-throughs. Imagine road-side assistance being able to walk customers through possible fixes via the lens of their smartphone while they wait for the support vehicle to arrive.
We expect to start seeing some of the more innovative brands start to explore this area of technology in 2015, enabling them to provide more valuable and differentiated experiences and build a stronger, closer relationship with customers.
10 trends set to shape customer care in 2015
The next 12 months will bring developments in the way organizations approach customer care, both online and in-person, across data management, digital engagement and beyond. Welcome to 2015.