By Blake Morgan @Forbes | Nov 30, 2015
2015 was a year of disruption. In 2015 the world’s largest taxi company owns no taxis (Uber), the largest accommodation provider owns no real estate (Airbnb), the most popular media owner creates no content (Facebook), the largest telecom operator owns no telecom infrastructure (Skype and WeChat), the world’s largest software vendors don’t write the apps (Apple and Google) and the world’s largest movie house owns no cinemas (Netflix).*
Just as business models are changing, the way we engage with brands is changing too. Customer service as a category is evolving. Customer experience is no longer something handled purely by the contact center. But the contact center–the place where customers go for help–is becoming an increasingly key piece of a competitive business strategy. The contact center is the place where brands literally make “contact” with their customers. It’s becoming increasingly common for customer experience to be a key imperative for the c-suite. Business leaders understand the importance and power of providing an experience to customers–not purely a clumsy transaction (the current state of many customer service operations). While the Chief Customer Officer is arguably the most senior customer role within the company, the true owner of the customer experience is the CEO, the person responsible for the company’s performance. Today an unmemorable customer experience should be the thing that keeps every CEO up at night. The reason is (nine times out of ten) this customer experience is the only thing differentiating a company from others. In the future it will become even more important.
CEOs today need to understand the power of treating customers like they are guests in their home, rather than unwanted annoyances. It’s easy to spot the companies that use customer experience as a strategic tool, and those that clearly don’t understand the importance of it. Technology has increased the gap between companies that are easy for customers to work with and those that aren’t. Let’s focus on the modern customer engagement practices that are being leveraged by leading edge companies. Last year I published five predictions about the future customer service in 2015. Today I bring you my predictions for 2016.
1. Video Customer Service Becomes Popular
Many of us like to talk to people we can make eye contact with–while technology has allowed us to be more impersonal with our customers, it has also allowed us to be more personal with our customers too. It’s not a rare day we see people walking around holding their phones a foot from their face (on FaceTime or Skype) so why wouldn’t customers enjoy this ease of communication with actual contact center agents? Customers love video in their personal lives, and use it at work, so why wouldn’t customers use it to get customer service help? Amazon pioneered video with their Kindle Mayday offering, but this is just the beginning. For example American Express Co. brought video help to its iPad app in February, using technology from Cisco Systems Inc. that supports both one-way and two-way video. Like Amazon, American Express trained agents to inject their own personality into calls. Both baby boomers and millennials like video support, and we will see more companies tapping into the power of video in the next year.
2. CRM Technology Gets Even Better, On Mobile
CRM is getting much better. Technology companies are releasing products that provide easy to use cross-channel CRM technology. This means the agent can engage with the customer on a range of channels without the agent having to leave their screen. They can move with the customer in real-time and trace what the customer’s next steps are. In addition to highly improved CRMs we’re seeing better mobile CRM applications. Rather than a purely mobile version of the CRM desktop software, now agents have a mobile friendly version with improved usability. You can imagine how salespeople would also benefit from not only being able to get customer information on their phone, but use their phone to share presentations and other resources with customers on their phones and tablets in real-time. In 2016 not only will mobile CRMs and software be easier to use, but companies will have the benefit of industry-specific CRMs. You can imagine the demands of a healthcare CRM are much different from that of a finance CRM or a non-profit’s CRM. The benefit of a CRM is for an agent to have the ability to look up customer information and provide helpful information to that customer, however so many of our largest enterprises’ CRMs are so big they are no longer useful. As I said, the difference between companies that are one step ahead of their customers, and those that are painfully behind is stark. Many companies barely meet the basic needs of customers, and others are very ahead of their competitors. They already know what customers need before their customers do. The latter are rolling out CRM systems with analytics engines behind them that will enable the ability to provide real-time offers to customers based on predicting what they will want next or what kind of product or service they might buy next.
3. Workforce Technology Makes On-Demand Contact Centers A Reality
I was recently at a conference where one of the largest sharing economy companies was speaking. I was in the workshop with their workforce manager and he told me he was evaluating a technology called WorkFlex Solutions that would allow their agents to work anytime, anywhere. I had never heard of this before so I looked up the company WorkFlex Solutions and contacted the CEO Larry Schwartz to find out what it was. Schwartz is a contact center veteran who knows his stuff. The product is the real deal. Today working in a contact center is not flexible. You must have people on-site working schedules that are predetermined far in advance. But now just as we have on-demand products and services, agents have the option to work “on-demand.” They can log in to a system where they easily pick up or trade shifts. Can you imagine how much better that would be for not only contact center managers trying to predict staffing needs but also the agents themselves who seek flexibility? I love this idea.
4. The Internet Of Things Explodes
Did you know the Tesla is a car that’s entirely run on software? Think about that for a minute–your CAR is updated via software just like your iPhone! In the future intelligent, context-aware, learning devices will interact with each other, with the cloud and with our smartphones while other devices are constantly being added, removed or modified via downloads from the cloud. Both IoT and AI are of interest to the customer experience community.
I had a tour of the IBM Watson Lab in NYC a month ago and was very blown away. Watson has the ability to search through millions of pieces of information and identify likely possible solutions. You can imagine how incredible this is in a healthcare scenario where doctors need to diagnose a patient quickly. It also can be used for customer service to get closer to what a person is looking for.
According to Tim Joyce, Chief Innovation Officer of Xerox Customer Care, for artificial intelligence to work well in the future the computer will need to understand the problem from a description rather than playing yes or no questions for 15 minutes. The computer will need to be able to make decisions and negotiate with the consumer. We have the Amazon Echo and Apple’s Siri—it is likely in the future we will see even more of our products responding to us.
On a related note, witty tweeter and CEO of Box Aaron Levie recently said in a tweet that “enterprise software used to be about making existing work more efficient. Now the opportunity for software is to transform work itself.”
This is precisely what will happen in the near future with customer service. We will spend more time strategizing around technology and directing technology rather than manually helping customers. As more of our products talk to one another and update on their own, the opportunity for customer service to continue to transform is there.
5. Big Data Becomes Useful
Without data and measurement it’s likely you have no idea what’s actually happening with your customers. Data helps companies identify service issues early on, lessoning the damage by early detection. Additionally data provides valuable customer feedback that is fed to engineering, product, and marketing. Smart companies are leaning on good data technology to execute in savvier and more customer-centric ways. An example of a good data technology comes fromTableau—a provider of compelling data visualization technology, something important when telling data stories to senior executives.
In conclusion it’s clear that some companies really understand the value of customer experience and others don’t. 2016 will see more fails by big corporations in addition to the disappearance of any unicorns that are not user-centric. The companies that treat customers like they are guests in their home will ultimately remain competitive over companies that don’t put an emphasis on customer experience–particularly those that don’t tap into modern customer technologies to make life easier and better for their customers.
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