Over the next few years, consumers will expect brands to deliver an increasingly optimized customer experience: on and offline. But how can businesses make that happen sooner rather than later?
Think about future technology trends. No, not the kind Elon Musk might be planning (where self-driving rocket ships and Saturn vacation homes are commonplace). Consider, the immediate future: two to five years from now. How might technology trends impact customer service?
Think your customer’s needs will change much in a few short years? Probably not. However, the ways in which those needs are dealt with are certain to become significantly more sophisticated – if the rate at which technology, social media, and communications are evolving continues.
In previous blogs, we’ve considered the role of customer centricity; in particular unique experiences, consistent journeys, and the need to create more meaningful relationships. These give an insight into what all brands are striving for. To better understand the future needs of customers, we first need to look at what is possible: at how technology and digital transformation are changing the overall customer experience right now.
As mentioned, customer needs do not – and will not – change much. Brand loyalty is still closely entwined with (among other factors) price, quality, and customer service. However, technology has changed the customer/brand interface, and as a result interaction expectations have shifted.
For example, in days gone by (and not even that long ago), a letter was the only way of sending a complaint or compliment from a customer to a company. Now, thanks to email, social media, SMS, and chat platforms; the same sentiments can be sent in seconds. And if a message can be sent at speed, then the response should be equally as immediate.
Aside from speed, mobility plays a crucial role in how technology caters to customer communications. Customers are on the go constantly; using laptops, desktops, tablets, and mobile devices. If they can seamlessly send emails, talk to friends, read books, and watch TV across these different devices – without logging in and out – then customer service interactions need to be just as easily accessible.
Similarly, the different communications platforms customers use – Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Apple iMessage/Business Chat etc – are just as varied. When they communicate with brands online, why should they have to choose which channel they use? Brands need to be flexible in this respect and ensure they are using the same platforms as their customers.
Customers also want more control. Technology makes that possible. They want to shop and order anytime, anywhere. But when a problem occurs, or when they have a query, the human touch is still valued. In fact, stats show that 86% of consumers want the option to transfer to a representative if their request is too complicated for a bot to handle.
Similarly, contextual information is increasingly important for consumers. In its most recent research, Google learned that in addition to “near me” mobile searches, “can I buy” or “to buy” queries have increased by more than 500% in the last two years.
Looking at current trends, it is clear that many of the technologies being used will gain even more traction – as their features become better aligned with the way in which customers shop and communicate. But there are other emerging technologies which are poised to play a greater role in our lives.
For example, as well as chat platforms, automated agents – or chatbots becoming incredibly commonplace in customer service. Why? Because they tick many of the customer communications boxes: they are platform agnostic, user-friendly, always on, and serve relevant information on demand. They are beneficial for companies too, as they reduce response times and enable customer service staff to focus on more complex tasks.
The evolution of chatbots also goes hand-in-hand with the use of Artificial Intelligence in customer service. By this, we mean the ability to use technology to automate processes; which is why AI-powered chatbots are becoming popular frontline customer service tools.
A growing customer need for greater mobility and flexibility will inevitably amplify the use of voice assistants and services. As more Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and Google (!) voice devices arrive in our homes (as well as on our phones) there is even greater opportunity for brands to reach consumers – without interrupting their lives.
While many may try to discredit voice assistants for their often comical inability to recognize commands, Natural Language Processing (NLP) will soon be sophisticated enough to quell these concerns; which will help give consumers more control of how, where, and when they communicate with brands.
Ultimately enterprise technology trends follow consumer technology trends. And that is exactly how it should be: the customer calls the shots and will always look for a fast, low effort, or rewarding customer experience.
The companies that will certainly thrive over the next few years will be those that can embrace these emerging digital tools – in a way that both complements their existing customer service strategy and is scalable enough to meet future trends. It is these companies that will win.