As we look back to 2017, a year of rapidly evolving customer expectations and digital revolutions, our focus inevitably shifts again to the future and the changes we must prepare for in our strategies for the next three years and beyond. Leveraging the insights and experience from across the wider Sitel Group, there are a number of key trends and consumer forces shaping companies’ strategies in 2018 and beyond.
Customer’s increasing expectations have brought brands and customer care into the permanent conversation era, where they, not companies, are deciding the future of client-centric organisations. Customers will no longer engage with brands that are slow to respond to their needs and requests, expecting timely, reliable and effortless customer service across all channels. In this context, new technologies, tools, platforms, new channels and opportunities to engage and share with customers are quickly becoming part of our new norm and are reshaping both our and many other industries. Consequently, delivering successful customer experience (CX) journeys brings about a huge focus on and investment in continuous innovation, and exploring new digital opportunities, delivering a truly omnichannel approach.
Whilst digital and technology innovation will remain a key focus for the future, it is important to recognise that real conversations and connections can never be replaced by technology. Though some purely transactional events during the customer journey will move to self-serve and automated models to streamline processes, true value for customers will only be realised when we leverage the main objective of platforms such as Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat or solutions like bots and chatbots to enhance our ability to connect and build trust, rather than replacing our role in building true relationships with customers.
The challenge of building deep brand relationships and designing truly conversational experiences – at all levels – needs to be the core of what we do and will transform customer care strategies over the coming years. Customers of all ages are progressively moving towards self-service options — web and mobile self-service, communities, virtual agents, mobile IVRs or chatbots — as their preferred point of contact with a brand [see image below]. Customers in our hyper-connected world have opinions that they are eager to share. They organise their own communication channels with discussion forums, comments and opinions about customer shopping experiences posted throughout the web together with messaging. This all forms part of an endless conversation that has become both a source of inspiration and a means of influencing other consumers. Consequently, companies have been quick to extend and enhance self-service offerings and digital interactions.
Everest data reports non-voice channels, as a percentage of revenue, are growing at a healthy rate, led by chat. Forrester data also shows that two-fifths of US online adults prefer to use digital customer service rather than speak with a live person on the phone. However, self-service has the biggest impact only when based on a win-win philosophy, so the primary goal should always be an improved customer experience, while building a less friction and cost-optimised customer service engines (e.g., deflecting agent-assisted interactions).
Artificial intelligence (AI) is another good example of the customer experience transformation. In his book “What If Artificial Intelligence Could Make Us More Human?” , Arnaud de Lacoste, Founder and Chief Marketing and Innovations Officer, Sitel Group, predicts that many of the jobs that will exist in 2030 do not exist in 2017. The changes we expect AI will bring, however, are not only restricted to the labor market – AI is expected to produce the same level of business and social disruption as the internet produced. The challenge then lies in preparing current companies to deliver against customer needs, both now and in the future, realigning people, process and technology with the consequences of this growing revolution.
By 2025–2030, we anticipate a collaborative working environment with companies relying on workers with skills augmented by and complementing AI and machines. This vision is really stimulating, especially if you assume that the money saved by the automation of low value-added tasks will allow organisations to invest more in the human aspect of customer care, with front line employees better prepared, better trained and playing an even more strategic role in the customers’ journey.
In this future vision, many parts of the conversation with customers will possibly be handled either by automated or human-assisted channels. Purely transactional contacts may be directed to automated models, whilst more complex customer needs will be supported by human talent assisted by robots, working in the background to helping them to perform more efficiently or find the best solutions, always respecting consumers’ profile, tone (emotional state) and history with that brand. As customer expectations continue to grow in the future, demanding nothing but the most authentic and personalised interactions – where emotion and empathy will be key values and qualities – companies must develop and deploy highly efficient and collaborative models in order to keep pace with these expectations.
But the new levels of expectation are not necessarily bad news for businesses. Financier Warren Buffett has noted, “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.” The point is that customers have shown time and time again that they are willing to pay more for higher perceived value in any economy. In this context, AI combined with analytics capabilities can help companies to monetise on this trend.
Automated, semi-automated or human-assisted channels will make it possible to anticipate customers’ needs, allowing companies to provide greatly differentiated, high-touch services that reinforce the company’s brand identity and customer value proposition. This summarises one of the most important competitive paradigms across the industry today: the need to be at the right place, at the right time, on the right channel and prepared to serve customers as they expect to be served. The increase in customers demanding control of their experience will continue to challenge the processes, organisational structures and systems that companies have put in place to communicate with customers and will continue to challenge corporate mind sets.
Social customer communities, multichannel knowledge management, mobile virtual agents, artificial intelligence, natural language processing – they all will have a huge impact on the customer service experience in the coming years. Brands that don’t innovate around these trends—and fail to serve customers where, when and how they want to be served—will suffer. The winners will be businesses that learn to run a thread through all channels and experiences by re-centralising customer service with omnichannel strategies.
You can either be fearful, anxious or excited about it. At Sitel, we enjoy these new opportunities to improve the value and relevance of our organisation, driving us forward from a product-centric approach to one that is customer experience-based. We harness creativity and technology to create and share winning stories helping to shape the new age of business transformation upon us.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of Intelligent Sourcing Magazine.