5 Customer Service Trends That Point to a Promising Future
By Donna Fluss
Last year was a great year for service organizations and contact centers—even when it was clear that customers and clients were often displeased with levels of service (with a few notable exceptions). That’s because enterprise executives have finally accepted that their organizations need to deliver the personalized service experiences their customers want, in their channel of choice, instead of doing what’s best for the company. Leaders now realize that what is best for customers is what is best for their companies, as long as they have the tools and operational framework and knowledge to deliver it.
The level of investment in service organizations and contact centers in 2019 was one of the highest ever, and 2020 is looking to be even better, as long as the economy remains strong. This is great news for enterprises and the vendors that deliver their service solutions. Last year was the year of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, a trend that will persist as the tools continue to improve. The five areas below saw the greatest activity:
1. Artificial intelligence: AI comes in many forms, and vendors delivered nascent AI functionality to the market. With the positive developments come some new challenges. AI introduced a new level of complexity, as each contact center application has its own AI (or AI-like) functionality, and many of these solutions conceptually work against each other, without intending to do so. This trend will continue until an AI “brain” is introduced to oversee and optimize the performance of all of a department’s tools, solutions, and platforms.
2. Robotic process automation (RPA): We define RPA as software that leverages AI, machine learning, workflow, and other technologies to automate the processing of repetitive tasks, initiate actions, and communicate with other systems or employees. RPA emulates the processes performed by human workers and can be trained to adapt to changing conditions, anomalies, and new situations. New-generation RPA solutions deliver flexible tools to operations managers who know their businesses and what it takes to makes things move more productively and effectively, thereby essentially removing IT from the development process.
3. Big Data solutions: Data repositories are an essential component of all AI and machine learning initiatives. In some cases, Big Data solutions are new applications that were created or enhanced to collect and deliver the information needed to power an AI initiative. In other cases, companies are repurposing knowledge bases that were compiled to support customer service or knowledge management (KM) initiatives. The power of new-generation cloud-based KM solutions with amazingly fast processing and search speeds, supported by open-source databases and other technology and tools, is a game changer. KM has finally found its enterprise purpose: seeding contact center-based AI initiatives.
4. Digital-first solutions: Digital-first servicing solutions are growing rapidly. Like it or not, we’re now operating in a digital economy, and servicing organizations/contact centers must follow suit. The argument for adding digital channels to servicing organizations and contact centers is easy to appreciate, even if it’s not so easy to get rapid ROI. Once interactions are digital, they can be automated.
5. Cloud servicing: All of these trends are overarching, but none more so than the cloud. It enables companies to cost-effectively and easily implement systems and applications without investing in hardware or a lot of IT resources. It gives companies tremendous processing power; well-designed and configured cloud solutions are generally designed to handle at least 100 percent more capacity than average usage, and sometimes even more. When applications are run from public facilities, such as Amazon and Microsoft, capacity, scalability, speed, redundancy, and resiliency are maximized. These benefits, enabled by a decreased cost of processing power, are essential for AI and Big Data initiatives, and helpful for RPA and digital-first initiatives. The cloud has changed the cost equation, as well as the way companies look at software initiatives and implementations. In short, the cloud removes from the equation many system and IT resource limitations and plays an essential role in the future of processing, including for service and contact center initiatives.
These technology trends will continue to enable essential changes and enhancements that will prioritize customer needs, changing the service dynamic in a lasting way that will benefit customers, enterprises, and the economy.