The era of messaging and automation is upon us!
The fundamentals of delivering a good customer service experience in 2020 will be much the same as in 2019: Customers will expect convenient in-channel resolutions that take little effort on their behalf. However, with the rise of friction-free, asynchronous and personalized private messaging channels for customer service, brands’ contact centers must adapt accordingly.
Customers’ service expectations undoubtedly have matured. The future of customer service no longer is focused solely on swift response times and a friendly tone of voice. Effortless service set the tone in 2019 for what consumers deemed necessary — they expected convenience, in-channel resolution, and agent expertise all at once. For the most part, brands aimed to adapt to consumer demands, some more successfully than others, to make effortless service part of their customer service architecture.
Offering effortless customer service will be as relevant in 2020 as it was in 2019 — but customers’ expectations are continuing to mature. Following are my predictions for the year ahead when it comes to meeting evolving customer preferences. Hint: They are tightly linked to innovations in platform functionality and bot technology, and brands must embrace both in order to keep pace in 2020.
1. Artificial Intelligence Reality
Over the last couple of years, there a number of promising new refinements have been changing the way businesses apply artificial intelligence within their customer service practices:
- Improvements in the speed, cost and accessibility of machine learning;
- The rise of asynchronous messaging that enables humans and bots to work together in the same conversations; and
- Improvements in voice recognition that are enabling voice assistants to play a meaningful role.
2. The Growth of Machine Learning
Just a few years ago, the most advanced machine learning techniques (think deep learning) were expensive and difficult to implement at scale. However, huge software and hardware advancements in recent years have made it much cheaper and faster to run this kind of technology.
Today, almost everything needed to implement it is now available through a mix of open source platforms and the cloud. As a result, it’s become significantly easier to carry out “real” machine learning that can learn from your data.
In 2020, this will start to enable significant improvements across the board — from bots that can have more natural conversations to behind-the-scenes improvements that make agents’ lives easier (like suggesting answers and intelligent routing).
3. The Rise of Messaging: Will Bots + Humans Crack the Code?
In a fully real-time interaction (like traditional Web chat), it’s very difficult to hand off from a bot to a human. The customer is sitting there waiting for a real-time response, but it could take some time to connect to a human agent — and then the agent needs to read the history of the conversation with the bot to get up to speed, prior to being able to dive in and help the customer.
Over the past year, there has been a massive rise in the use of social messaging channels for customer service. Currently, more than 10 billion messages are sent every month between businesses and consumers on Facebook Messenger. Messaging is asynchronous, meaning that there doesn’t need to be an instant response — a response in 10-15 minutes is viewed as fast.
This means that bots can handle simple tasks (like checking on a flight status), with a smooth handoff to human agents to handle more complex issues. This combination of bots and humans really is successful only in messaging. It gradually will enable bots to handle more and more tasks, until they’re involved in the majority of most service conversations.
In 2020, the use of messaging for customer service will take a big leap forward. We’ve already started to see this trend come to life, with WhatsApp and Apple Business Chat both fully opening up their messaging platforms for businesses in 2019.
4. Voice Assistants and Customer Service
Over the last couple of years, improvements in voice recognition technology finally have made voice assistants useful. Whether in the home or on your phone, Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and others have become pervasive in the last 18 months.
In the coming year, we’ll start to see companies build the first “voice bots” that help customers with basic service problems directly from their voice assistants. We’ll also start to see significantly more advanced voice-based bots being used in the call center to improve interactive voice response systems. (Alexa-based technology already is available for the call center!)
Voice assistants on the phone are an easy way to interact with a company over messaging channels like Apple Business Chat — so asking Siri a question can lead straight to an answer from a bot in messaging.
5. Bots Will Replace Tier-1 Agents
Many contact centers are set up with tier 1 agents who find out a customer’s problem and handle basic issues. Often these agents are relatively low-skilled, following strict scripts, without the power to make real changes or concessions. If they can’t help the customer, they transfer the case to a higher-tier agent who is more highly trained and who has the ability to make big changes in order to make the customer happy.
By the end of 2020, a majority of service issues will be coming through messaging channels, with bots handling the ‘tier 1’ issues automatically. Customer service agents increasingly will play the role of approver and escalation handler, focusing on helping customers instead of doing simple tasks.
Unlike the way AI is used in some channels, customers never will be frustratingly stuck with a bot — they will be just a message away from a human at all times. Overall, this provides a much better experience for consumers, who will grow to love the speed and accessibility of having bots fix their issues, with human support becoming just as easy as texting a friend.
This will enable brands to redeploy their ‘tier 1’ agents to focus on higher-value tasks — including upselling customers! AI finally will find its place in customer service — not in the form of standalone bots, but in tight coordination with humans.
6. A Connected World
Technological advancements mean we are living in the midst of a digital transformation, a shrinking world where we are more connected than ever before. What’s more, the digital world goes far beyond the Internet — it’s the confluence of global connections forged by using digital devices to communicate. This has strong implications for brand-consumer engagement in 2020 and beyond.
There is no doubt that as more consumers and brands start to ride the digital transformation wave, expectations will soar. Businesses that lag behind this adoption risk losing customers to more digitally savvy competitors.
Brands need to not only be present on messaging channels, but also offer an experience as simple as connecting with a friend. In 2020, messaging has to be at the forefront of any support strategy for successful customer service, driving a better customer CX and lower operational costs.
The brands that focus on better educating their customers about the service benefits of adaptive automation will reap the benefits and win the attention of the “always-on” generation of today.