2017 was an exciting and transformative year in the world of customer engagement. In direct response to significant changes in customer demands, companies across industries began (or continued) a journey to make their customer experience a competitive differentiator. Working with a number of high profile brands, I personally saw a much more concerted effort by these organizations to create a more personalized and streamlined experience for their customers. One that was not just driven by dollars and bottom lines, but also the recognition that building long-term customer loyalty is paramount to success in today’s landscape. We saw more and more engagement channels be supported, the adoption of emerging technologies like AI and virtual reality really begin to take off, and the IoT still remains one of the hottest topics in both tech and customer service. And one thing’s for certain, none of this is slowing down any time soon. New technology is evolving faster than ever, and companies are being challenged to keep up. So what’s next for the industry in 2018?
Artificial Intelligence – will it help or hinder?
Artificial intelligence has made a big splash in recent years, but we are in the early stages. Companies still have some questions that need to be answered before making the leap. How hard is it to implement and integrate with existing legacy systems? Are the benefits real? How long until we see value? In 2018, as more successful use cases come to light, and pilot programmes begin to show real ROI, confidence in investing in the technology will grow.
Just as exciting as seeing the confidence in the technology increase, is how the technology itself will grow and mature. We’ll see reactive automation move to proactive use cases that can help turn engagements into sales opportunities. We’ll see more frictionless transitions between the AI-powered chatbot and human agents. We’ll see AI helping human agents do their jobs more efficiently.
And for those worried that AI will steal customer service jobs, don’t. There will always be a need for human-to-human interactions, it’s just that the tasks they carry out and the roles they fulfil are likely to change. Chatbots for example will be able to easily handle low value, repetitive queries such as ‘how can I change the delivery address’ or ‘does this come in a bigger size’. This will take the burden off overloaded agents who will be able to focus on higher value interactions, such as delicate customer issues that require a human touch.
The companies most likely to succeed using AI and automation are the ones who recognise the different value that both technology and humans can bring, and consequently adopt a hybrid approach using the best qualities of each.
How Will IoT Play a Role in CX?
In a future where most consumer brands will be fulfilled online, the opportunity for brands to create a connection with their customers becomes more of a challenge. Long gone are the days where consumers know shop owners and assistants on a first name basis.
Enter the Internet of Things. The IoT – and it’s always on nature -- makes it possible for companies to have a better understanding of how, when and why customers are using connected products and services. This ongoing engagement allows brands to better understand their customers’ needs, create a personalised experience based on those interactions, and ultimately provide value to that customer in a way that their competitors can’t.
What about Augmented and virtual reality?
Like artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality technology is going to become more mainstream in 2018 – or at least it will try to. The potential of the technology is certainly real and exciting, but it’s impact on customer experience remains to be seen.
To become a truly valuable piece in the customer experience, AR and VR implementations will need to be viewed as another fully functioning channel, and not just a standalone, disconnected experience. It may be that we’ll be trying on clothes from our homes just by wearing a VR headset, but if we can’t ask an agent questions, or make purchases within the same experience, the exercise will be fruitless. So while the technology is pretty cool, it runs the risk of becoming more of a fad than an investment to drive customer loyalty and revenue if not implemented properly.
As we look ahead in 2018, the real question becomes how these new technologies will impact the overall customer experience. For a while now brands have known that they need to be thinking about experience as a key part of their value and competitive differentiation. In 2018 companies that haven’t acted on this shift will start feeling the consequences. Customer-first companies like Apple prove time and time again that a concerted focus on customer experience and building loyalty can pave the way to long-term profitability. By using technology in their favour, businesses have the opportunity to put the customer first, building durable customer relationships and distinguishing themselves from competitors.