As service guru Martin Hill-Wilson rightly pointed out recently here on MyCustomer, there is a tendency for predictions pieces to be too bold. Instead of identifying where there will be incremental progress during the year, these articles pitch in with more dramatic predictions which, while they may be more dramatic and exciting, are actually less realistic.
Having spent some considerable time digesting the latest glut of forecasts, I’ve therefore decided to take the unusual step of making predictions about the predictions. Below you’ll find some of the most interesting thoughts about the coming year, categorised by their likelihood to influence customer experience management.
Trends that we can count on to characterise 2016
Brands will increasingly use customer effort as a metric
Customer effort score may be the new kid on the block compared to customer satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS), but it continues to gain traction and 2016 will see it make further inroads as a key metric. In his predictions for the year, CX transformist Bruce Temkin notes: “Companies have started to use versions of an “effort” score as a key CX metric, because it provides a good mechanism for identifying areas of improvement. We expect this trend to intensify, and for effort to become a more mainstream topic next year.” And this certainly seems like a sure thing.
Brands will continue to develop compelling CX strategies – but struggle to truly execute them
Continuing a trend from 2015, Dennis Fois, CEO of Rant & Rave, believes that this year will be characterised by the tendency for companies to set out compelling customer experience strategies but fail to implement them correctly.
As Fois explains: “Most strategies are well-intentioned and in fact very similar: the aim is to attract more customers, retain existing ones and get them to spend more. Competing priorities, however, means that the best intentions are often thwarted, with cost versus service as a classic example.
“When asked whether they are a cost or service-led organisation, almost every company on the planet will say they’re service-led - but in practice this so often not the case. While consistent customer feedback might make the case for change in a particular product, this case will often lose its gravitas when pitted against factors like a strategic relationship with a supplier or the fact that a product has the highest profit margin.”
It’s hard to imagine 2016 being a watershed moment when this all changes, though Fois does issue a rallying cry for the future. “Actions speak louder than words when it comes to customer service, and for all the good intentions and promises made to loyal customers, a business will be judged solely on what it actually delivers rather than what it sets out. Conflicts of interest, which often include the short-term cost implications of implementing customer service strategies, must not be allowed to stand in the way of delivering outstanding experience and efficient responses to complaints and queries.”
Brands will strive to better act on VoC insights
Voice of the Customer programmes may be a common component of today’s customer experience programmes, but the over-riding feeling is that businesses are spending too much time collecting data and not enough time acting on the insights they have gleaned. This could be about to change, though, according to Temkin. He notes: “Next year we expect an increasing number of companies to shift their emphasis from tracking metrics to enabling action. As this occurs, they will lower their reliance on multiple-choice ratings scales to focus more on unstructured sources (comments, contact centre interactions, etc.) and will increase their use of more qualitative techniques such as customer interviews and ethnography.”
The super agent will continue to emerge
The role of the contact centre agent is growing in complexity, and with customers seeking to contact brands across an ever-expanding range of channels, the demands on the agent can only escalate.
David Ford, managing director of Magnetic North, has predicted: “In 2016 we will see the rise of the ‘super’ customer service agent, able to converse over several channels. These multichannel communicators will be experts in their field, with the skills, flexibility and ability to deal with the most complex of customer issues. Making sure your agents have these skills will ensure that you can stay on top of your customer satisfaction ratings and avoid losing any customers in 2016.” Given the growing complexity in the contact centre, this seems like sensible advice.
Consumers will increasingly provide feedback via images, photos and video
Recent years have witnessed a spike in popularity for visually-driven social platforms such as Snapchat, Pinterest and Instagram. This has also had a knock-on effect for other social networks, with Facebook and Twitter also incorporating a number of photo and video sharing features as a response. With emojis continuing the trend for visual communication, brands will need to adapt to the evolving way that customers express their feelings, so that they can determine how they should respond. Susan Ganeshan, CMO of Clarabridge, notes in her 2016 predictions: “Consumers will continue to express their needs and wants more frequently through images, photos, and videos. To adapt to this changing consumer preference and be able to respond accordingly, brands must have a plan to detect sentiment and emotion from these high-fi assets.”
Trends that could make a mark
Cognitive analytics will become a hot phrase in CX
“Computers are now doing more than assimilating data,” notes Shep Hyken in his recent article on 2016 trends on MyCustomer. “They are analysing and interpreting data – faster and more accurately than humans. IBM Watson’s analytics program is the leader in data analytics. What they are doing in this area is nothing short of amazing.” But will this be the breakthrough year for cognitive analytics? That’s a maybe.
A remote work culture will come to the fore for contact centre agents
David Ford believes that 2016 will see a rapidly increasing number of contact centres discussing or revisiting the benefits of remote agents. He notes: “The stereotypical image of a rows and rows of phones in a contact centre is quickly becoming a thing of the past. We are now seeing a new interest and adoption of the more flexible, homeworking model across contact centres of different sizes. More companies will allow agents to work from anywhere and at any time, giving contact centres the opportunity to flex up or down depending on.” This could be one to watch, but isn’t a certainty.
Customer journey designing will become bigger news
Customer journey mapping (CJM) has become an increasingly popular discipline as businesses strive to see and approach things from the customer’s point of view, and identify what customers are experiencing difficulties with. Furthermore, CJM enables brands to identify gaps and opportunities within their current offering. And Temkin believes that the coming 12 months will businesses increasingly escalate the influence of their customer journey mapping programmes. In his predictions, he says: “While many [CJM] efforts have been heavily focused on isolated mapping events, we expect to see companies use the lessons from CJM to drive more decisions and changes across their organisations.” Will 2016 be the tipping point for CJM’s influence? The jury is out on this one.
Trends that will probably wield influence further down the line
No more long queues for customers
A bit of an ambitious prediction for 2016, this one. In his defence, David Ford does make this forecast based on the premise that the technology is now there to make queues a thing of the past.
“Innovative software platforms now completely transform the queuing experience for customers, meaning that calling a contact centres should no longer be a frustration,” he says. “Contact centres can now take advantage of advanced call flows that meet business priorities while providing a more streamlined customer experience. Customers are now able to hold their place in the queue without waiting on the line, thanks to advances in call queue technology. In addition, customers can actually choose a time they’d like to be called back and can also be given ‘VIP status’ priority so they don’t have to wait in a queue at all. This typically results in call queues that are up to 65% shorter.”
So the technology is available. But will queues be consigned to the past? Very unlikely, unfortunately.
Consumers will stop taking surveys all together
Survey fatigue is certainly on the rise, and brands are reporting that it is a struggle to increase survey response rates. According to Susan Ganeshan, things will come to a head this year.
“In 2016, [efforts to increase response rates] may ultimately prove to be futile, as consumers will simply stop taking surveys entirely,” she writes. “Customers now live on their mobile devices and want to spend as little time as possible in front of their computers. Unless a survey is optimised for mobile and takes less than a few minutes to complete, consumers simply won’t participate.”
So is it indeed the death of surveys in 2016? I’m not quite convinced that the end is nigh.