Customer service standards are on the rise, with the Institute of Customer Service reporting that customer satisfaction improved in most sectors of the economy last year. This is great news, as research by ava has demonstrated by over half of Brits would happily pay a premium if they received better customer service.
The challenge, however, is that if service standards are on the rise across the board, organisations need to drive up their performance significantly if they are to differentiate themselves from the competition.
For this reason, service leaders need to quickly identify the opportunities for improvement that will present themselves in the coming 12 months. And we’ve spoken with some leading experts to help you with this.
So…..what do you need to know?
Chatbots will become even more prevalent
2016 was a breakout year for chatbots, with companies including Bank of America, Domino’s and Mastercard all announcing chatbots to improve customer experience.
In 2017, we can expect chatbots to be rolled out by an ever-larger number of organisations, and to be applied to a broader range of activities.
Silvio Kutic, CEO at Infobip, predicts: “The wide-ranging applications of this technology will be pushed even further and will be used for new customer support, customer engagement and ecommerce purposes.”
Kutic also believes that the evolutionary path of chatbots is set to align it with the development of omnichannel.
He explains: “Over the next 12 months chatbots will become intrinsically linked to the development of omnichannel. There’s going to be much more demand for automated and platform agnostic chatbots, designed to offer a uniform experience to users instead of forcing them to use one specific channel to access this technology.
“Different kinds of bots and bot logic will be developing rapidly in 2017, driven by the advances in machine learning and natural language processing. A program (bot) that’s can learn from sets of data and orchestrate responses and processes accordingly has huge potential to improve customer communication, satisfaction and engagement.
“This is no longer in the distant future. It’s happening already and can only accelerate in 2017.”
….but be careful not to bite off more than you can chew!
However, some experts are forecasting that the rush to roll out chatbots will see some service programmes come a cropper in 2017. In fact, Forrester Research predicts that most chatbot deployments will be misguided and will actually make service worse, highlighting the example of Google’s Allo, which drew derision from users for its ham-fisted “help”.
Forrester believes that the chatbots that succeed in the coming 12 months will be those that have a narrow remit, such as asking questions, rather than presenting a form. It points to vendors such as Nuance, Aspect, and T3 that are testing narrow applications, and deployments by the likes of USAA, Staples, and Radisson Blue.
However, there are concerns that most deployments are likely to tackle too broad a domain and, as Forrester notes, unlike Google they won’t have enough users to learn rapidly from their mistakes.
Susan Ganeshan, CMO of Clarabridge, warns: “Bots will continue to flood the news, but in 2017, the bots that try to take on too much will fail and those that target a specific and simple task will be hugely successful. As brands experiment with chatbots in the new year, they should tread carefully –– this technology is still in development, and if bots frustrate customers and complicate the customer journey, they will do more harm than good.”
Other intelligent technologies will become significant
Chatbots may be the posterchild of intelligent technology at the moment, but there are other smart tools that could also prove significant for the service world in 2017.
AI and predictive intelligence tools in the contact centre, for instance, enable agents to better understand the customer and their needs on more complex inquiries, and deliver a more personalised experience. Research findings in Salesforce's Second Annual State of Service report reveal that 77% of top-performing service teams leverage AI.
Dr Nicola Millard, head of customer insight and futurology at BT, says: “Chatbots are still relatively unsophisticated, but are looking to take their place as "IVR for digital" as they navigate people through the "known knowns" and seamlessly route customers to the appropriate human agent according to their skill set, if queries are more complex or emotive.
“Although chatbots have garnered most of the hype this year, I think the employment of slightly less visible smart technologies are going to become more mainstream next year - from automation of back-end processes employing robotic process automation to using "people like me like..." analytics on the website or app (as Amazon, Google and Netflix have been doing for years). “
Messaging apps will also proliferate – and become proprietary
As messaging apps surpassed social networks in terms of monthly active users, so a growing number of brands explored the opportunities they presented as a service tool.
KLM, for instance, used chat bots through Facebook Messenger to allow passengers to receive updates such as booking confirmations, travel itineraries and scheduling changes, while retail brands such as Everlane and Sephora have provided service assistance through Facebook Messenger and Kik.
And we can expect bolder moves from instant messaging apps as the application-to-person (A2P) messaging space gathers pace.
“It’s a shift that began in 2016 and will continue throughout the next 12 months,” predicts Kutic. “Internet brands have dominated consumer messaging with the likes of WhatsApp, Line, and Viber, all focused on person-to-person (P2P) communication. The next step will be to open their APIs to enterprises.”
However, the transition won’t be without its growing pains.
“Many brands like the idea of having a popular messaging app as part of the business communications suite. They feel it will add vibrancy to customer engagement. But will it work as a standalone tool?” continues Kutic.“It will be interesting to see what kind of services will be developed and how the internet brands and their enterprise customers collaborate to deliver those services.”
Indeed, Matt Gillin, CEO of Relay Network, believes that by the end of the year, brands will be hesitant to invest in third-party messaging platforms due to their inherent limitations, and this will lead to a rise in proprietary platforms, that can be tailor-made to companies’ requirements.
“2017 is when businesses will get smarter about the use of this technology: they will hesitate to use them on third-party properties like Facebook, instead, applying them on their own websites and private channels, as appropriate,” he predicts. “This will be driven by a desire to secure customer data, especially in regulated industries like banking and healthcare, and prevent the Facebooks of the world from profiting from it.”
Visual IVR will gain traction
Interactive voice response (IVR) has been a stalwart of the service landscape. But it has fallen out of favour with customers in recent years, as alternative channels have emerged.
However, with a mobile-first mindset prevailing, the stage is set for the next generation of IVR – visual IVR. Boasting many of the biggest benefits of traditional IVR, such as its 24-hour availability, low cost and ability to handle high call volumes, visual IVR provides an interface menu on smartphone or computer, so that users can quickly scan the screen to navigate their way through calls.
This approach not only improves selection accuracy, but also lowers average handling times / call duration because it is quicker to navigate than waiting for audio prompts.
“I'm a big fan of visual IVR,” says Martin Hill-Wilson, founder of Brainfood Consulting. “It's being tested by many large B2C brands in the UK right now so expect it is to rise to consciousness in 2017. It's another crucial framework for mobile-first service engagement as is intelligent assistance which can be used to similar effect as a concierge to organise an organisation's service assets that customers can easily access and consume.”
More proactive and personal service will be important
Personalisation has been a powerful trend for some time, enabled by the rising volumes of data that can be captured about customer preferences and behaviours. Certainly those organisations that use this data to provide a better experience will have a strong competitive advantage, but with customers increasingly sensitive to privacy, and new regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on the horizon, companies will have to work harder in 2017 to demonstrate why customers should share their data with them in the first place, and how it will ultimately help to improve the service they receive.
“As we enter the realm of the internet of things, clouds of clouds and even bigger data, there is potential to personalise the customer relationship even more deeply. However, for customers to share their data in the first place, there needs to be something in it for them - they want better, faster service or special treatment,” says Dr Millard.
“It has to be win-win for the business and the customer. There is a possibility of this technology getting ‘creepy’ and many grey areas in terms of trust and regulation, however the ability for organisations to become more proactive and predictive with customers is opened up – and it’s already a significant trend in retail.”
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 20 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined MyCustomer in 2007.