2018 in customer service: Stagnating satisfaction and blended AI

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What have customer service leaders been focused on over the last 12 months?

Throughout 2018 we’ve witnessed some major trends come to the fore in customer service. We asked a number of experts from a wide range of CS backgrounds to give us their take on what they deemed most pertinent this year.

1. Stagnating satisfaction
Jo Causon, CEO, Institute of Customer Service     

The trend we’ve seen over the course of 2018, through our UKCSI research, is that unfortunately, customer service levels in the UK have – in general – been flatlining or have been in decline.

Despite the increase in focus in many organisations, customer effort continues to be a key driver in this overall decline. Too many customers are having to jump through too many hoops when it comes to getting a customer service query resolved, with little movement in terms of key measures.  

It’s not all bad news, however. In certain sectors, such as banking, we’ve witnessed the highest ever level of satisfaction score. Banks are seemingly heeding the call to make customer service more of a fundamental requirement and customers are responding to that. The issue for most businesses continues to be how they provide meaningful experiences – which we know customers are increasingly demanding of over product and price – versus the ongoing drive for cost efficiency and balancing the books.  

2. CX vs cost
Justin Haines, customer services director at Ovo Energy and ECCCSAs judge

Everybody has efficiency and cost challenges but they also want to do the right thing for their customers, so contact centres have spent the year trying to work out how to strike that balance between the bottom line and the customer experience.

Everybody wants to delight customers but everybody’s got targets to hit still; we all recognise that challenge and we’re all familiar with it, but across the finalists at this year’s European Contact Centre and Customer Service Awards in all of the categories I judged, that balance was at the heart of most contact centres’ plans.

Contact centres have spent the year trying to work out how to strike that balance between the bottom line and the customer experience.

3. Disillusioned demographic
Nancy Dobrozdravic, vice president of marketing, Aspect

Young Millennial and Gen Z customer service agents (18-25) could be the largest customer service agent demographic in the next several years, but they are also becoming the least happy and most likely to leave their jobs.

The 2nd annual Aspect Agent Experience Index survey showed 45% of this demographic’s service agents had left service jobs in 2018, in the US.

Driving this restlessness are a number of gaps which exist between the factors all agents say are vital to their engagement, and the availability of those factors in agents’ contact centres: 

  • 83% of agents believe having the ability to move up in the organisation is important to their engagement, however only 58% say it is provided by their current employer
  • 91% say feeling like a valued part of a team is important but only 58% say they work in a customer service environment where this is present
  • 80% say having up-to-date customer service software is critical to their engagement but only 35% of agents say this is currently available to them
  • 93% of agents say it’s important to be working in an environment where they feel respected, the highest ranked of the 14 factors

 While employment loyalty in younger agents is the most precarious of all demographics, customer service organisations can reduce employee attrition across cohorts by closing the gaps between agents’ workplace expectations and the contact centre’s ability to deliver on those fronts.

4. Artificial Intelligence
Beena Nair, retail customer engagement consultant, Capgemini

The advances in tech such as AI and chatbots have been diminishing the lines of communication between a human and a machine. These advances are increasing in complexity and improving in function from programmatic rule-based algorithms to machine learning to cognitive natural language processing e.g. sensing emotions of anger, frustration etc.

AI is no longer an option but steadily becoming a necessity for any large-scale operation, where mundane task-based routines can be performed by bots offering consistent levels of accuracy and precision devoid of misgivings related to human error and fatigue. While this may be relevant to services that render pre-ordained content, it’s quite a different thing to apply the same in scenarios that require interpreting context and deciding a well-trained personalised response.

Customer service is an area that is already being serviced by bots, learning to detect human emotions when interacting with humans and pass them over to another human service agent as soon as they detect the need for a human intervention, who can then take over and complete the interaction.

5. Agile approaches
Michael Sherwood, head of customer experience at Atom Bank and ECCCSAs judge

Agile methodologies have come to the fore again this year – everybody is trying to transform their contact centres, in a bid to be better, faster, more efficient. There’s a technical drive behind this, but there’s also some operations-based change programmes we’ve seen adopting agile principles: for instance there has been collaborative working through cross-functional teams that have a shared objective with a timescale to achieve, and lots of ‘requirement light’ projects with people just getting on with actually activating their change programmes - which is refreshing.

Everybody is trying to transform their contact centres, in a bid to be better, faster, more efficient.   

6. Messaging and chat
Julien Rio, head of marketing at Dimelo by RingCentral

With over 5 billion people actively using messaging apps every month, it’s evident that more customers wish to connect with businesses using the same platforms in which they connect with friends and family on a daily basis. 67% of people expect the option to get in touch with companies with chat messaging, when they have questions or complaints.

With this in mind, many brands realised they needed to incorporate messaging channels into their existing customer care tools in 2018, so they could adapt and match to changing consumer behaviour, and ultimately deliver more effective customer experiences.

In the last 12 months we saw the launch of Apple Business Chat, that allows users to benefit from a personalised customer service via the Apple Messaging app. This latest development from Apple has further validated messaging platform strategies as an indispensable new way for customers and brands to interact.

 

About Chris Ward

Chris Ward

Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.

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09th Jan 2019 12:57

I share Julien's point of view.
Great article, thanks

Thanks (1)
16th Jan 2019 05:24

Things might be getting hard in the market, but that doesn't mean that we're all going to close shop and put things into storage! We have to have tenacity, to find a solution that will help us evolve and change with the times so that we can continue to survive! Especially if our product has merit, we should not be discouraged!

Thanks (1)
to EdwardThirlwall
17th Jan 2019 09:00

Definitely the kind of positive determination that will be required this year Edward! Thanks.

Thanks (0)
29th Jan 2019 01:54

There is just so much that we can control when it comes to making sure CX goes our way. When the issue of the Gen-Z and millenials becoming future employees of almost every industry moving forward, it really isn't something that we can simply push aside. There really isn't any ready solution for this implication unless we rely solely on our current employee pool without hiring new staff.

Thanks (1)