What can customer service leaders expect to see define their 2018?
Whilst 2017 saw many brands grapple with the balance of their human and digital channels, this year is likely to be dictated by the delicate topic of consumer trust.
Here are some harrowing stats. In the first half of 2017, the number of cyberattacks across the globe spiked 164% compared with the same period in 2016. In total this entailed 918 [disclosed] major data breaches, resulting in nearly two billion compromised customer records. These numbers continue to rise.
The upshot is that Edelman’s 2017 global Trust Barometer saw its biggest decline in consumer trust since the study’s inception, citing ‘an implosion of trust’ as a result of the ongoing issue with cyber hacks. The response has been a combination of regulation and new technology, both of which are set to have a major bearing on how customer service and contact centres function this year.
“The likes of GDPR, PSD2, PCI-DSS are all creating security and compliance obligations on organisations to protect and respect data and the transactions that they have with consumers,” says Mike Havard, customer management, channels and technology leader for Ember Services.
“And this is in the context of consumers being increasingly laissez-faire with their data and identities, in particular the younger demographics who seem to have a frightening disregard for their vulnerability and data risks online. At the same time we see cyber threats, scams, hacking and fraud on the rise.”
The pressure on contact centres, in particular, is immense, both in terms of dealing with the fallout of hacks and mitigating the fraudulent acts themselves. Robert Weideman, executive vice president at Nuance, expects biometric security to become an even more prevalent component of customer service this year, as a result.
“These breaches give fraudsters access to our identities including the answers to those annoying security questions. One thing the fraudsters can’t do much with? Voice data. And that is why banks and telcos are increasingly replacing security questions with biometrics.
“With a few words of speech, voice biometrics can confirm you are who you say you are at accuracy and security levels better than pins, passwords and security questions. And it knows how to detect recordings from real, live speech – rendering the data useless to fraudsters in the case of a breach.”
Despite this, last year a BBC investigation claimed there were major vulnerabilities with the technology, after an account holder’s non-identical twin was able to access his brother’s account via the telephone after mimicking his voice. Trust in the technology, as always, will depend entirely on its infallibility.
New technology, new regulation and new protocol means many customer service leaders are set to be consumed with staff training in 2018.
“Leaders have to keep their agents educated,” states Weideman.
“Probably the easiest way for a criminal to breach security through a call centre is by tricking an employee. This isn’t necessarily your employee’s fault, though...agents are usually being taught to be helpful and to find a resolution for the customer as quickly as possible. You must train your employees with a comprehensive security program, making sure they understand all the guidelines, and how to spot suspicious activity.”
However, a wider issue that has long consumed customer service departments and contact centres is staff turnover, something the Institute of Customer Service’s CEO, Jo Causon believes must be rectified in order to maintain the required skillsets for dealing with security and trust concerns.
“Smart companies will invest in their people as it is becoming increasingly clear that the customer experience cannot simply be turned on, but needs to be nurtured and developed.
“In an increasingly competitive environment it is true that how we deploy technology – specifically artificial intelligence and robotics – will undoubtedly change the structure of the workforce in the future, but genuine customer experience skills will be required, I believe, in greater numbers this year; moving away from transactional roles and into customer service roles, requiring empathy and human interaction.
“Our research shows that employee engagement is central to this and that companies with higher customer satisfaction have achieved greater revenue per employee and human capital value added. We are seeing the growing importance of the link between trust, customer satisfaction and employee engagement productivity – all essential elements of sustainable performance, with a greater focus on agility, collaborative working and internal customer service.”
Smart companies will invest in their people as it is becoming increasingly clear that the customer experience cannot simply be turned on
The concern for many customer service leaders will continue being how to balance any given employee’s talents in order to ensure they stay motivated.
“Finding people with the right skillsets is getting more and more complex and challenging,” says Jeremy Payne, group VP of marketing at Enghouse. “The old ‘bricks and mortar’ contact centre – where agents typically just dealt with inbound telephone calls – is increasingly a thing of the past.
“Today, organisations need a diversity of capabilities in place and that typically means a wide range of different employees. The skillset that you need to deal with a tweet for example, is very different from the skillset you need to deal with an inbound phone call. The skillset required to engage through a chat window may be quite unlike the skillset required to deal with an email.
“On difficult interactions, organisations may need to draw on the skills of people who can effectively troubleshoot, for example, and get jobs done; people skilled in negotiation and individuals with deep technical expertise and agents with the social media knowledge to crowdsource answers. This need within contact centres for a complex blend of skills and capabilities is evolving all the time and will continue to do so throughout 2018 and beyond.”
Despite the greater requirements of the human skillset, digital preferences loom large. BT’s recent digital customer research found, overwhelmingly, that 73% of consumers liked the control that digital self-service tools gave them.
Crucially, according to a 2017 Nice Systems study, consumers trust self-service options with their personal information.
Finding people with the right skillsets is getting more and more complex and challenging
“Customers expect the companies they do business with to provide support in a way that is easy and convenient,” says customer service guru, Shep Hyken, on Forbes.com. “Numerous studies show that customers go to the company’s website first, not to look for a phone number to call, but for an answer to their problem or question.
“Video has become a powerful way to answer frequently asked questions. By the way, how-to type videos not only offer answers to questions but also showcase how to properly use a company’s products. This video-based support doubles as a marketing technique.”
Yet self-service options remain far from flawless. 60% of consumers who opted for self-service options for a support query with a brand, only 20% succeeded in resolving their issue, whilst 80% subsequently contacted a call centre.
As with 2017, the brands consumers see as offering the best customer service are likely to be those that are able to best maintain the human-digital balance. The difference is that in 2018, they may also be deemed the most trustworthy too.