I first noticed the creeping changes a few years ago. In college I majored in comparative literature and averaged about five novels read per week. Even when I entered the hustle and bustle overdrive of the working world, I still rapidly pounded through stacks of books every month. Over the past few years, while I still read more than the average American, the act of actually finishing a book became something of a notable achievement. My brain was more easily distracted, my ability to focus on and engage with complex information diminished, and my capacity to multitask as required by a modern work environment was seemingly illusory.
Of course, I wasn’t alone in experiencing these changes. This distracted mental state has become a common problem among knowledge workers and heavy users of Internet and mobile technologies. Excellent books such as Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains detailed the changes we are all undergoing and described much of the neuropsychological research that seeks to explain the mental modifications that have left us in such a state. At heart, the research shows that our tools have begun to shape our brains just as much as we fashion our tools--and not always for the better.
Such mental modifications would seem to pose some significant and idiosyncratic problems for customer service organizations. Indeed, a new generation of contact center agents has begun to vex application development and delivery professionals. The new agents seem reluctant to learn detailed product and service information that previous cohorts of agents had little problem with. These new agents prefer to learn where to find such information, but have little intention of actually memorizing product support details.
As 2014 winds down, I have taken the time to pause, and look ahead to what top customer service trends are surfacing for 2015 and beyond. Good service — whether it's to answer a customer's question prior to purchase, or help a customer resolve an issue post-purchase should be pain-free, proactive at a minimum and preemptive at best, deeply personalized, and delivered with maximum productivity. Here are 6 top trends - out of a total of 10 - that I am keeping my eye on. My full report highlighting all trends can be found here:
Trend 1: Customers Embrace Emerging Channels To Reduce Friction. In our recent survey, we found that web self-service was the most widely used communication channel for customer service, surpassing use of the voice channel for the first time. In 2015, we predict that customers will continue to demand effortless interactions over web and mobile self-service channels. They will also explore new communication channels such as video chat with screen sharing and annotation.
Trend 2: Companies Will Explore Proactive Engagement. Proactive engagements anticipate the what, when, where, and how for customers, and prioritize information and functionality to speed customer time-to-completion. In 2015, we expect organizations to explore proactive engagement - whether it's proactive chat, proactive offers, or proactive content - delivered at the right time in a customer's pre-purchase journey to help answer customer questions. They will use learnings from these proactive engagements to improve operational performance and to predict future customer behavior.
Chat as a customer engagement channel is being used more widely today than ever before. All demographics use it widely, even the Older Boomers (ages 57 to 67) and the Golden Generation (ages 68+). Users are satisfied with chat interactions as they can be less painful than a phone call or a self-service session gone awry. Proactive chat — triggering of chat invitations based on a predefined set of visitor behaviors - is also on the rise, with 44% of US online consumers saying that they like having a chat invitation appear to help answer questions during an online research or purchase, up from 33% in 2012 and 27% in 2009.
While analyzing the survey results for my recent report on the state of customer experience management in India, I noticed a fundamental flaw in the way that Indian organizations approach reporting structures for their customer experience (CX) teams. About a fifth of the organizations we surveyed rely on their customer service department to lead the charge for CX initiatives.
This is detrimental to the growth of CX, as there are basic differences between the scope of work and the skill sets of the two teams. Specifically, customer service teams have limited capabilities and exposure across:
People. While both CX and customer service teams work toward enhancing the experience across the customer life cycle, the customer service team has a somewhat myopic view of customer engagement, focusing predominantly on handling client complaints and resolving queries.
Processes. Forrester defines customer experience as how customers perceive their interactions with a company. The contribution of customer service teams to this process is limited to supporting customer tasks in a few phases of the journey.
Tools. Customer service professionals are responsible for the experience delivered via multiple touchpoints, such as IVR systems, contact centers, and social media. However, other equally important customer interfaces, such as mobile applications, digital kiosks, and eCommerce platforms, fall outside their purview.
Right before school started last year I bought my son a new Dell laptop, a Windows 8 machine with a touchscreen. He loves it.
Fast forward to a month ago when our family rented a vacation house. My son brought his laptop along so he could play DVDs on it – online gaming was right out because we had purposefully rented a house with no Internet connection so we could unplug from work.
The first time my son tried to log on he found that Windows did not want to accept his password because he was not online. I’m going to skip the lengthy explanation of why this is not supposed to happen, why it happened anyway, all the things we tried to do to fix the problem ourselves, etc. (Maybe they’ll end up in a different post – who knows?)
Suffice it to say that since the laptop was still under warranty, and the problem seemed simple enough, I decide to call Dell. I assumed they’d encountered this situation a million times and could tell me a fix in their sleep. Well, I was wrong. After talking to five different people (could have been four, could have been six, I lost count after a while) I realized that I had made a mistake and hung up on the hold music.
Since I hate to let an interesting customer experience go to waste, though, I’d like to offer some hopefully helpful advice to the Dell customer service people – because, in fact, we do like that machine we bought from them and would love them to be around for our next laptop purchase. With that in mind, here are my top suggestions for the people who tried to help me as well as anyone else who runs a customer service operation.
I come to Forrester after working in the Solution Marketing and Corporate Marketing groups at a large customer service software provider. That role put me in touch with contact center technology buyers and the overburdened folks responsible for actually making great customer service happen every day. I saw close up the impact of the age of the customer on the thinking, processes, behavior, and technology choices of contact center professionals around the world. They are facing a world in which consumers are much less willing to settle for mediocre and impersonal experiences when dealing with customer service organizations. As consumers we all want effortless service delivered via whatever channel is most convenient at the moment, and we want companies to know just the right amount of information about us, but not too much, at the moment of the interaction.
That is a very tough nut to crack for contact center managers, supervisors, and agents. My research coverage will primarily focus on two areas that can help contact center pros begin to address these issues:
In the Age Of The Customer, executives don’t decide how customer-centric their companies are – customers. In an attempt to move the needle on customer service operations, in order to keep customers satisfied and loyal to your brand, these are the top trends that you should be paying attention to. You can get my full report here.
DELIVER PAIN FREE CUSTOMER SERVICE
Trend 1: Customers Demand Omnichannel Service
Customers want to use a breadth of communication channels for customer service. Across all demographics, voice is still the primary communication channel used, but is quickly followed by self-service channels, chat and email. In addition, channel usage rates are quickly changing. Customers want consistent service experiences across these channels. They also expect to be able to start an interaction in one channel and complete it in another. In 2014 and beyond, customer service professionals will work on better understanding the channel preference of their customer base, and guiding customers to the right channel based on their on the complexity and time-sensitivity of their inquiry.
Trend 2: Customer Service Will Adopt a Mobile-First Mindset
Today's news of Verint'sintent to acquire KANA ushers a new wave of consolidation in the greater customer service space. Today’s customer service technology ecosystem is complex and comprised of a great number of vendors that provide overlapping and competing capabilities. I’ve previously blogged about what these critical software components are. In a nutshell, the core capabilities needed for customer service include:
Routing and queuing: providing the ability to route and queue an inquiry – whether voice, digital (ex. email, chat), or social to an agent or a group of agents
Agent desktop/case management: Allowing cases to be created, workflowed, and resolved.
Workforce management and optimization: Allowing agent interactions with customers to be monitored for quality; allowing agent scheduling, forecasting, performance management, coaching, learning etc.
I can’t tell you how excited I am about how the London event is shaping up.
On second thought, I can tell you. Read on!
This year’s theme is “Boost Your Customer Experience To The Next Level.” What’s that about? Well, we know from our research that companies are at wildly varying levels of customer experience maturity, ranging from not having gotten started yet to pulling even further ahead of competitors through CX differentiation. That’s why we’ve tailored this event to show attendees the one sure path to CX maturity and provide detailed guidance on how to advance along that path.
Good customer service is the result of the right attention to strategy, business processes, technology, and people management. This seven-post series focuses on customer service technology and explains the what, why, how, and when technology questions.
Part 1 reviewed the customer service technology ecosystem.
Part 2reviewed the challenges caused by the complexity of this technology ecosystem.
Part 3 reviewed the tactical outcomes of poor customer service.
Part 4focused on the ways that the customer service technology ecosystem is changing.
Let’s now focus on the how we categorize customer service technologies by their maturity and business value delivered.