What keeps customer service leaders up at night?
The answer, in most cases, is numbers. A central task of service leaders is owning specifics metrics about the health of the business and support operations. Numbers like CSAT and FCR come to dominate the equation.
In fact, a Gartner report from 2018 shows the top 3 priorities for customer service leaders:
These are all crucial aspects of the customer service equation, of course. But there is a major challenge when it comes to decision-making based on the numbers. This tends to mean that executives zoom in on these metrics and steer strategy with their eye on which knobs or levers make them move.
This means that the customer service strategy--as it were--becomes clouded by the lens of incremental improvement rather than the future of customer support operations.
Support leaders are often left just trying to make their numbers look better.
After all, as the adage goes: What gets measured gets managed.
In this case, if we assume that most CS and CX leaders measure these metrics like CSAT and FCR, that means they’re managing to those numbers, too.
This means that leaders are often stuck chasing the current trends and not looking to what’s on the horizon. They’re focused on the now--not on the future.
This can be dangerous for many reasons. However, the most important consideration is that we are in an era of rapidly evolving customer expectations. With the exponential growth in technology, customers are quickly adapting to improvements in the customer experience--and demanding better.
In the future, customer expectations will continue to evolve, especially as the Millennial generation continues to age. With Millennials being willing to pay as much as 21% more for great customer care, we should anticipate continued rising customer expectations.
While some of the expectations may follow suit with current trends--like less patience for slow response times and/or multiple support interactions--not all trends are as clear.
It’s fair to assume that improved technology and automation will lead customers to elevate their expectations for the entire experience, including:
Because of this, support leaders need the opportunity to think beyond just the metrics in front of them. They need to be thinking about investments in support technology and operations that will drive future performance.
While this thinking may not lead to an immediate uptick in service scores or faster response times next week, it will set the stage for a better customer experience in the future.
Making Strategic Investments in Support Technology
As with most business operations, decisions on budget and priority for support can be boiled down into two general questions:
The answer is, of course, a mix of both. No customer service operation can function at a high level without both short-term and long-term investments.
While it can be tempting to focus heavily on the short-term payoff of immediate investment and put off bigger, less defined, and riskier long-term projects, there must be a balance in the process and a strategy that defines that balance.
In order to build a world-class support operation, you should focus not on what customers want now, but what they will demand in the future.
The future of customer support technology depends on investing in emerging tech that will reshape the customer service operations. As the emerging trends begin to take hold, and customer expectations shift, companies who have lagged behind in investment will fall behind in customer experience.
Looking at these trends in customer experience, it seems there are some core technologies that will grow in importance and value:
Understand What Your Customer Expects, and Exceed their Expectations
Having a grasp of new technological trends in supporting your customers is certainly essential. After all, many consumers today expect the organizations they engage with to be forward thinking. New technology, however, is only one part of your gameplan.
To ensure your investments make sense to your organization, you must know the mindset of your customer. We’ve already noted the need to pay attention to what customers want in the months and years ahead, not necessarily what they need now.
What about the tools they'll use?
Let’s closely examine those four core technologies and better understand how they will be vital touchpoints in your customer support.
Real-time Monitoring to Identify Problems
One of the most interesting aspects of advancing technologies is not just the ability to solve problems, but also to identify issues before they become major concerns.
Your customer knows these tools exist.
Savvy consumers recognize the availability of platforms to allow companies to monitor their services and systems - from logistics to networks to interfacing - and immediately identify a breakdown in communication should one occur.
They also expect resolution of that breakdown as soon as possible.
An organization will rarely be brought to task if a problem arises as long as they can identify and resolve it in a reasonable amount of time. In fact, 66% of adults feel that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide a good online experience.
Without the right tools in place to do this, however, it can be costly, both in customer loyalty and revenue.
One simple way to simultaneously impress customers and solve problems is to use real-time tools such as co-browsing software, which allows you to share the screens of customers and directly interact with them in real-time. As the customer actually sees you working on their problem, it engenders trust between you and the customer.
Proactive Support Driven by AI and ML
Think back to the iPhone's initial release. Consumers certainly did not know at the time the need for such a device. Now though, it's a necessity ingrained in our day-to-day lives.
A similar outlook applies to AI, especially as it proliferates across multiple areas of customer support.
The more prevalent AI and ML become the more it will be expected of businesses to provide automated help. Consider the following two scenarios:
Scenario 1: You contact customer support via phone, email or text, or online chat and interact with a live person or automation that is only able to diagnose a problem. After that step, you are then transferred to another individual or automation (or completely different department) to start the process of actually solving your concern.
Scenario 2: You report your issue via the same communication methods, but this time you engage an AI chatbot that opens your case and provides you a diagnosis, then analyzes and resolves your question in a matter of minutes. This includes walking you through resolutions steps online or ordering a replacement part if necessary.
Certainly, there will be some growing pains - there always are - but people quickly adapt. If past complaints with the old-school method of troubleshooting are an indication, consumers will happily adjust to scenario two.
Self Service and Automated Support Options
Perhaps one of the most vital investments any company should consider is with the growing popularity of self-service and automated support.
The benefit for you and your customer is two-fold: It provides resources as well as freedom in the time applied to their cause. It also gives you the opportunity to reduce costs and improve overall service.
First, self-service allows the more enterprising of your clients to discover information and solutions about your products or services on their own. Think online knowledge bases, guides, and tutorials, FAQ, community forms, or even chatbots.
The advantage here is in letting your consumers engage with you on their time, at their pace, through their chosen format.
Beyond self-driven tools, automated options broaden your support offerings while also helping you reduce overhead and other service-based costs.
Including the AI and chatbot options we’ve already mentioned, automation improves your service response beyond what any human could achieve. This includes both the customer that simply wants to learn more and the customer that needs to solve an actual problem.
Automation support is also designed to anticipate and address concerns before they are concerns. For example, knowing the self-servicing tools a customer uses will identify questions they have or common issues they run up against.
You can use that data to tailor a service program specific to that user, which ultimately leads us to the final major area of support technology investment.
Delivering a Holistic Customer Experience
As we’ve seen, current and emerging service technologies are moving towards allowing the customer to dictate the business-client relationship they want.
It’s a huge change in thinking.
It’s increasingly possible to understand a client's history of interaction with your firm, including purchasing and communication history, customer preferences, and ultimately design a full satisfaction program around a specific customer.
This means the entire customer lifecycle - from initial marketing to final pitch to closing the sale to retention and yes, customer support - is driven by the customer via the tools the business provides.
The more robust and customer friendly these tools are, the greater the chance for retention and ongoing engagement.
Investing in Your Company’s Future Means Investing in Your Customers
Customer service is not just about the implementation of new technical tools and procedures. Investing in the future of customer service also means investing in the future of customer experience management and the workflows that will make for efficient processes for your support team.
That means investing less in people and processes that deal with support issues after they’ve occurred. It means shifting the frontline of support from a reactive team to a proactive one that focuses on fixing problems before they’re a problem.
This is a fundamental shift -- potentially fewer customer support touchpoints while delivering a superior customer experience. But, if the trends hold, this is the future we’re heading for.
The question is: Are your support operations prepared?
Will you have the technology and the team in place to embrace and deploy emerging tech?
Or will you scramble to keep up while customer expectations continue to evolve?
Investing in support technology should always be about the customer and their needs. But it should also be about their needs both in the present and in the future.