The Contact Center in 2018: Helping Customers Help Themselves

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In 2003, 48 percent of consumers felt confident that they’d be able to find what they need via self-service, research from TSIA found. Now, 15 years later, little has changed. As we open a new calendar, only 49 percent of consumers expect to be able to successfully self-serve.

This suggests that there is still plenty of room for improvement, but it would also appear that both companies and their customers are taking notice. Experts agree that one of the biggest customer service trends to emerge in 2018 will be improvement in the tools that enable customers to serve themselves.

The time is right, according to John Ragsdale, vice president of technology and social research at TSIA. While several companies have already invested heavily in self-service, clearly many have not done enough, he says.

Going forward, expect business software vendors to speed up the development and distribution of tools that will allow customers to retrieve information on their own, and also expect companies to increase their adoption of these technologies, predicts Paul Greenberg, founder and managing principal of CRM consultancy the 56 Group.

For customers with complex customer service issues or questions, “the ability to get the problem solved without a human agent will be increasingly available,” Greenberg says.

That’s because a growing pool of software vendors providing what he calls “insight engines” are stepping up to help companies take data from millions of sources and create an “ecosystem of record.”

This trend comes in stark contrast to what has been typical in contact centers. As new channels for customer contact—such as messaging platforms, chatbots, and voice interfaces—have been introduced on top of long-standing ones like email and the phone, companies have added to their agent pools, either with in-house personnel or outsourcing, observes Kate Leggett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research

“You can’t do that forever,” she says.

While this will not take shape within the next year, in the long term, Leggett predicts, companies are going to have to leverage artificial intelligence and so-called pragmatic AI, such as applications that employ machine learning, “to fundamentally reimagine customer service operations.”

Companies would be wise to begin trying to minimize agent contacts for simple, straightforward requests—including password resets, account balance inquiries, or adding to streaming service plans—with automation, she says.

But as more of these simpler requests move to self-service, contact centers can expect to encounter more complex interactions, and companies will need skilled agents on staff to handle them. “You may have to manage them differently,” Leggett says. “For example, you’re not going to manage them by productivity and efficiency metrics. You’re going to be managing them perhaps [using] customer feedback or outcome-based metrics of success.”

EMBEDDING SUPPORT INTO B2B APPS

Ragsdale anticipates that companies will increasingly build customer support options directly into their mobile apps and desktop software. “Traditionally, we’ve had field-level help; you could click a question mark and get a description in a field.” The problem with that has been that companies have tended to rename and customize fields, making them harder to manage.

Chatbots and other tools that help consumers navigate company knowledge bases and social communities are becoming important to customer success, “which is all about boosting adoption and consumption and [keeping] people in the app working,” Ragsdale says.

Adobe has really embraced this concept, according to Ragsdale. The company has embedded LogMeIn’s BoldChat product with click-to-chat and screen-sharing capabilities. “It’s really a great customer experience, and it’s keeping [customers] working and productive and boosting adoption and consumption,” Ragsdale says.

Many B2B companies are still resistant to chat, but shouldn’t be, Ragsdale says. One common argument against implementing chat is that customers haven’t been demanding it, just as they aren’t demanding mobile applications. That is about to change.

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