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Predicting the next big thing can be daunting but the rapid transformations already happening at enterprise call centers are undeniable. The call center space is a significant, growing opportunity, and a powerful tool, which can — for better or worse — transform the success of a brand in today’s digital world where customers expect responses 24x7x365.
Successful brands are taking advantage of the opportunity to shape customer experiences by investing in the new technologies and upskilling their human agents. From understanding hurdles such as agent turnover, the decline in voice support usage and the need for always-on service, savvy brands recognize that call centers are the key to delivering satisfaction.
The current customer service industry landscape
The call center industry is under-performing while it struggles to evolve, still relying on aging analog systems and IVRs in an increasingly digital world. Existing customer service automation solutions have significantly reduced company costs, they have not contributed to higher customer satisfaction. Increasingly, customers are only choosing voice support if self-service options have failed them. This results in the call center agent’s role shifting from customer service to customer retention.
Job dissatisfaction among agents propagates a high turnover rate in customer care centers. It is estimated that the overall turnover rate for the call center industry is between 30 – 45%, and each individual turnover can cost a company upwards of $6,440.
Not only does the increased turn-over rate inflate labor costs — recruitment can be costly and agents need to be trained from scratch — it impacts the consistency of the service itself. Brands need to identify and prioritize action items to achieve an ideal customer experience, consistently, across an ever-broadening number of channels and touchpoints.
Facing technological disruption
Customer care is in the midst of mass disruption. Technologies are advancing at record speed, driving customer expectations higher than ever. Accustomed to having everything inter-connected, 24×7, with one swipe, today’s consumers seem to be evolving faster than the customer care provided by brands.
AI and cognitive technologies — notably, chatbot technologies — are dominating the conversation as one of the more interesting disruptors at play. While the technical proficiency required to escalate from channel-to-channel or bot to live agent was once a luxury, today’s customers demand nothing less.
And yet only 36% of contact centers are currently able to track a customer journey that spans multiple channels, and a mere 17% can locate problem hot spots that negatively impact the customer experience. This is a major concern for most call centers, as customer churn rapidly increases.
Looking to the more imminent future, it has been predicted that as contact center leaders begin to catch on to the importance of user-friendly online customer experiences, digital channel planning is set to increase over the next year as follows:
– Web chat: 44.3% to 81.1%
– Mobile apps: 41.6% to 75.45%
– Social media: 51.4% to 76.1%
With that in mind, lets take a look at the top 7 trends we expect to see at enterprise call centers in 2018:
1. Go bots or go home
Chatbots, some of which have become iconic for their brands, are now part of the cultural narrative and are becoming even more sophisticated. It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t had an interaction with a chatbot or Virtual Assistant, able to facilitate simple communication and respond to straight forward queries.
As chatbots and virtual assistants get more sophisticated, they will be able to respond with increasing empathy and personalization, seamlessly tracking the customer journey. Whether voice or text activated, bots will be able to help users find products and answers 24×7, on any device or channel faster than ever before. In fact, people under 55 years of age already rate messaging as a top choice for customer service.
For example, at software company Autodesk, AVA (or Autodesk Virtual Agent) has been a cutting-edge game changer. With the cognitive ability to not only respond to questions posed in natural, everyday language, but also answer questions as fast as the customer can feasibly type, AVA is redefining customer service. AVA is also available 24×7, making it accessible to everyone anytime and especially appealing to younger consumers. In less than one year, AVA has already reduced resolution times by 99%while increasing customer satisfaction by 10 points!
The successful implementation of bots into the workforce is a classic example of the mantra, “working smarter not harder”; it saves time and money. Expect research to continue to push bot technology further because, as Forbes relates, “when a machine can create a positive experience for the customer, everyone wins.”
2. Conversational commerce generates new revenue
At the intersection of messaging apps and shopping, “Conversational Commerce”refers to the act of placing purchase orders through online and mobile conversations.
This channel is often used for predictive marketing and functions through the use of AI-powered chatbots that are able to interact directly with the customer. These bots read messages, study purchasing behavior and browsing history and reply to customer queries. While the customer receives one-on-one attention, the chatbot is able to glean insights into the customer’s purchasing habits. While it’s a great way to generate additional revenue, the strength of Conversation Commerce is in the brand’s ability to retain and dissect the relevant data.
Messaging apps, as Forrester points out, have become mainstream: upwards of one in seven people, worldwide use Whatsapp at least once a month. As a result, customer service professionals are already exploring ways to use these accessible tools to assist businesses in industries ranging from telecom to railways, and everything in between (Source: Forrester: Plan Now for Customer Service in 2021).
3. The growth of advanced data analytics
Advanced data analytics tools can help businesses uncover business-critical insights and gain a competitive edge. A sophisticated data analytics tool is able to make predictions, or generate recommendations based on information gathered, giving call center agents and bots more background and context on each individual customer they are servicing.
By highlighting user demographics and preferences, advanced data analytics can help brands to reach their target users by narrowing in on relevant information— everything from geography, history and public interests across all interactions with businesses, including customer service.
Investment in Advanced Data Analytics is a precursor to customer satisfaction and will be big talk for 2018. The current economic climate is driven by data, so it makes sense that more and more brands are developing long-term strategies to manage and analyze relevant consumer data.
4. The need for intelligent call routing
Routing customer service calls based on a customer’s history and individual needs can help brands seamlessly provide the personalized customer care that today’s consumers demand. In 2016, The Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report outlined that 42% of all customer interactions had become digital. Each digital interaction, however small, leaves behind a trail of data which speaks to the individual consumer’s needs, demographic and purchasing behavior. When processed and routed appropriately, this data can in turn be taken and adapted into revenue.
Forrester suggests that advanced data and analytics will be able to successfully route customers to agents (or bots) based on data collected which outlines previous purchases and online behaviors. Preempting a customer’s needs has never been easier, but it is not enough to simply collect the data — 2018 will see extensive effort driven into managing data and effectively routing information to save money and strengthen customer loyalty.
5. The expansion of enhanced 24×7 self-service
Self-sufficiency is a trend among consumers, with the ever-growing younger generation ignoring traditional customer service channels in favor of do-it-yourself systems. By 2020, the phone will be used only as a back-up when all self-service channels fail.
The younger generation of consumers having grown up with the internet and the world a click away, are much more likely to navigate through FAQ and web forums for answers to their questions before picking up the phone. The ideal customer care for this demographic is essentially enhanced self-service. Expect the subsequent generations to crave the same always-on access to service. Beyond customer satisfaction, self-service reduces company spending, often drastically, making it a space to watch in 2018.
6. Teamwork through “Hybrid AI”
Although AI has advanced dramatically, it is not as complex as the consumer. There is still a margin for error, confusion and, therefore, customer dissatisfaction in a purely bot-managed customer care channel.
This is where Hybrid AI comes into play. A growing trend at call centers, “Hybrid AI” also known as “Agent-Assist,” allows a bot to glean information from the customer and then seamlessly escalate the issue to a live agent. Until bots are able to be as empathetic as humans, they will not be able to offer the conflict resolution which will fully satisfy customers. And, while bots excel at retrieving information and even answering frequently-asked, simple Tier 1 support questions, they may not always have the answer to complex and situation-specific queries.
The most exciting recent development in this area is the partnership between LivePerson’s LiveEngage messaging platform and IBM Watson. Customers receive customer service via the channel of their choice 24×7 — instantly improving customer experience. Brands are able to customize bots based on their own needs and existing industry data. Incredibly, these bots can be customized and be up and running, ready to support the agent workforce, in as little as a few days. Already being used in more than 45 countries, across 20 industries, LiveEngage with Watson is allowing businesses to keep up with the needs of their customers.
Implementing Hybrid AI allows bots to assist in retrieving initial information at record speed, saving agents time and effort. This allows for information to be passed on without the need for customers to repeat the issue, which is a great way to reduce customer frustration, drive higher levels of customer satisfaction and in turn increase revenue.
LivePerson and IBM Watson created an AI-powered chat and messaging platform for customer service
7. Growing investment in Social Media
Customers are increasingly using public platforms to talk about brands and brands are joining the conversation. Social media is the support channel of choice for customers under 35, which is a clear indication that all brands should be utilizing it. And yet, 29.3% of businesses are still without social media channels.
Social media offers the customer the self-sufficiency and autonomy they crave — this is a support channel where consumers can go to view feedback, give feedback, vent and interact with their favorite brands. Savvy companies are building on this trend by making consumer-brand social media interactions appealing, fun and, most of all, easy to share with friends.
Responsive social support teams will view this as an opportunity to create a unified customer experience and connect customers to form brand communities. Expect to see a growth in social media support teams, and a growing investment in training and new social media management tools.
The future of customer service is here. Are you ready?
The next 12 months will see huge shifts in the landscape of the call center and customer service industry. After years of lagging behind customers’ needs and expectations, brands will be stepping in with new, accessible and effective technologies.
How does your customer service stack up? Are you thinking about integrating AI and chatbots into your customer support channels? Learn more about how Watson can help.