How will technology change customer service? A common answer to this question is, “Improvements in automation and self-service will erode the importance for call centers and the human agents in them.” That answer gets reinforced every time you read an announcement from a company touting success of a new automation project. It also gets strengthened by the marketing efforts of all the vendors selling self-serve technology. However, if we adjust for recency bias and profit motive, can we still be sure this trend is real? It’s a question too important for casual conclusions.
Tag Archives: self-service
Headlines featuring “AI” and “chatbot” have dominated the discussion in the customer service space for the past year. Naturally, it’s tantalizing to imagine a world where no one needs to call a contact center, but the sizzle around AI and chatbots obscures a deeper question: How much customer support can actually be done by self-service? This question has been with us since the earliest web sites and IVRs started to offload the simplest tasks from agents. Each new wave of technology revives the dream that we can eliminate (or drastically reduce) human agents. We can see the current excitement around AI and chatbots as an extension of this long-running dream. Is it different this time? Are we reaching the promised land? Or are we chasing a receding horizon?
The IVR experience (“press 1 for this… press 2 for that…”) has long been part of the contact center. Although it serves an important purpose, it is universally detested. Many people see chatbots as a natural replacement for the core functions of the IVR.
Sorry, but I’m afraid this is going to be one of those “rain on the parade” posts. First, it’s not clear when or to what extent that will happen. Second, most of the aspects of IVRs that make them hated are likely to translate directly to chatbot form.
The impact of AI on the call center is a red hot topic these days. Unfortunately, a TON of the writing out there is not helpful and sometimes even misleading. I’m not just talking about sloppy blogs, either. Some of the worst offenders are top publications. (I’m going to take the high road and not link to any here.)
A big part of the problem is the confusing interplay between the “AI”, “chat”, and “bot” topics. All three rose to prominence – each for separate, valid reasons – contemporaneously and all three suffer from imprecise definitions. Adding to the confusion, are companies putting out vague marketing and product announcements that are sometimes a tossed salad of buzz words.
All this gets thrown into the cognitive meat grinder and what comes out is something like: “Soon Call Centers Won’t Need Agents!” Clearly there’s a lot of messy thinking, but it can be hard to figure out where the break-down is happening. I will share with you two guiding principles that help me cut through the noise. Hopefully you find them helpful too.
The recent renaissance in self-service has been driven by several factors. First, the past 20 years of online commerce have allowed us to hone the technology and techniques for making good self-service interfaces – first on the web, and then on mobile devices. The art and science of building good user experiences (UX) has become a mature profession. Second, the smartphone revolution brought that UX to everyone’s pockets. Third, the majority of today’s consumers are very comfortable with these tools and actually prefer them to human interaction. (The younger they are, the more strongly they prefer self-service, so this bodes well for the future.)
The growing popularity and effectiveness of self-service implies that its counterpart, human-assisted service, i.e. the purpose of call centers, is on the decline. Sure, there are some transactions that still require an agent, but if one extrapolates from current trends, isn’t it reasonable to assume that eventually all interactions will be self-serve? Does that mean centers are headed for obsolescence, like floppy disks and 8-track tapes? Not so fast.
Customers today don’t want to waste time and energy calling, chatting or emailing with customer service when their answers can just as easily be found using self-service. Self-service is a win-win strategy for any service organization. It allows companies to provide online support with no agent interaction, and lets customers feel empowered to find answers in their own time.
Providing self-service options to your customers is critical for delivering a top-notch customer service experience. These stats prove why self-service will be even more important in 2017.
Last week, Fonolo hosted yet another insightful Google Hangout discussing the biggest customer experience trends for 2017. This fabulous panel of experts discussed why the customer experience deserves even more attention and investment in the New Year. To save you some time, we’ve extracted video snippets showcasing highlights from the discussion.
2017 is quickly approaching and with that comes a new set of predictions! Since customer expectations are changing just as rapidly as the advances in technology, enhancing the customer experience is an ongoing goal for most companies. Gartner says that this year alone, 89% of organizations competed solely on the customer experience.
We’re in the middle of what many people are calling the ‘Age of the Customer’, where customers expect consistent experiences across multiple channels (including in-person and digital). They don’t care if providing these experiences is difficult, or if it requires a complex approach using multiple departments. Customers simply want to be catered to, and will go elsewhere if you can’t do that. Continue reading →
Like the seasons following each other, the hype cycle is part of the natural order in technology land. When #BotMania went thermonuclear in May, it was only a matter of time before the disillusionment set in. Then comes a wave of blog posts, like this one, explaining why.
A backlash is often caused by out-sized expectations (Remember “Segway will be bigger than the internet”?). That’s certainly part of this story. But there’s an equally important factor this time: poorly defined vocabulary. We shouldn’t feel too bad, though. The customer service industry is changing rapidly causing new words to enter the conversation, and existing words to morph in meaning. (That’s why we’re putting out the New Customer Service Lexicon. See Part 1 and Part 2.)
It’s time for a bot reality check.
The customer experience has transformed significantly over the last century. From 1900 until the 1960s we saw the age of manufacturing, where mass distribution of products eventually ushered in the age of distribution to serve a global economy of buyers. By the 1990s, computer and internet communications graced us with the age of information, where those holding the keys to unlock valuable consumer data rule supreme. Today, we’ve entered a brand new era of customer service: The age of the customer, which calls for technology and industry leaders to catch up to increasing customer demands. Innovations like virtual assistants, chatbots, drones, and self-service portals are beginning to play a huge role in meeting customer expectations. But before we can consider these tools successful, we must acknowledge that there is still plenty of room for improvement.
So, what will the future of the customer experience look like in 50 years? It’s always hard to speculate about these things, so first, let’s take a look at the rate in which the industry has developed, and try making a hypothesis from there. Continue reading →