In 2017, customer experience innovations accounted for half of all consumer product investments, according to Gartner.  To win – and hold onto – the hearts and minds of customers, companies are increasingly competing on customer experience rather than the traditional battlegrounds of product and price. Here are 10 trends unfolding in this space.

1. A shift in language

Social media has brought about a seismic shift in the way companies speak to customers – the trend is: out with the gobbledygook, and in with the plain English and the language that customers use.  That means less robotic scripting on calls, less formality in tone in written communications, more user-friendly “how-to” videos, and websites that are actually intelligible.  Developments in natural language processing mean that you can now ask a “virtual agent” a question online in natural, every-day language, rather than search for jargon you don’t even know in a traditional search bar. Expect continued acceleration of virtual agent deployments in 2018-2019. 

2. Channel Choice

Today’s consumer typically uses several channels to complete a transaction or request. For example, a consumer might view a Facebook post, “like” it, and click through to a link to purchase the item mentioned, then progress to web chat with a product query, and back to the website to place an order.  With this type of customer journey being the norm now, 2017 is a bigger year than ever for companies to add new channels to their service offering to meet consumer demand for choice. 

3. Amplification of customer feedback and reviews

Both the quantity of customer feedback, and its sphere of influence, will expand. Feedback will increase in two ways: firstly, companies will proactively solicit customer feedback more regularly and through more channels, including post-call surveys, SMS and email surveys, and surveys following a self-service transaction online. There is now a colourful landscape of vendors which offer portals and survey software as a service, some integrating with Google, making deployments in the cloud quick and easy.  Secondly, unsolicited customer feedback will continue to rise through social media and aggregated review sites.

Positive customer reviews can elicit the coveted Google stars rating, making a company’s website stand out in organic searches and making it more likely that a customer will buy. Marketing executives will therefore be pushing increasingly for investment in customer review platforms, with a focus on soliciting reviews from genuine customers (as opposed to open platforms which expose companies to fake customers). Success will come to those who not only embrace the importance of customer feedback, but who also know how to analyse and act on the insights derived.

4. The rise of the super-informed customer

Let’s face it, consumers love online research before buying, so by the time they contact a call centre, they are now often more versed in a particular product than the call centre agents themselves. Answers to easy product questions can be found online, so the consumer is much more likely to call for a more complex request. Intuitive knowledge management systems and business process guidance software will become a necessity in this environment. Further, companies will need to invest in upskilling their front-line workforce as human customer service moves up the value chain.

5. Speed and convenience

It’s no wonder that consumers prefer to voice their complaints on social media when they know that best practice service organisations will respond within minutes.  We believe this trend towards speedy customer service will rub off on other channels, and many companies will need to review the appropriateness of their KPIs.  Alongside speed, convenience is key, so technologies like virtual hold, where a customer can book a callback time instead of waiting in a queue on the phone, offer real value. 

6. Customer journey mapping

Central to the agenda of customer experience leaders will be the practice of customer journey mapping to improve the overall service experience. Many companies will seek outside expertise in getting started with a mapping initiative, not only because of a lack of experience in house, but also to access an independent resource who can coordinate across multiple divisions and stakeholders.  

7. Makin’ it easy

Behind the scenes of a customer service department is an increasingly complex array of technologies and channels, yet from the customer’s perspective, service should be simple and easy. This is reflected in the growing adoption of Customer Effort Score as a KPI, or what British Telecom calls Net Easy Score.  Companies are going back to the drawing board and analysing what they can do to make it easier for customers to do business with them – whether that’s being open for longer hours, being accessible in other languages or through more channels, or simplifying their customer service processes, forms and language.

8. Mobile-first

No customer experience strategy would be complete without addressing the reality that mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) are often the source of most service transactions. Whether it’s a mobile app or a responsive mobile site, companies need to offer users the opportunity to click to call, click to chat, and in best practice, click through a visual IVR to either get self-service or get quickly routed to an appropriately skilled call centre agent (without the hassle of wading through voice menus).

9. Surge in chat and video

Study after study shows positive customer satisfaction with web chat relative to other channels, which will make it easier for service executives to get their business cases for chat off the ground.  Proactive chat, whereby a web chat agent interrupts a user’s web session with a friendly offer to assist, is only bolstering these business cases with the added bonus of conversion rate optimisation (CRO). Proactive chat is based on pre-set algorithms, such as time spent on site or views of premium offers.  For small to mid-sized businesses, outsourcing to “chat-as-a-service” providers will become a popular alternative to offering 24×7 chat coverage in-house.

Historically, bandwidth issues have made companies shy away from video as a customer service option, but that’s changing, invigorated by consumer love for YouTube, facetime and skype. Customer experiences are often more engaging and effective with visual as well as voice contact. 

10. Convergence of contact centres and digital marketing

Customer experience subsumes the functions and goals of different departments in a traditionally structured company. For example, contact centre and marketing leaders can come together to leverage the benefits, and share the cost, of new technologies which lead equally to better customer service and sales/marketing outcomes. Primed for growth is software known as web voice synchronisation (WVS), which predicts a caller’s value based on their online behaviour prior to calling. 

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