At the end of every year, managers and executives alike need to look into the future to plan their next steps. What new technology do you need to budget for? What are customers asking for now? What new skills do your agents need to develop – or do you need to hire for? The top trends in customer support can help illuminate a path forward.
Planning for the future is important because it means that you’re not changing direction constantly, trying to react to shiny things. That’s distracting to your team, and it wastes resources when you’re not plotting a straight course. Plus, planning ahead keeps you one step ahead of the competition. Better customer support is a proven differentiator when it comes to beating competitors.
We’ve compiled a list of the top five trends that you need to at least be considering for your customer support strategy over the next year or so.
1. Human in the Loop
AI and chatbots have been in the news for years. While they certainly aren’t a new idea in customer support, the way this technology is being implemented is maturing.
Humans love exaggerating the benefits of new technology. “It’s going to solve all our problems!” we exclaim, while staunching ignoring the fact that the new technology isn’t even available to the public yet. And while AI does have its benefits, it’s most beneficial when it’s perfectly blended with a human to watch over it.
For example, chatbots provide quick responses to simple questions like “what is my account balance?” and “when will my order be delivered?” But they don’t do well in situations that require empathy – like a missed delivery on a wedding dress or a frustrating user experience where things keep breaking. This is where humans need to jump in and provide some humanity.
Secondly, AI is only as good as the information it’s being fed. For example, Amazon recently realized their hiring AI1 to review resumes discriminated against women. Humans can provide a sober second glance for automations and AI analysis to make sure we’re looking at the right thing. Customer support teams are learning where humans need to be injected into the AI customer support workflow in order to provide the best possible customer experience.
Customers don’t mind talking to chatbots when they know they are dealing with a robot instead of a human – and there’s an easy way to transfer to a human if needed.
In 2019, there will be a renewed focus into mapping the “AI customer journey” (ie. all the interaction points between customers and the robots) and ensuring that humans are part of the loop in all the right places.
2. Personalized Customer Journeys
Companies have more information about their customers than ever before. We know what they’ve looked at, we know how they feel about our service and we know their past purchasing activity. But the problem is that all of this information is stored in multiple different systems and isn’t directly helping customer support provide more personalized service.
This is going to change in the future. Integrations with Customer Relationship Management software (CRMs) and Customer Experience Management software (CEMs) are giving support more influence in crafting the customer journey from start to finish (for example, highlighting knowledge base articles they’ve already looked at). Instead of treating every customer the same, customer support teams will have the ability to treat every customer as a fully-realized individual.
This has also been called “conversational support” because it’s support that feels like having a real conversation with a friend. Conversational Support builds stronger relationships between customer and company, and it is becoming more important as customers naturally migrate to companies they feel align with their values.
To prepare for this trend, it’s time to map the journey of each segment of customer you interact with, and supplement this journey map with any data your company has.
3. Omnichannel Support
Research from Google shows that 90 percent of consumers move between devices when they are making a purchase. Customer support teams need to be able to support customers along every step of that journey. This is where omnichannel support comes in.
Omnichannel support is the ability of support teams to offer the same experience to customers regardless of what channel they contact them on. For example, if a customer emails in on Monday, then phones about the same issue on Tuesday, they shouldn’t have to repeat the same information again.
It’s important to note that omnichannel is not every channel, but instead blending all the offered channels together so that customers have a smooth journey between handoffs. In fact, one of the most common handoffs between channels is customers moving from self-service to contacting a human. Making this transition as simple as possible is key to completing the omnichannel experience.
Check out our guide to setting up your customer support team to provide omnichannel support.
4. Focus on Control Quotient
Companies are finally ditching the scripts and empowering customer support agents to provide high-quality service. For example, in 2018 T-Mobile publicized their new customer service strategy that involved hiring great people, and then leaving them free to do their best work.
This strategy is backed by research published in HBR2. A team of CEB researchers looked at what made customer service reps great at their job. And it wasn’t IQ or even EQ that was the magic factor. They found that Controllers or those agents with a high control quotient (CQ) were the most likely to provide consistently great service. CQ is the ability of an agent to take control of a situation.
“Not only do they proactively diagnose customer issues, but they also consider the customer’s personality and the context of the call in order to customize a solution and present it effectively. Controllers focus less on asking customers what they’d like to do and more on telling them what they should do—the aim always being to get to the fastest and easiest resolution.”
But controllers can’t just be hired – they need to be groomed in a high CQ environment. As the CEB found, Controllers don’t do well when hemmed in by scripts and checklists. “The conversation feels decidedly human and off-script: Controllers tend to shun generic language and prescribed checklists, especially when their diagnosis suggests that customers have already invested significant time trying to resolve an issue on their own.”
Sandeep Kaur says it best in her recent Nicereply article3, “Control Quotient is so important that even if you leave a low performing rep in an environment which allows for a high control quotient – you’ll see their performance improve.” Maybe 2019 will be the time we finally get rid of the dreaded customer service script?
5. The Death of CSAT?
After years of watching high customer satisfaction ratings have little to no impact on customer churn rates, Support leaders are starting to question the effectiveness of measuring CSAT. Customers that are seemingly satisfied with their support interactions are still walking out the door and taking their money with them. Does measuring and improving customer satisfaction scores really help the business?
Instead of living and dying by the magic CSAT scores, teams are starting to embrace internal quality metrics, like quality assurance rubrics. There are a ton of new tools that have exploded this year (from MaestroQA to Qualitista to Aprikot) that all help teams own their own quality – rather than rely on rating systems from customers.
I’m not saying don’t ask your customers for feedback – that’s absolutely still an important aspect of customer support. It’s just that your customer’s bar for great service shouldn’t be your internal threshold for quality. Instead, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard, because we know better than our customers how awesome our support can be.
To start moving beyond CSAT and improving the quality of your support in ways that actually achieve business goals, identify what a quality reply is for your team. Create a rubric that lists what a great support agent should accomplish in a perfect reply. For example:
– Connected with customer
– Offered correct solution
– Anticipated next issue and provided proactive resolution
Notice that this isn’t a script or a checklist. Instead, it’s a holistic measure of the quality of customer support meant to ensure that every customer gets a perfectly personalized reply every time. Contextual collaboration will continue to be a big trend in 2019, as Slack and other players also focus on product updates that focus on conversations around the particular issue, which is directly targeted at customer support teams.
Planning ahead for 2019
How many of these trends are you looking into for your team? Regardless of whether you choose to pursue any of these particular trends, there’s one thing that’s important to notice about all of them: they are all centered around the customer’s experience. None of them are looking to cut costs or cheapen support – instead, they all provide ways to elevate the customer’s experience with the company. From providing better quality support to removing obstacles in the way of the customer’s path to success, 2019 is destined to be the year of the customer. That’s one trend you can bet on!
1 – https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-built-ai-to-hire-people-discriminated-against-women-2018-10
2 – https://hbr.org/2017/01/kick-ass-customer-service
3 – https://www.nicereply.com/blog/control-quotient/