Customer service operations cannot go on as usual – it is economically unsustainable
We're at a tipping point for customer service operations.
Customers contact businesses at a greater rate over a greater number of channels — shifting between them seamlessly and even using channels simultaneously. organisations react by adding headcount — an unsustainable strategy. They must transform operations by developing strength in automation, AI and knowledge.
Great customer service is not just about cutting costs or making operations more efficient. Instead, it’s a systematic reinvention of established technology, data, and operations — leveraging automation, data, and agents together to exploit each of their unique strengths.
Customer service organisations must be agile enough to react to customers' changing expectations for service. They need to put AI at the core of their operations to combat headcount increases, and reskill their agents to address customer interactions that demand insight and analysis.
This year, I see 3 broad trends that organisations must consider as they fundamentally transform their operation:
Businesses must reimagine their operations, with automation and AI at the centre of their strategy
- Customers demand fast service anywhere, anytime
Today, customers have more choice: more products to buy, more information to influence purchasing decisions, and more devices and channels over which to seek customer service. What they don’t have is more time. It’s no wonder that self-service interactions have overtaken all other channels for the third year running. We predict that companies will explore chatbots and voice user interfaces to enhance the self-service experience, as well as investigate visual engagement technologies to cut through the conversational clutter and preserve a customer’s time.
- Automation and AI quells headcount increases
To manage ballooning volumes of interactions across an increasing number of channels, customer service teams today increase their staff despite the cost: 46 per cent of global contact centre decision makers project their contact centres to grow by 5 per cent-10 per cent in the next year. This approach is not economically sustainable. Businesses must reimagine their operations, with automation and AI at the centre of their strategy: for example automated answers, automated conversations, automated agent guidance and RPA, optimized routing, scheduling, case classification. They must also invest in intelligence to ensure AI fueled technologies evolve and learn from prior interactions over time.
- Customer service operations must look to become more human
With customers increasingly using self-service, there are fewer opportunities for engagement with agents who can lend a human touch. All easy interactions will be handled via automation and AI. Agent interactions will be reserved for escalations for more complex issues that require diagnosis and empathy. This means that customer service organisations will no longer need tier 1 agents and must become high-touch centres that handle critical customer interactions. These organisations will focus on the quality of interactions as measured by customer retention and lifetime value. Agents will need to be more highly skilled and better compensated. Old management principles that focused on efficiency must be relaxed. Ultimately, technologies such as quality monitoring should be replaced by customer feedback.
Customer service operations cannot go on as usual – it is economically unsustainable.
Deploying automation and AI will help free agents from working on low-value or repetitive tasks, as they will only have to address highly complex customer scenarios or exceptions to standard operations. This also enables them to focus on building connections with customers to garner their satisfaction and loyalty. However, automation and AI must be deployed with care, as they will impact the nature of every job.
Kate Leggett is VP and principal analyst at Forrester.
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