Every year, the customer service industry talks about the changing consumer landscape and how and how companies need to address their customers’ preferences RIGHT NOW or risk massive churn the likes of which contact centers around the world have never seen. Like all prognostications however, some predictions come true and others do not; or at least do not with the immediacy visionaries forecasted.
Look at the obituaries written for voice in customer service. How many have been written and how many have been wrong? The decline of voice has been forecasted for years and yes, it has declined steadily but to manhandle Mark Twain’s famous quote, the reports of voice’s death are greatly exaggerated.
So, when I dove into the results of the 2018 Aspect Consumer Experience Index results, our 4th annual, I wanted to see what has changed or has not changed in the past several years we’ve conducted the survey. Here is what we found:
Consumer-reported contact with customer service is down. I think if you asked a thriving brand they would disagree, but according to consumers, the frequency of contact with companies they are doing business with is down by 13 percent over the past 4 years. This is kind of a head scratcher until you at this data point: We found that nearly half (47%) of consumers don’t view self-service as customer service. Over a third of them (and 50% of Millennials) think of a self-service interaction as a natural part of the brand promise.
This accounts for some of the decline in reported contact but it also presents opportunities for brands to amp up the user experience in their self-service offering. If consumers continue to look at this modality as a representative of the brand, it creates a large opportunity for positive brand perception.
Chat is where it’s at
Much has been written about the rise of text in customer service – present company included – but the percent of consumers preferring SMS – if they could only choose one channel to interact with customer service on – has ticked down over the past four years. Consumer preference for chat on the other hand, has increased 47% over the past three years.
The bigger story is that the majority of consumers (53%) now prefer newer channels like chat, text, messaging apps and bot-based interactions for customer service. The challenge for brands though, is voice is not being replace by a single channel. It’s being replaced by multiple channels, thereby putting pressure on organizations to not only provide engagement on the many modalities their customers prefer, but the omni-channel challenge becomes a little more complex when the amount of touchpoints doubles and possibly triples.
Interest in AI Continues to grow
What was a near novelty just three years ago has now become part of the future of customer interaction. Consumer interest and interaction frequency has seen very healthy growth over the last three years. 42% of consumers and 63% of Millennials say they are comfortable with non-human customer service interaction. And it shows. Consumer-reported interaction with intelligent assistants has grown 39% since 2016 and Millennial interaction has increased 64%. More than half of consumers feel using AI to get a question answered of a problem solved will get them resolution faster and more accurately than other methods.
As more digitally-native consumers enter the workforce, the growth of AI and self-service interaction will only increase and with it, a gradual evolution of the customer service landscape. As much as consumers are demanding self-directed and intelligent-assistant driven experiences, consumers reveal that agents remain a vital component of the larger customer experience. The most important component consumers want in an AI interaction after all, is the ability to transfer to a live agent should they want. These findings indicate symbiotic relationships between agents and AI where self-service interactions will satisfy transactional needs while agent-assisted engagements will underpin customer satisfaction and loyalty and with it, brand perceptions as a whole.