With customers interacting with brands across multiple channels and in more sophisticated ways, the role of customer service is becoming increasingly important for organizations looking to provide a superior customer experience. In 2019, the growth of inquiries, evolutions in technology and the changing role of customer service representatives will shape the future of the industry. Hot button topics like automation, minimum wage and data security are also poised to make an impact. In looking ahead, customer service will largely be shaped by how technology and the human element co-exist to deliver the best solutions to consumers in the most effective manner.
The importance and volume of customer service interactions will grow
Customers are using more connected devices than ever before like smart lightbulbs, doorbells, etc.; creating more touchpoints for customer service. The total number of customer service interactions handled by humans will hit 300 billion by 2027, with the total annual volume globally increasing from 400 billion to three trillion. This growth in inquiries means companies must prioritize customer service, understanding that poor customer experiences have serious ramifications for brands.
With the unemployment rate so low and Big Box stores regularly trying to compete with Amazon, big sales are happening more frequently than just the traditional Black Friday and Cyber Monday events. For example, this past Amazon Prime Day, many stores offered competing sales, with some prices beating out Black Friday discounts. As a result, people are spending more money throughout the entire calendar year, not just during peak periods. This means that customer service representatives need to be on their A-game all year long, and instead of staffing up just for the holidays, companies should train representatives to up-sell and cross-sell year-round.
Technology will progress to streamline and automate customer service functions
While technological innovation continues to be an important focus in customer service, technology will be staying in the back office a little while longer, helping with more mundane tasks like automation and data entry before making an appearance in customer-facing interactions. In many situations, customers appreciate it when they are able to find information, clarify questions and solve problems for themselves. In first-line interactions, more and more chatbots will be leveraged for tasks like automating forms or verifying basic customer information before passing a query on to a customer service representative. And, in just a few years, solutions based on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) will automatically process most of, if not all, high-volume, repetitive rules-based tasks.
With more consumers adopting Internet of Things (IoT) devices for e-commerce transactions, digital voice assistants are expected to progress in 2019, becoming less frustrating and more user-friendly. Video capabilities will also advance in the coming year, innovating areas like insurance claims. New digital platforms can organize the handling of a damage claim, making it possible to settle a claim via video call. With success in the insurance sector, more industries will deploy innovative video capabilities to improve customer service.
The human touch will remain essential
However, while more interactions will be managed through artificial intelligence (AI), RPA and IoT-enabled devices, queries that are too complex for tech-driven, self-service solutions will still require the expertise of a customer service representative. And while automation and AI will relieve customer service representatives of many recurrent and rules-based tasks, the demands placed on employees in the customer service center will increase, since they will be dealing with especially complex topics.
The questions customer service representatives will receive in 2019 will be much more technical and difficult, since bots and self-serve technologies can answer the simple questions. As a result, the role of the customer service representative will require a higher skill set. The position will demand more of their human skills, like empathy and problem solving, and there will be a need for a universal customer service representative that has the whole package, with a willingness for development and life-long learning.
Representatives will command more competitive benefits
With the unemployment rate so low, retaining customer service representatives is more critical than ever, and with companies like Amazon recently raising their minimum wage to 15 dollars, 2019 will be a wage rate game. With the increase in wages, consumers will also expect better service from higher paid employees, increasing the pressure on customer service representatives.
Employers cannot simply cut benefits in a cost saving effort, as it leads to unhappy employees, lower retention rate and fewer job applicants. In the coming year, it will be important for companies to offer a competitive wage and enticing benefits, utilize technology for mundane tasks and look for outsourcing opportunities to find a solution to make up the cost difference.
Security will remain paramount
In customer service, data is generated daily in various systems, and with digital services like online banking increasing, security needs to remain a top priority. As online and mobile shopping has become commonplace for consumers, convenience is often prioritized over security, and customers would rather not change their passwords. Often, people reuse passwords across multiple accounts, heightening their security risk. In 2019, companies should leverage customer service representatives to advocate for security, proactively reminding customers to change their passwords and prioritize the safety of their personal information.
When examining the future of customer service, growth in inquiries, technological advancement, evolving customer representative skill sets, staffing trends and security will drive changes in the industry. Organizations that can successfully integrate automation, cultivate a skilled and satisfied workforce and remain at the forefront of shifting consumer needs and expectations will be well-positioned to succeed in the coming year.