“Digital transformation” is not a new term or concept. While it has taken on multiple definitions, one thing is for sure: Companies view it as a top priority, so much so that 40 percent of technology spending will go toward digital transformation, according to IDC, with enterprises spending in excess of US$2 trillion through 2019.
This insurgence of digital transformation investments and prioritization has led many organizations to reshape their use of technology and begin leveraging more advanced and nimble systems in order to gain a strategic and operational advantage over their competition.
The transformation and adoption of digital-first strategies and systems is no small undertaking, and it is causing organizations to prioritize certain departments or teams over others. One department that commonly finds itself lower in the prioritization order than others is customer support.
While there could be numerous reasons for this, one common thought traditionally has been that support is not viewed as a technologically advanced department, or a department that is in dire need of a digital overhaul. However, that is changing.
While digital transformation gets all the headlines, customer experience quietly has become one of the largest and most critical aspects of growth for companies of all sizes and in all industries. The value placed on customer experience not only is at an all-time high, but also is having a very real impact on customer loyalty and purchasing decisions.
In fact, 80 percent of customers considered their experience with a company to be as important as its products, according to the 2019 State of Service Report from Salesforce.
At the same time, companies delivering a great customer experience saw a 17 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), whereas those that provided a poor customer experience saw just 3 percent over the same period, Forrester research shows.
The impact of digital transformation and the importance of delivering a great customer experience have forced organizations to take a closer look at customer support and how the infusion of new technologies and approaches, along with more strategic thinking, can have a very real impact on their entire business.
Following are five trends transforming customer support, and what they mean for current and future support teams and business leaders.
1. Messaging Becomes a Core Support Channel
As smartphones have become the primary device of consumers worldwide, they have changed the way people typically communicate with one another. Communication today no longer is done solely over phone calls. In fact, many people, mostly younger generations, almost never opt for making phone calls unless they are for an urgent issue.
Instead, consumers are communicating with one another via messaging platforms such as SMS or chat. In order to create a one-of-a-kind and great experience, companies must look at how customers communicate with family, friends and colleagues, and bring that same experience into the support center. Today that experience increasingly starts and ends with messaging channels rather than phone calls.
Support teams need to view messaging channels as a core element of the customer experience. This means optimizing messaging channels, making them easily accessible, and providing self-service options and FAQs.
Furthermore, support leaders and supervisors should be training and educating agents on how best to handle messaging inquiries, and how to resolve issues via this channel in an efficient and timely manner.
2. The Support Pathway Is Getting Optimized
Messaging support channels, such as SMS, MMS and chat, are only the tip of the iceberg. Customers today want a complete and fluid multichannel experience, spanning voice, messaging, mobile apps, social media and more.
However, simply opening up these channels and making them available no longer is good enough. In order to meet the demands of tech-savvy customers, support teams must look at optimizing the support pathway for each of these channels.
This means infusing the experience with multimedia capabilities such as photo- and video-sharing, capturing and sending screenshots, and securely sending user profile information, diagnostic data, and more in order to provide more real-time contextual information to support agents, personalize the experience, and resolve issues faster.
3. Support Data Is Being Leveraged Across the Enterprise
Having a 360-degree view of your customers is crucial for the growth of any business. Understanding not only who your customers are but also what makes them tick can be essential for helping organizations make strategic short- and long-term decisions.
There are very few people, if any, who interact with your customers more than support agents and leaders. Support teams gather more than just demographic and profile data on customers — they have a direct line into understanding how they feel about your product or services, and what is driving their purchasing decisions and their loyalty.
This data is beneficial to support leaders looking to strengthen their teams, and it can provide immense value to other teams across the organization who want to gather more context and make more strategic decisions on how to connect with customers.
Leveraging this data both inside and outside of the contact center is the first step in breaking down the silos between customer support and the rest of the enterprise. This data can help drive business decisions — from product road map prioritization to marketing campaign messaging, to sales strategizing; from understanding common pain points to identifying upsell opportunities.
4. Support Agents Are Becoming Specialists
Today, support agents are faced with a difficult task. They are asked to interact with customers across a handful of different channels and be able not only to resolve their issues, but also to do so in a way that is conducive to the channel they are communicating through, while delivering a personalized and branded experience.
Agents must be well-versed in all the features, product lines and accessories that are made available to customers, and be able to surface information on all of them quickly. Finally, they must do all of this while interacting with customers who often are at their tipping point.
However, as companies begin adopting digital-first customer support strategies and leveraging new and emerging technologies, the day-to-day role of support agents will begin to evolve.
As support centers begin to infuse their operations with technologies such as artificial intelligence, data-driven analytics, and machine learning, new curated pathways will open up, making it easier and more efficient for customers to find a resolution on their own or through interacting with a bot.
This pairing of agents and bots will result in support agents becoming hyper-specialized. Rather than having a surface level understanding of everything, agents will go deep into one product, channel, or type of customer.
Agents will focus on specific issues and situations, and with the increase in bots and self-service options, agents will be able to focus their time on customers who require more assistance or a more personalized touch.
5. AI Is Expanding Beyond Customer-Facing Uses
AI already has played a tremendous role in shaping how customers interact with support teams and brands. Bots can handle various tasks and interact with multiple customers all at the same time, and they do so 24/7.
AI allows companies to leverage customer data, to surface specific products or relevant content to each customer automatically, and to adapt in real-time based on customer needs, behavior, and more.
We have only begun scratching the surface of how AI can benefit the customer experience, but one trend to watch is the internalization of AI and how it will shape the support agent experience and the entire contact center ecosystem.
While it may be working behind the scenes, the reality is that support teams can and should be leveraging AI automatically in order to surface actionable insights that can be provided to customers in real time.
This not only makes the process of finding and retrieving information immensely easier for agents, but also increases productivity by allowing them to spend less time searching for information and more time interacting with customers and resolving issues.
AI also can be used to route customers intelligently, based on who they are and why they are calling in — meaning agents can feel confident that they will be able to resolve issues without needing to put customers on hold or transfer them to different teams.
Turning Customer Support Into a Revenue Driver
Traditionally, customer support has been viewed as one of the more expensive arms of an enterprise, and understandably so. From expensive hardware that is in constant need of maintenance and updating, to large spaces to staff call center agents, contact centers typically have been regarded as cost centers.
However, the move to the cloud and the trend toward a digital-first approach to customer support have led to the adoption of new technologies and strategies that not only have created a better experience for customers, but also have offered the opportunity to reshape what customer support can be.
Customer support will continue to evolve, and trends will become realities and common business practices. Support agents, supervisors and leaders all will be in a position to reshape the customer experience, generate tangible ROI, and redefine what a contact center can be.