There's a lot of excitement about new technology in customer service, support, and success. The progress of video, real-time messaging, chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI), cryptocurrencies, self-service, and even customer success itself, all present the potential for big changes in the day-to-day workings of customer success practitioners.
But with new technology come challenges, too. There's a steep learning curve when it comes to learning to use and adapt to new technologies, they can be costly for businesses to implement, and there's the looming concern we all feel about some new tech: Will it steal our jobs?
The short answer is no. Most new technologies will only serve to help customer-facing professionals to do their jobs more efficiently. These technologies might change your job, however, and that's where these predictions come in. Read this blog post to get my thoughts on the future of technology's role in customer service -- and how it will change your day-to-day work, as well as the trajectory of your career.
6 Customer Service Technology Predictions Over the Next 10 Years
1. Face-to-face video communications will increase.
Eye contact is powerful, and customers, more and more, will look at non-video, real-time voice conversation as a thing of the past. Companies using video -- asynchronously, as "video voicemail" (e.g. Loom) or synchronously, as "video conference" (e.g. Zoom with video) -- are a generation ahead.
We know that eye contact improves relationships and facilitates openness (whether that's in business or in your personal life), so video is not just a growing expectation of consumers, but a viable business-improving tool for vendors. You should start using video voicemails now, and scheduled meetings with customers should involve a face-to-face meeting whenever possible.
2. Real-time messaging will outpace email.
Email is dead, and long live chat. Right?
Well, yes and no. Just like video, customers expect you to be always on -- and most of them prefer to interact using chat than phone or email. Facebook Messenger as a channel for support has pushed us ahead light years! Now, you can converse with businesses in real-time, and Facebook will even show you their average responsiveness (and if that responsiveness is poor, forget even engaging at all).
This expectation of real-time messaging and responsiveness seeps into other media, too. It's not just the expectation on Facebook Messenger or Slack (either internally or with vendors), but on-site conversations and chat are all expected to be real-time, 1:1, and authentic. That's a big change from the world of asynchronous snail mail, and then email.
The world operates in synchronous time now -- so that means you need to amp up your communication technologies and strategies while still using email to share important documents and communications your customers will want to come back to again and again. HubSpot offers a shared inbox tool that allows all incoming messages from customers, across channels, to be collected and assigned in one place, and Drift is another great option for live, on-site chat.
3. Bots (and AI) will help professionals, not replace them.
Today, most "bots" are not actually any form of artificial intelligence. They're branched, piecemeal logic presented in a conversational (like iMessage or Facebook Messenger) user interface (UI). Bots are just a different interaction mode for existing knowledge, and it's another opportunity to engage your customers. Conversational UI is a great way for businesses to make themselves appear on the bleeding edge of innovation.
Don't get me wrong -- that's a natural form of interaction nowadays, and bots can actually be very clever when backed by good tech -- but it's not "artificial intelligence". It's extremely clever math, turned into experience. The near-term opportunity with bots is twofold:
1. Bots can be there when you can't, like while your customer service team is asleep.
2. Bots can improve self-service for customers, and reduce expenses for vendors, by providing a new, repeatable, and inexpensive method of communications. Over the next 10-25 years, this technology will continue to make huge advances, and will be capable of doing even more of what humans are doing today. It will be smart for customer-facing teams to keep up with bot progress and stay on the cutting edge here to provide increasingly better experiences at increasingly lower costs.
Bots and AI will be a game-changer for customer support, where reps spend close to 90% of their time on the job repeating the answers to the same questions and helping customers with the same issues over and over again.
The questions humans answer on the job that require judgment? Machines can learn, train, and teach, too. In the future, reps will only have to deal with edge cases where bots can't answer questions with the help of a knowledge base or a past history of customer questions. Once you make support content public in a knowledge base, a bot can learn and deliver that information again and again when customers ask for it.
When you think about the inbound service framework we're building, customer support is about engaging with customers reactively, customer service is about guiding them with new suggestions and added value, and customer success is about helping customers grow, and can provide infinite additional value for both the customer and their own company.
In the grand scheme of things, when bots and AI become a mainstream part of every customer-facing team, leaders will be able to reallocate customer support reps into the customer success organization -- because there will be less need for the repetitive answering of questions, and a greater need for helping customers grow and derive value from the products and services they've already purchased.
4. Blockchain will change ecommerce customer support.
Cryptocurrency itself is probably not going to radically change customer success, because paying with bitcoin (BTC) isn't too different than paying with other currencies post-sale. But blockchain technology has fascinating applications to contracting and how transparent payments are in the future. Smart contracts -- a way for machines to enforce and execute contract terms and payments without human involvement -- are a generation ahead of simple recurring payment models.
You could imagine a world in which smart contracts enable customer success managers (CSMs) to spend less time bickering over payments and hunting down money, and more time focusing on delivering value. So although the currency change from USD to BTC isn't likely to become a mainstream thing, nor will it have a big impact on the space, blockchain technology could fundamentally change the face of commerce within the next 25 years, and CSMs, as commercially-involved parties, could change along with it.
5. Self-service will become an absolute necessity.
Since the first time someone wrote a user manual, self-service has existed. And as mentioned above, bots and AI offer new frontiers of self-service.
But more meaningfully, customers and users are changing rapidly, and they expect more self-service avenues than ever before.
Why is that change happening? Most vendors that the average consumer interacts with nowadays are big and technologically-sophisticated -- think about Amazon, Facebook, Google, Walmart, big retailers, big banks so on. These big businesses are embracing self-service because it lowers their costs of doing business -- but in doing so, they're also pushing the envelope on more sophisticated methods of customer interaction. Over time, businesses that can't or don't keep up with this change will look like dinosaurs to the average consumer.
Imagine a world where you interact most frequently with messenger bots or location-aware mobile apps. You would think it very strange if a business didn't offer these self-service channels, and forced you to use something old like phone or email. Snail mail is dead, and phone and email are going to be next. This time, the killer is sophisticated self-service.
The first step to helping your customers help themselves? You need a knowledge base where you can write out answers to common customer questions that they can find on Google or using their voice-search devices over and over again -- without your customer support reps having to talk them through it.
6. Customer success will become a competitive differentiator.
Over the next five years, great customer success will become a critical competitive advantage for companies, just like great customer support is in 2018.
The customer success industry, and the progress of companies in search of customer value, is just too fast and effective for this to not happen. Plus, the concepts of customer success are permeating beyond just the software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry. It's spreading quickly and growing.
When customer success becomes table stakes like customer support is today, it will be an exciting time in the industry of customer success to see the takeover. But when that happens, it'll pose a novel challenge for companies looking to grow their customer list. Successful, established companies will have happier customers on the whole, raising the bar even higher for new entrants, even as switching costs of providers decreases for consumers.
Plus, customer success will become an imperative from day one, increasing startup costs and dipping margins for new entrants. It'll be an exciting new set of challenges to stay ahead of that curve once it arrives -- and if you're already doing customer success at your company now, you're ahead of the game.
Originally published Mar 12, 2018 8:00:00 AM, updated April 13 2018