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 service technology — and how it will change your day-to-day work, as well as the trajectory of your career.
But, before you jump to my predictions, let's quickly recap what service technology is.
Service technology is software that assists customer service teams in achieving customer success. These tools improve workflow efficiency and make it easier for companies to provide effective solutions to their customers. Adopting service technology helps companies manage the increasing demand for outstanding customer service.
Now that we have that out of the way, let's take a look at how service technology will influence customer service over the next decade.
How Customer Service Technology Will Change the Future of Customer Service
1. Face-to-face video communication 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. Customers will expect an omni-channel service experience.
Your brick-and-mortar stores aren't the only places where customers interact with your business. With social media, ecommerce, and third-party review sites, customers can engage your company through a variety of digital mediums.
This increased accessibility will drive the need for omni-channel experiences. Omni-channel support is distinctively different from multichannel support as omni-channel syncs your communication channels together so both your team and your customers can work seamlessly between them.
For example, rather than customers having to navigate away from your social media page, your service team can respond to them wherever they're engaging your business. Then, if the problem can't be solved on one communication channel, your reps can easily transfer the case to another medium where they can better support the customer.
This reduces friction in the service experience because customers don't have to log off one interface just to log into another one to continue working on the same problem.
To do this, you'll need to connect a help desk as a central inbox for all incoming customer inquiries. That way, no matter where an interaction starts online, your agents use the same interface to communicate with your customer base.
3. 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.
4. Remote work will become more normal.
The future of customer service will not only push customers online, but it'll move service reps there, too.
Rather than being confined to call centers, service reps will have more tools to work remotely. They'll field customer inquiries from the comfort of their homes, instead of having to work in an office setting.
And, most service channels can already be used outside offices and call centers. Email, live chat, and social media can even be operated from a smartphone and most business phone services offer cloud-based solutions that allow you to work from home. As businesses see the potential savings of reducing office space, it'll become much more common for service reps to work remotely.
5. Bots (and AI) will help professionals, not replace them.
Ah, bots. Our future robot overlords, right? Well, maybe not.
Today, most "bots" aren't 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:
- Bots can be there when you can't, like while your customer service team is asleep.
- 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.
What about 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.
6. Blockchain will change e-commerce 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 overpayments 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.
7. 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. As we can see from the chart below, there are multiple types of self-service tools that businesses are providing to their customers — ordered by popularity.
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.
8. Customer service training will be personalized.
Customer service training has traditionally been one-size-fits-all. However, as sentiment analysis tools make it easier to identify each rep's strengths and weaknesses, training will become more tailored to the employee's needs.
Reps who need more time learning the product will be able to master its features, while employees who are more technically savvy will receive training that builds their soft communication skills.
To personalize your training, you'll need to survey your team before, during, and after each exercise. Measure their performance and ask for feedback. This will not only build trust with your new reps, but it will also create an onboarding process that's unique to each agent.
9. 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 today.
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.
10. Customer service decisions will be more data-driven.
No matter which service technology you choose, it should include a way to quantitatively measure its success. Without that, there's no way to prove if the added software is being effective. So, as companies continue to adopt service technology, their customer service teams will become much more dependent on analyzing the success of these programs.
With that shift, there should be a noticeable influx of valuable data circulating throughout customer service departments. Service technology records a variety of information about customer interactions which are used to identify overlooked customer needs or roadblocks. Customer support and success teams then utilize this data to improve the customer's experience.
Additionally, marketing and sales teams will be interested in this information because they can apply it to their initiatives as well. Marketing teams will use these insights to highlight new roadblocks and record them in the customer's journey map, like the one below.
Sales teams will want this data to understand relevant customer needs that they can touch on during their sales pitch. Adopting service technology will lead to new demand for customer service data that can be beneficial across your entire organization.
11. Social media will become a standard customer service tool.
We all know that cathartic feeling of leaving an impassioned review of our least favorite store or restaurant. And, we can thank Facebook and Twitter for giving us that moment of release.
Social media has empowered consumers with the ability to instantly criticize brands on a public forum. One bad customer experience can be recorded to video, then uploaded to the internet for millions to see. With 83% of consumers likely to trust their peers' opinions, this places the pressure on customer service teams to come up with a consistent and effective response plan.
To do that, companies will have to adapt their social media accounts to handle customer service situations. Whether this is a messaging service or a dedicated rep, businesses will need to devise a game plan that manages spontaneous social media interactions. This means that social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will become viable options for customers that are looking to submit feedback.
In the past, these mediums wouldn't even be considered as customer service options. However, as social media continues to open up new outlets for customer reviews, companies will be forced to engage with these consumers on their own online turf.
12. New technology will create new customer service positions.
Some technology will become the catalyst for new customer service positions. For example, augmented reality will pave the way for virtual assistants who can help customers learn how to use products and services. Customers will not only be able to simulate a product, but they'll also have someone digitally supporting them as they become familiar with its features.
Another role that will become popular is specialists. With more customer service mediums, reps will need to have specialized skills and knowledge if they want to provide adequate support. This will lead to reps dedicating themselves to individual channels so they can learn all of the intricacies they'll need to be successful.
Some roles that we can expect to see are chat specialists, social media specialists, and onboarding specialists.
13. Customer service reps will solve fewer problems.
OK, this one sounds bad, but it really isn't!
With more AI and self-service resources becoming available to customers, customer support will see a decrease in case count. This is because smaller, less-complicated problems will be solved by either the customer or a service technology.
So does that mean you can fire your customer support team? No! Your reps will be able to use this added time to focus on solving more difficult product or service problems. That significantly improves the customer experience because it allows your reps to provide a more personalized interaction. Instead of feeling the pressure of a growing case queue, customer service teams can be more thorough in their work and avoid costly troubleshooting errors.
Additionally, with more support cases being solved by front-line customer service, your product experts can spend more time improving the product or service. Instead of having to perform customer-facing responsibilities, engineers and product developers can focus their energy on innovating your company's offers.
14. The frontline service rep will be more flexible and empathetic.
New technology is going to empower customer service reps and give them the tools they need to succeed in their role. They'll spend less time worrying about standard operating procedures, and more time focusing on their customers' needs.
As a result, customer service personnel will become much more flexible and empathetic. With fewer points of friction in their workflow, they'll have more encouragement to provide above-and-beyond customer service.
Still not sold on investing in your customer service team? Learn about the importance of customer service in this next post.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in March 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.