By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)
For many the end of 2016 couldn’t come soon enough, with the dawn of the New Year bringing a fresh start and a clean slate. Yet, according to Forrester, companies are starting 2017 under attack. While traditionally we would think of this pressure as coming from competitors, today’s organisations are under attack from their customers. Forrester Analyst and Vice President Dane Anderson explains:
“Three years ago, Forrester identified a major shift in the market, ushering in the age of the customer. Power has shifted away from companies and towards digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers who now decide winners and losers.”
For example, Forrester identifies consumers in Asia Pacific as changing along five key dimensions:
- Increasingly willing to experiment
- Reliant on technology
- Inclined to integrate digital and physical experiences
- Able to handle large volumes of information
- Determined to create the best experiences for themselves
Forrester has found these key points to explain evolving customer trends and increased customer empowerment. With highly empowered customers willing to take their business elsewhere for a new, exciting experience, organisations need to be customer-obsessed and constantly innovating in order to remain competitive.
This phenomenon isn’t confined to consumers in Asia Pacific. Digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers around the world are placing these expectations on organisations in all industries. Microsoft’s 2016 State of Global Customer Service Report found that an average of 90% of consumers surveyed in Brazil, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA expect brands to have an online customer self-service portal. 97% of global consumers answered that customer service was either somewhat or very important in their choice of or loyalty to a brand, and 60% reported having stopped doing business with a brand due to a poor customer service experience.
The analysts at Gartner have also been following these technology-driven changes in customer preferences. In their report Predicts 2017: CRM Customer Service and Support, they observe that AI is finding rapid uptake as a tool to provide better customer service and predict that by 2020 the use of virtual customer assistants (VCAs), also called virtual agents or chatbots, will increase by 1,000%. They also discuss how changing customer preferences will lead to an increased automation of customer service needs and a growing market for chatbots able to provide customer engagement over messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat. Gartner foresees VCAs and chatbots becoming a necessity for business-to-consumer organisations in order to deal with the demand for 24/7 support and the increased volume of customer interactions.
The panel of industry experts interviewed for Call Centre Helper’s annual Contact Centre Technology Predictions shared similar thoughts on the increase of self-service and the changing role of contact centres in 2017. One contributor predicted the replacement of FAQs with conversational systems that allow for dynamic two-way conversations. Another expert felt 2017 may be the year in which chatbots or virtual agents become widely used in call centres to alleviate workloads and help live agents focus more on important calls. Others echoed these insights through predictions that the investment in customer self-service will gather pace in 2017 and organisations will focus on engaging customers through conversational commerce.
It’s clear that organisations need to take action in 2017 in order to avoid being declared a loser by empowered customers, and digital self-service options will be key to successful customer engagement. This certainly isn’t a surprise to those in the industry. In fact, both Personal Assistants/Intelligent Agents and Artificial Intelligence were in the top four marketing-related searches of 2016 in the UK according to Microsoft’s Bing Ads.
But knowing you need to offer digital self-service and successfully implementing these tools as part of your overall customer engagement plan are two very different things. The best way to begin this journey is to educate yourself about digital engagement solutions, the advancements in and limitations of AI and customer expectations of self-service tools such as chatbots. The whitepaper Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what! is a great resource to get you started on your path to creating a tale of customer experience success in 2017.
Your customers may not be giving you a fresh start when it comes to their opinion of your customer experience just because the new year is here, but there’s no time like the present to take a hard look at your CX strategy and identify where you can make improvements. Make 2017 the year digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers declare your company a winner!