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Gen Z and your Customer Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

When it comes to your customer service strategy, does age matter? Do you make decisions about how and where you deliver support based on the generations of your target customers? Are you planning for the expectations of younger customers as they gain more buying power over the next few years?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you are doing your company and your customer base a huge disservice. You are opening the door to your competitors and welcoming them in to steal your customers away. You are missing out on a prime opportunity to put your customer service efforts on the path to future success.

Customer service and CX expert, Shep Hyken recently published his 2022 ACA Study: Achieving Customer Amazementdownload a full copy of the report here – which explores the state of customer service and customer experience. For the study, a 26-question survey was completed by consumers in the United States between the ages of 18 and 65. The report breaks down generational responses into the following groups: Gen Z (ages 18-25); Millennials (ages 26-44); Gen X (ages 45-56); Boomers (ages 57-65).

One important question asked in the survey focused on the future of customer service. Participants were asked: Which of the following customer service experiences do you expect to be essential to you in the near future, 3-5 years?

2022 ACA Study

The report called out these two important stats:

  • In the next three to five years, non-human customer service will be more essential.
  • In the next three to five years, older generations expect 24/7 availability, online chat, human interactions only, and never being put on hold or transferred more than younger generations. Younger generations expect mobile friendly and intuitive self-service options more than older generations.

The finding that non-human customer service is becoming more important doesn’t come as a surprise. This has been a growing trend, especially over the past decade, as access to and the use of more technology has increased across age groups. Digital literacy has also improved greatly in the past few years, partly due to necessity as public health concerns have reduced in-person activities during the pandemic.

This is important for organizations to remember as they develop and tweak their customer support strategies for the next few years. Human interactions are still essential to a positive experience, of course. However, it will become increasingly essential for the human parts of your customer service to be linked with the non-human pieces in a way that creates consistency across your business.

More significant for the future of your customer support strategy is the second key stat highlighted in this part of the survey. If your company has customers across older and younger generations, then your strategy for the near future must take into account the preferences of both groups. However, the expectations of Gen Z and Millennials are where your focus should be as you plan for the long-term.

Younger generations selecting mobile friendly and intuitive self-service options as essential over the next three to five years reflects a crucial change in customer preferences. The evolution of preferences towards mobile and digital-first has been happening for years, particularly as smartphones have become a key part of everyday life. These preferences aren’t a passing fad. They indicate the expectations that will be placed on your customer service tools and engagements as younger generations of customers gain more buying power.

The survey also delved into current self-service usage, finding 71% of respondents use self-service tools. When asked more specifically ‘When you have a problem or issue with a company or brand, which solution do you prefer to help solve your problem?’, 49% of Gen Z participants and 41% of Millennials said they would use a digital self-service option rather than make a call to talk to a live customer service agent. These percentages were significantly higher than Gen X and Boomers, further reflecting the generational shift towards self-service.

Now is the time for every company to examine how self-service currently fits into their customer support strategy and what steps are needed to plan for self-service success in the future. Keep in mind that younger generations don’t just want self-service options, but rather are coming to expect intuitive self-service. More advanced technologies like conversational AI deliver the capabilities you need to create those self-service experiences.

Investments in these types of solutions can sound risky, but the real risk is in not making changes to your customer service approach now. The survey results shared in this report reinforce the need to take actions that not only create positive experiences now but lay the groundwork for successfully meeting the expectations of Gen Z in the future.

Download The 2022 ACA Study from Shep Hyken’s website for more insights on customer preferences and habits.

Also check out the three steps in Conversational AI Doesn’t Have to be a Risky Investment for tips to help get you started on creating proven, reliable, and intuitive self-service tools.

How to Make Your Chatbot More Conversational

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

When customers use your chatbot to self-serve, what kind of experience do you deliver? Does your chatbot need questions asked a particular way to return the correct response? Do your customers have to guess the correct keywords to enter or know specific terminology to locate the right information? Are users repeatedly told by your chatbot to try rephrasing an input that doesn’t have a direct match in the system?

All of these scenarios provide a frustrating, negative self-service experience. They often lead to an escalation to a live chat session or a call to the contact centre for resolution, meaning your support agents are left to deal with the immediate impacts of that poor experience. With digital self-service such an important piece of customer support, a chatbot with these limited capabilities is detrimental to the success of your customer experience (CX) strategy.

This is why using a high-quality conversational AI technology to build your chatbot is so important. You want your chatbot to engage with users conversationally. That isn’t possible with basic bot platforms which act more like simple FAQ tools or don’t give you options for backend integrations.

Engaging ‘conversationally’ doesn’t mean that a goal of your chatbot should be to make users think they are chatting with a real person. It’s always best to be clear that it is an automated self-service tool. Customers appreciate transparency about whether they are using a human-assisted or automated digital support option. The last thing you want to do is make them feel tricked!

Here are a few ways to create the right conversational engagement through your chatbot:

  • Create a conversational tone – Just because you aren’t trying to make users think they are talking to a real person doesn’t mean that you must make your chatbot’s responses sound stiff and bland. Craft your responses using a conversational tone that reflects your brand and has the same type of language you use on your website and in customer communications.
  • Understand free text inputs – There is more than one way to ask the same question, and in a conversation both participants understand this. Ensure your chatbot is trained to respond to the various ways users can word an input rather than requiring a specific keyword or phrase. This includes taking into account both common synonyms for your language and region as well as those for your particular industry, products, and services. And on occasions when a user’s input can’t be confidently matched to a response and the chatbot asks for the question to be rephrased, also offer some clickable suggestions or possible related FAQs to improve the experience.
  • Craft conversation flows – Adding customised conversation flows enables your chatbot to guide users through a process step-by-step in a very natural, conversational way. These flows are perfect for troubleshooting account or device issues, completing a form with the chatbot, or pinpointing a very specific piece of information to assist the customer.
  • Deliver personalised support – Integrate your chatbot with backend systems so it can provide customised responses based on that customer’s current account, subscriptions, orders, etc. Using sophisticated slot-filling functionality also enables users to authenticate within the chatbot at any time to create a seamless and more personal conversation.

The best conversational AI technology for customer support chatbots uses a blend of machine learning and natural language rules. This lets you take advantage of recent innovations in machine learning so your chatbot is constantly improving based on your users’ activities. At the same time, it gives you control over the AI so you can ensure your chatbot is using those learnings to continue providing accurate, reliable responses in a conversational way.

If you currently have a chatbot that’s failing the conversational test, check out this eBook on Conversational AI Issues & Solutions for ways to improve your solution.

If you don’t have a customer service chatbot yet and are concerned about choosing the right conversational AI technology, check out this Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor for some insider expert tips.

A chatbot can be a valuable self-service option for your customers, but it must be backed by a high-quality conversational AI technology – with an emphasis on conversational.

Take Your Customer Support from ‘Talking At’ to ‘Listening To’

By Björn Gülsdorff, Chief Business Development Officer

Once upon a time ‘market’ was a noun, denoting the place where people got together and negotiated public affairs. In some markets, like the Forum Romanum, history was made. Then, ‘market’ also became a verb. Now marketing basically means talking at people, often raising the level of volume, colours, and wordings whilst lowering niveau. 😊

Surely, to say such a thing is utterly unfair to many marketeers. Yet, when it comes to customer service, I uphold the claim that the communication is often rather unidirectional, and in the wrong direction on top of that. Countless the websites where FAQs are not “frequently asked questions” but rather “answers we’d like to give”. Or where obviously someone has created a user journey for me. Frankly, nobody needs to design that. I know pretty well where I want to go, thank you.

What I do want on my journey, is to have road bumps removed, gaps bridged, and connections optimised. If customer service was an airport, I don’t want the lounge refurbished; I want another fast lane and quick boarding.

I am aware that people are different and that the same person has different needs at different times. Therefore, there is not the one journey for all and clearing the path is not easy.

That’s where two-sided conversations, aka dialogues, kick in. Customer service is about listening as well as acknowledging that each experience will be unique. Virtual agents can play a role in that as they come with a free text input field. So even when customers are self-serving, they don’t need to guess the one correct search term or scroll through a list of FAQs someone else has selected.

When it comes to creating this dialogue with customers, there are good and not so good ways to start.Things like expectation management, consistency, focus, and coverage make a big difference. It also requires courage (customers will speak their mind!) and the will to act.

It may be an inconvenient truth, but customer service with a virtual agent (or any other tool for that matter) is not a one-off thing. Good customer service means listening to your customers and improving constantly, be it the NLP (natural language processing), answers in the virtual agent, your processes, your services, or your products. In customer service, the journey to design is your way to become a better and more successful company.

Whether you’re ready to add a virtual agent to your customer service plan for the first time or have realised that your current tool isn’t creating a helpful dialogue with customers, I recommend this whitepaper for tips from conversational AI experts.

AI Growth in the Insurance Industry

By Susan Ott, Senior Customer Success Manager

At the outset of the global pandemic in 2020, there was already a great emphasis on the consumer’s desire for artificial intelligence (AI) in day-to-day life.  As we find ourselves making our way, 18 months and counting, in this new normal it is a safe bet that the world of AI-powered self-service isn’t going anywhere.

One industry that has experienced an influx in the need for self-service is Insurance. With technology advancing every day, the need for instant service and issue resolution is becoming more and more expected. The preference of customers to be able to self-serve isn’t waning, but their patience with companies that don’t provide that option certainly is.

AI remains a major trend in the technology sector that will continue to alter how we work and live. Within the customer service space in particular, conversational AI is enabling companies to successfully meet the growing need for instant service.

These new technologies are being used in the multi-faceted Insurance field to automate Claim Processing, get Pricing/Quotes, and improve the overall Customer Service experience for Auto, Home and Life policyholders. Here are some examples:

  • Claim Processing: Companies spend a lot of money on Claims personnel, often times increasing rates to account for the large number of calls coming into their contact centers. Using AI, these companies can reduce their hiring budget by automating many of the routine questions that representatives field on any given day.
  • Pricing/Quotes: This is a huge area in which AI can be beneficial. Using AI, companies can be more competitive in their pricing and allow for personalization tailored to individual policyholders. Knowing some key criteria about a person, such as geographical location, marital status, and likelihood of filing a claim, helps to set premiums.
  • Customer Service: Companies need to look at AI in terms of it acting as a personal Concierge for users coming into the company’s website. It gets them where they need to be to best resolve their questions, allowing for a seamless and smooth experience, while decreasing phone or other live contacts via this digital channel.

Insurance companies should approach AI projects with the goal of creating better experiences for their policyholders, agents, and contact center teams. When used correctly, these technologies provide instant service that is personalized, convenient, and meets the expectations of today’s consumers. Automating processes and top customer service queries with AI also improves efficiency, increases productivity, and helps build customer trust and loyalty. All of this is more important than ever as we continue to make our way through this new normal.

A Seamless Support Experience is Music to Your Customers’ Ears

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Every month Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO writes his Virtual Viewpoint column for Wharf Life, a local newspaper available in the area around the company’s headquarters in London. You can also read the paper online, getting an insider’s look at what’s going on in the area as well as Chris’ perspective on a variety of topics from technology developments to stress management to space exploration.

In his latest Virtual Viewpoint column, Chris shares his recent experience attending a string quartet recital. He marvels at how in sync the musicians were, each bringing their own style and sound together for a cohesive performance. He compares this to running a successful company. Each member of the team contributes their unique skills and style but must work together towards a common goal.

The same principles are true for delivering a positive customer service experience. Creating your overall strategy is similar to writing a musical score – you have to pay attention not only to the performance of each individual component but also how they interact with each other over the course of the journey. You need to ensure each element is utilised to emphasise its strengths but do so in a way that creates a joined-up, seamless experience.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that a number of my own personal customer service experiences have revealed a strategy that is out-of-sync. Way too often a company’s digital experience appears to come from a completely different strategy than other parts of the experience. While many customers were willing to cut businesses a little slack as they dealt with sudden pandemic-related changes, that’s no longer a valid excuse for the disjointed support experience so many companies are still delivering.

Recently I’ve come across some articles claiming customers, who are increasingly turning to digital channels, hate using chatbots and just want to talk to a human. However, when you delve into the real reasons behind these claims, you realise that it’s not the automated self-service tool that customers hate but rather the poor experience that some of them are delivering. If the chatbot can understand their questions, provide accurate and relevant information, and give the option to escalate to a human if needed, then customers have no issue with using a chatbot.

This highlights a failure in both the development of these chatbot solutions and their implementation as part of a synchronised support strategy. A quality chatbot must be backed by conversational AI technology that combines machine learning with a human-in-the-loop. It must be integrated with human-assisted support channels, such as live chat, for a seamless handover. It must be approached as one piece of a comprehensive customer service strategy and not as a stand-alone tool or side project. All of these elements are essential for your solution to be effective, but companies often struggle because they don’t have enough knowledge in this field.

Rachel F Freeman, a conversational AI expert, started working with chatbots and virtual agents in 2000. She has experienced first-hand the evolution of the technology, and today collaborates closely with organisations on the development and implementation of their solutions. She shared this important piece of advice in a chatbot vendor selection guide:

“You should feel comfortable saying to your vendor, “we don’t know what we don’t know and are looking to you as the experts”. This applies to everything from possible use cases to suggestions for conversational flows to UI design tips. If you don’t have confidence they will guide you in the right direction, you’re working with the wrong team.”

This is sage advice for companies as they make conversational AI a part of their customer service strategy. If you don’t want your customers to hate your chatbot, then give them a chatbot that delivers the experience they want. That requires working with knowledgeable experts to ensure your self-service tool is properly developed and integrated with your overarching support strategy, goals, and customer needs.

While engaging with a company for customer support will likely never be as enjoyable as listening to a professional string quartet recital, the experience should be just as seamless and in sync. This is certainly not an easy feat, but is one made easier when you work with the right experts. And when you are able to deliver a seamless, omnichannel support experience, it will be music to your customers’ ears.

Delivering Innovation that Enables Successful Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Innovation is essential for companies to stay relevant, be competitive and achieve long-term growth. History is littered with brands that resisted change and failed to keep up with new trends and preferences in the marketplace – like Blockbuster – which ultimately resulted in their demise. However, simply being innovative is not enough to ensure success.

What is too often missing from the emphasis on being innovative is the necessity for that innovation to be applicable to the real life needs and challenges of your company and customers. Having innovation at the heart of our company culture at Creative Virtual has served the company well, but only because we innovate with the objective of delivering products and services that genuinely help our customers meet their goals in increasingly better ways.

Today we announced Creative Virtual’s latest award win: ‘Most Innovative Conversational Self-Service Solutions, 2020’ in Corporate Vision Magazine’s Corporate Excellence Awards. As a company we are proud to receive this recognition for innovation. We are even prouder to know that our dedication to innovation is enabling us to provide both the conversational AI technologies and the expert consultation and managed services needed to create quality self-service experiences.

Conversational self-service tools have progressively become more mainstream in the nearly two decades of Creative Virtual’s history. The COVID-19 pandemic thrust them into the spotlight even more in 2020 as companies scrambled to automate online customer service, better support a remote workforce, and relieve growing pressure on contact centres. Organisations already using V-Person™ solutions from Creative Virtual had a distinct advantage in meeting the challenges of customer support during the pandemic.

Many customer experience (CX) predictions for 2021 foresee conversational self-service becoming more integral to customer support strategies. Shep Hyken, a customer service and experience expert, included chatbots in his Top 10 Business Predictions for this year:

“Chatbots will do more than just communicate with customers. Most companies use chatbots as a way to manage customer support. Chatbots will continue to do that, and get better at it, but they will also help decide what happens next. The initial interaction is the starting point for automating processes or escalating the issue to a human.”

Creative Virtual’s chatbots and virtual agents are already doing that, which is one of the reasons why we were named most innovative by the award judges. In 2020, we introduced the Neutrino release of V-Person (our conversational virtual agent and chatbot technology) which brings together humans and AI with powerful integration options and easy-to-manage workflows. With V-Portal™ (our virtual agent, chatbot and live chat management platform), organisations can create personalised conversations, identify next-best-actions, and escalate from virtual to human support in a seamless way.

Being innovative in this area requires more than just having cool technology, though. It also demands having the experience and expertise to implement that technology in innovative ways to create positive, reliable self-service engagement. This was hugely important in 2020 – and another reason Creative Virtual received this recognition – when businesses, customers, employees, and contact centres were facing new challenges and rapidly changing circumstances. Our team rose to this task, finding ways to help our customers achieve success. In the words of one of our customer contacts from a major financial services group:

“The service from Laura and Andi has been great since we launched our virtual assistants. They have been on hand to support with any question I have and support I’ve needed. During the tough times of the COVID-19 outbreak, we have had to make multiple changes quickly and they have made this process simple.”

Congratulations to the whole Creative Virtual team on this recognition as ‘Most Innovative Conversational Self-Service Solutions, 2020’ and your ongoing dedication to developing and delivering successful self-service!

You can read our official award announcement here and request a personalised demo of our self-service solutions here.

Our thanks to the Corporate Excellence Awards judges for recognising our commitment to innovation and growth throughout 2020!

Harnessing Human and Machine During the Pandemic

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director

A direct quote of the explanatory theme for this Customer Service Week says: “The impact of events affecting the world today have changed the way in which companies and their employees engage with customers.”

Indeed this is true, and all of us in our businesses and in our personal lives can feel the effects of how services of all kinds have altered in ways ranging from barely discernible to completely different (filling out forms, having temperatures taken, tape and measurements of distance being assessed amidst a lot of Perspex dividers). A main thing that became apparent in call centre scenarios was that call wait times for an array of customer services were much longer and users still are advised in recorded messages that “due to Covid-19” call wait time may be impacted.

I can testify that I’ve never had to wait 25-30 minutes to speak to a representative for whatever service I needed before Spring 2020 but experienced that exact scenario at least four times in the past few months. Speaker phones have never been so handy so that one can do other tasks whilst being on hold for extended periods of time!

Cue the virtual agents, chatbots and virtual assistants. Now more than ever before it is a no brainer that online self-help tools that are available 24/7 should come into their own in this period of uncertainty and continued delays blamed on Covid. Self-help tools need not be subject to the same rules of quarantine which makes them more reliable when it is impossible to predict when humans will be available to handle and field queries based on who is in the office and who is self-isolating.

Now more than ever, in the spirit of seamless customer experience, let’s let the self-help tools do what they are designed to do. Let’s let them share the burden of the increasing pressure on call centre agents and take advantage of them working to their fullest potential. Let’s give the machines space to help, freedom to work whilst the humans that are healthy can spend time not only speaking to customers who truly need a human but also to check in from time to time on the accuracy of the responses of the virtual agent. A smart combination of self-help and human guidance creates confidence that the job will get done with the right tools.

We’re all being told to stay safe and be alert – so let’s work in parallel with the tools to help make that happen. We can enable more efficient customer service interactions whilst at the same time prioritising the health and well-being of both customers and employees.

Check out the Neutrino release of V-Person™ to learn how Creative Virtual is delivering some of the most up-to-date and seamless self-help tools available. Also download the ‘Conversational AI Trends 2020’ ebook from AI Time Journal for virtual agent success stories during the pandemic.

The way companies and their employees are engaging with customers may have changed significantly this year, but with the right tools a positive, seamless experience is possible. This Customer Service Week let’s celebrate both the people and the technology that are delivering safe and seamless customer support in this period of uncertainty.

Customer Experience: It’s all about long-term relationships

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

CX Day and Customer Service Week this year, like everything else, is held with the dark cloud of the pandemic hanging over us. Customer experience has always been a key competitive differentiator, and this has never been more apparent than this year. It’s a true saying that when the chips are down you find out who your true friends are. As the CEO of Creative Virtual, I’ve been on two sides on this equation during these tough times: supporting our customers and being a customer myself.

Customer experience is a much-debated subject of course, but the thing that’s often missing from these debates is the importance of building strong customer partnerships that can stand the test of time. Creative Virtual is fortunate to have many long-term customers: one of our first customers has been with us since the formation of the company (nearly 17 years ago!). Having a great team, who are empowered to make decisions in the best interests of the customer, is the main attribute for a long-term partnership. Being flexible, listening and supporting our customers as they face their own challenges, and taking a longer-term perspective, is an inherent part of our company culture.

I’m always studying how other companies treat their customers, and there’s no better way than being a customer yourself. The pandemic has brought out the best, and the worst, in the customer experiences that myself or people I know have encountered. Like all of us, I’ve been truly inspired and humbled by our key workers. The dedication and positivity from staff at the local Waitrose, for example, has been a breath of fresh air (service with a smile!). There are some bank and landlord experiences that I’ve heard about that have been pretty bad. And these cases are particularly beguiling when there’s been a long-term relationship in place and the bank/landlord has turned their back in a moment of need. Purely from a business perspective, these actions are completely counterproductive as this often leads to a loss of business.

Today much of the customer experience is automated, and when I consider what makes our chatbot/ virtual agent and live chat technology successful, it’s taking that long-term view. Building the right foundations at the beginning means the technology can be easily adapted as business priorities change and can be readily scaled up as required. This was particularly put to the test during the height of the pandemic when our customers saw a dramatic increase in virtual agent transactions and required quick updates to the chatbot/ virtual agent content. Taking a long-term perspective is just as important for chabots/ virtual agents as it is for human relations!

If you’re planning to add a chatbot virtual agent to your CX strategy to help improve your customer relationships, you’ll want to download this whitepaper: Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience. The guide provides insights from industry experts on how having a strong partnership with your technology vendor sets your self-service solution up for long-term success.

As you celebrate CX Day and Customer Service Week this year, consider the approach you are taking with your customer experience strategy. Are you striving to build strong, long-term customer partnerships? Are you empowering your employees to make decisions to strengthen those customer relationships? Are you taking a long-term view to achieve success with automated CX tools?

Customer experience is all about long-term relationships – and that’s never been more important than right now. When the chips are down, are you a reliable partner for your customers?

Virtual Agent Usage Spikes as Self-Service Rescues the Customer Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Making a call to a customer service contact centre can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience on a regular day. Throw in a global pandemic and all bets are off. Many organisations are struggling with an overwhelming increase in calls and the closure of call centres. Customers are taking to social media to complain about being unable to get through to call centres and being disconnected after waiting on hold for hours. Companies are asking customers to avoid calling them and adding notifications about long call wait times on their websites.

More customers are turning to company websites and apps for support, in some cases out of sheer desperation because they can’t get through to a contact centre agent and in other cases because they have been proactively directed there by the business. Companies with existing online support and easy-to-use self-service tools are at an obvious advantage. These organisations can ‘rescue’ the customer experience by guiding customers to the information they need online while at the same time relieving some of the pressure from their contact centre so agents can better serve customers with questions that need human support.

In a recent blog post, my colleague Laura Ludmany talked about the sharp increase of traffic Creative Virtual’s banking virtual agents had experienced over the previous month. As she pointed out, it’s not unusual for us to see an increase in usage during significant events. However, this sudden spike surpassed anything we’ve seen in the 16 years of the company’s history. With the help of another colleague and analyst extraordinaire, Lester Lane, I took a closer look at our recent virtual agent traffic.

The graph below shows virtual agent traffic globally and across multiple industries for the period of 1 January 2019 through 12 April 2020. Starting from late February, you can clearly see the number of transactions trending sharply upwards and peaking at the beginning of April.

virtual agent traffic

To put this in context a bit more – by 12 April 2020, these virtual agents had reached nearly 50% of the total traffic they recorded for all of 2019, despite being only about a quarter of the way through this year. During the approximately month and a half between 1 March and 12 April 2020, these installs completed 30% more transactions than during January and February of this year.

It’s also interesting to break down the virtual agent traffic by region. The graph below compares traffic from our Europe-based installs and those from North America. Spikes in usage of our European virtual agents start showing up earlier, a reflection of COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders becoming more widespread there before North America. The traffic increases also correlate with the timings of announcements about government schemes and stimulus packages in the UK and the US, two of the main countries where Creative Virtual has virtual agents deployed.

virtual agent usage

I’m curious to watch how virtual agent traffic changes over the coming months as coronavirus-related restrictions are eased – and potentially reinstated – and the world continues to transition. Will customers having their first virtual agent experience during the pandemic make those self-service tools their go-to for future support questions, thereby raising average usage figures? Only time will tell.

Hungry for more stats? Download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service which delves into survey responses from customers on their customer service preferences and business leaders on their usage of self-service technologies.

The Impact of Customer Experience Developments on the Future of Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

There is always an element of uncertainty we must take into account when planning for the future. This has perhaps never been truer on a global scale than right now as we face the unpredictable impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it may not be the right time to book your next beach getaway or send out invitations for your extended family reunion, smart companies should be looking towards the future impacts of customer experience (CX) developments and consumer expectations.

In the recently published report The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service (available for download in a UK version and in a US version), ContactBabel takes a deep dive into the current status of CX self-service technologies, use cases and customer preferences. Each version of the report breaks down the results of a survey conducted with 1,000 consumers in that country on their expectations of a good customer experience. The report then compares those responses with survey responses from organisations on their current and planned self-service offerings and investments.

The last section of the report analyses responses from business leaders on the future of CX, self-service and the contact centre. This includes a question on how important various CX developments will be on their organisation in the next two years. The two graphs below summarise their responses – the first is responses from the UK, the second from the US:

ContactBabel Self-Service GuideContactBabel Self-Service Guide

In the US survey, 61% of respondents identified AI/self-service as being very important, up from just 51% in 2018. The UK survey found a similar noteworthy increase in responses from the 2018 survey for AI/self-service. This reflects the significant developments made in the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in the customer service space over the past several years. The hype around AI-powered self-service tools, such as chatbots and virtual agents, has evolved into a more practical and realistic view giving organisations more confidence to pursue the technology.

It also reflects the increased adoption of digital self-service by customers over the same period. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with using self-service chatbots and virtual agents. They appreciate being able to get help and support instantaneously at any time of day or night. In both the UK and US customer surveys cited in the ContactBabel reports, respondents identified website self-service/mobile app as their preferred method to contact a company for a high urgency interaction. Nearly half of all respondents selected self-service over other options such as phoning the call centre or sending an email.

Self-Service Guide

Self-Service Guide

It will be interesting to see how these trends change over the next 12 months as companies rise to the challenges of supporting customers during and after coronavirus-related shutdowns and social distancing measures. There has already been a significant uptick in the use of self-service tools like virtual agents as contact centres struggle to respond to the sudden surge of incoming calls, chats and emails. Will this result in a more permanent increase in customers turning to self-service as their first point of contact for support issues? And will the more intense focus on digital strategies within organisations, currently driven by necessity, continue as they see the benefits of the changes they are making?

Despite all the uncertainty and unpredictability of the coming year, organisations must take action now to assess their customers’ needs and expectations in order to prioritise CX developments. Download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service – find the UK version here and the US version here – for more insights and self-service use cases.