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The future of customer service

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The future of customer service
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In the not-too-distant future, we’re convinced that businesses will consider customer service to be the most strategically useful business function.

The current state of customer service

The current state of customer service looks something like this:

  • Customer acquisition is prioritised over retention and customer service investment projects are sidelined.
  • Departmental efficiency (e.g., workforce optimisation, self-service, deflection) is of highest priority.
  • Customer service is chronically undervalued. It is not given the deserved respect or authority.
  • Businesses see employees in the customer service department as short-term and disposable. They are there to fulfil a specific, repetitive, purpose.
  • Employees are considered unskilled and leaders hire accordingly.
  • New agents view customer service as a ‘last resort’ or ‘short term’ job. People often see careers in customer support as unambitious.
  • Agent training rarely goes beyond product and people skills.

This is just plain wrong. Customer service is a critical part of the customer’s experience.

When done right, customer service is already adding business value. Great customer service increases retention and repeat business despite the above.

Customer Service AI

The future of customer service: the opportunity left on the table


Yet, this current state of customer service leaves opportunity on the table. The opportunity lies in the extraordinarily close relationship between agent and customer.

Talking to customers face to face, en masse, every day is unique to customer service.


Talking to customers face to face, en masse, every day is unique to customer service. That close contact is an untapped and unappreciated opportunity to build strong customer relationships, increase loyalty, hear customer feedback, improve products, build community, upsell, increase basket size, and so on.


More and more businesses are realising this opportunity. Forward thinking business leaders are already elevating the contact centre to strategic status and using it get an advantage over competitors.


We’ve already seen:

  • Confident, wide-spread awareness that retention is just as important as acquiring new customers (if not more.)
  • The use of customer support as a training ground for product, sales and marketing professionals. At Help Scout, agents earn deep product and customer knowledge in support and then join other teams.
  • Injection of sales trained support agents into the customer journey at Schuh. The results were outstanding.
  • In-store salespeople using free time to answer support queries at Three. Their ThreeStore Now project boosts sales and improves customer experience.
  • Use of support conversations to measure product and feature performance.
  • Use of insight from support conversations for root cause analysis.
  • Rapid adoption of closed-loop and proactive customer support to tackle customer churn.

Driving real growth through support (like in the above examples) is far from standard and far from optimised.

This will change.

We opened with this statement: "businesses will consider customer service to be the most strategically useful business function". This is happening already and will only increase over the next 3-5 years.

The next 3-5 years

Support driven growth

In the next 3-5 years, we expect to see:

  • The shift from a primarily 'cost centre' to primarily 'growth centre' worldview.
  • The job desc for a customer service director will focus more on leadership, innovation, and ability to drive company-wide improvement. 
  • Customer service will shift to become a strategic partner of marketing, sales, and product development. CS will help with direction, project prioritisation, and impact.
  • A need for customer service leaders to take a highly strategic seat at the table. They’ll need to argue for investment in talent, technology, and innovation. 
  • A shift in performance metrics. Forget # of resolved tickets. In the future, we'll measure performance based on # of customers saved from the precipice of churn.
  • A career in customer service will not be a last resort. Top graduates will prioritise getting an education in strategic customer interaction.
  • Focus on ticket deflection will reduce because brands will view each customer interaction as an opportunity to learn, build a relationship, and grow profits. They deserve a well-trained, human touch.

Modern and developing technology enables this future to exist. With new technology, administrative tasks will tend toward zero.

Modern and developing technology enables this future to exist. With new technology, administrative tasks will tend toward zero.

Things humans do best (build relationships, empathise, make decisions, personalise) will be what humans do.

The impact of an overhaul in customer service

The best way to explain the impact of this is to split the customer service interaction into four layers and look at what’s important at each one.

The four layers are:

  1. Method of interaction. Important: Ease of interaction; communication channels enabled; location of interaction.
  2. Pre-interaction. Important: pre-informed agents; ticket prioritisation; ticket delegation.
  3. Interaction. Important: agent training in up/cross-sell opportunities; fast responses; responses in the way that’s most appreciated by the customer.
  4. Post-interaction. Important: Follow up; internal learning; future prevention.

 

Help desks cover most of the ‘method’ of interaction. New channels will continue to emerge, for example, social messengers are on the dramatic rise in customer support already. (See: Is WhatsApp the future of customer service?)

That trend will continue but your help desk should let you expand channels with ease.

We'll get to this future IF...

 

Granular, accurate, and real-time support ticket analytics is the lynchpin for much of what’s next for customer service.

Granular, accurate, and real-time support ticket analytics is the lynchpin for much of what’s next for customer service.

 

Advances in artificial intelligence have enabled the rapid synthesis of support ticket content. Our product at SentiSum now enables companies to know the topic and sentiment of every support request in real-time.

The application of AI to support tickets opens up a wealth of opportunity for strategic customer service.

Pre-interaction

In the pre-interaction stage, support ticket analytics will soon enable:

  • Prioritisation of particularly angry customers
  • Understanding of particularly painful topics that need extra attention
  • Flagging of topics that cause nasty customer outcomes (e.g.churn)
  • Support ticket delegation of tricky tickets to experienced agents
Pre-interaction future of customer service


Interaction

In the interaction stage, support ticket analytics will soon enable:

  • Faster response times
  • Auto-identified opportunities for upsell or growth
  • Continuous training of agents and automatic quality assurance
Interaction stage future of customer service


Post-interaction

In the post-interaction stage, support ticket analytics will soon enable customer service teams to:

  • Identify points of customer friction before they become pain points (i.e. root cause analytics)
  • Get alerted to unexpected trending issues to make sure they don’t affect more customers (i.e. issue prevention)
  • Identify opportunities for product development
  • Identify important training opportunities over time
Post interaction future of customer service


Bringing it all together

Future Customer Service

In short, ticket analytics are the foundational layer that customer service needs to ‘become the most strategically useful business function’.

 

AI ticket analytics help customer service leaders deeply understand customers at scale, increase loyalty, drives growth and help the entire business to do the same.

Having mastered customer support ticket analytics with AI, we're one giant leap along the journey.

Our product roadmap is a series of steppingstones—each one takes customer support leaders step-by-step into this extraordinary future that awaits them.

 

If you’d like to learn how our clients use our support ticket analytics technology to get ahead, please book a demo with us today.

Customer journey mapping screenshot

5 ways to sell the value of the contact centre internally—see pages 4-7.
Here are 7 ways companies are evolving their contact centre so it adds to the bottom-line—see page 21.

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