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10 Customer Experience Trends to Watch

As we look forward to 2020, we’re going to experience everything from disruption to digital transformation.

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We are living in the age of the customer. Today’s consumers know more, expect more and demand first-class service, yet are significantly less loyal. With 2020 just around the corner, who will win? Arguably, the world’s most innovative companies—those that can anticipate the future needs of their digital customers and use those predictions to create memorable customer experiences.

expectIn the past six years, digital disruption has revolutionized industries around the globe. Research presented by Sandy Carter at IBM for Entrepreneurs in 2015 nicely demonstrates that disruption has already happened; the world’s largest taxi company owns no taxis (Uber), the largest accommodation provider owns no real estate (Airbnb), the most popular media owner creates no content (Facebook), the largest telecom operator owns no telecom infrastructure (Skype and WeChat), the world’s largest software vendors don’t write the apps (Apple and Google) and the world’s largest movie house owns no cinemas (Netflix).

Customer Service Is No Exception

The customer service industry is no exception to disruption. The explosion of digital, the empowered customer and the acceleration of enterprise-wide innovation has forced brands to transform the way they communicate and service their customers.

The customer of 2020 will be more informed and in charge of the experiences they receive. They will expect companies to know their needs as an individual and then personalize the experience. Even immediate issue resolution will not be fast enough; customers will expect the brands they do business with to proactively anticipate their needs, and provide self-service options that go far beyond a simple FAQ page.

To prepare for the expected customer experience in 2020, customer service professionals must reflect upon the disruption, changes and trends have impacted the service industry, and ultimately help move their organizations towards transformation … digital transformation, that is.

Here are the disruptions, changes and trends that are shaping today’s service industry.

1. Customer experience is driven by omni-channel, mobile and Millennials.

Millennial customers—75.4 million in the United States alone—are about to become the most important (and disruptive) customers that businesses will ever see. Millennials have surpassed the Baby Boomer generation, and are about to control the largest share of wallet as well. According to Forbes, it’s estimated they will spend $200 billion annually by 2017 and $10 trillion over their consumer lifetimes.

Millennials are ultra-connected with their social networks, value individualized experiences, transparency, as well as vocalizing their feedback. Armed with multiple devices and on-demand content, this group has the highest expectations when it comes to service. They demand effortless experiences—and answers within seconds, not minutes—profoundly changing customer engagement strategies across the globe.

2. Customer intelligence and analytics is essential.

Over the past decade, data analytics teams have learned how to decode contact center transcripts made up of unstructured data to provide an accurate and holistic view of the customer experience. Deciphering the customer experience has been pivotal in shaping business decisions across the enterprise. For this reason, brands are moving away from information delivery and towards enterprise accessibility. 

Last month’s reports are too outdated to make any immediate actions needed to better the experience of customers. To keep up with the competition, customer-centric organizations must know what the customer is thinking at the time they are thinking it. Therefore, the demand for analytics teams, data and real-time dashboards has increased over the past few years, and their presence is helping companies shape their future customer engagement strategies.

3. The Internet of Things is increasing the emphasis on self-service.

laptopThe Internet of Things is one form of digital disruption forcing customer service professionals to rethink their customer engagement and service delivery models. The Internet of Things is wirelessly connecting physical objects like thermostats and door locks so they can interact with software and sensors and also collect and exchange data. The connectivity allows these physical objects to be controlled remotely via smartphone apps.

Customer service teams tasked with servicing these products are finding that leading with a self-service strategy is key. For companies, it is essential to ensure their knowledge base is accessible from all products, devices and mobile apps and is updated with easy-to-read product manuals that contain more visuals and videos and are organized by subject. If self-service fails, the customer service professional has the ability to tap into the physical object to diagnose and predict problems, assist via video and access past purchase history to provide a better personalized experience.

4. Augmented reality has been a game changer.

augmented realityAR is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment with augmented elements created by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. The best way to describe AR is a blur between virtual reality and gamification—think Pokemon Go. AR technology has been a strategic differentiator for companies to evolve tech support. With the help of augmented reality, consumers can aim their smartphone at a product, and a 3D version of the product with pop up on the screen, along with interactive guides, how-to videos, helpful tips or even the ability to connect with a customer service representative via video. 

5. Teams will be reorganized to optimize and integrate digital touch points.

touchpointsRight now the formal process of digital transformation is still in its infancy. With the explosion of digital, organizations are in the process of realigning themselves to serve market demand, which affects the roles and objectives of marketing, public relations, sales, social media, website development, mobile and customer service. These once siloed teams must align and work cohesively for successful digital transformation.

Brands must also make additional investments in technology, people and new business models to effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer journey. One of these investments will be in data analytics to learn about digital customer behavior, preferences, emotions and expectations to better service their needs. Other investments will include outsourced partnerships with BPOs, or business process outsourcing firms, with the people, processes and technology needed to service digital customers and charge on an outcome basis, or per conversation. 

One of the biggest benefits to this variable pricing model is no heavy upfront capital investments are needed for technology and tools that may become outdated in a few years as technology changes so fast. Once these investments are made, expect the customer experience of 2020 to be effortless and personalized.

6. Get ready, the bots are coming.

By now, most have heard of the chatbot, short for chat robot, that has quickly become the hottest new tech innovation. A chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation, or chat, through artificial intelligence. Chatbots can respond to customers with structured messages including text, images, links and call to action buttons. The bots allow a customer make a reservation, pay a bill, find the nearest store, review an e-commerce, order and more, all without human interaction.

Chatbots unlock brands’ ability to provide personalized, conversational communication similar to talking to a human customer service or sales rep, but at scale, for much cheaper than a traditional call center. For this reason, be prepared to see chatbots (and other forms of automation) being deployed across service channels such as chat, social and SMS by 2020, as organizations undergo digital transformations.

7. Contextual knowledge bases will be created for personalization and prediction.

Customer engagement is fueled by customer data. Understanding what customers have done, what channels they’ve used, what products they’ve purchased, and what service interactions they’ve had, are all important data sources that can be used to build predictive models for issue resolution.

As companies gain a deeper understanding of customers through research and predictive analytics, they will use that information to develop more individualized customer experiences. Delivering the customer experience of 2020 will require more than a knowledge base. Instead, it will leverage a contextual knowledge base that can be used by both agents and customers, which predicts the right answer based on that particular customer’s data, situation, location and needs. The end result is faster responses, increased issue resolution, reduced customer effort and happier customers.

8. Customer intelligence and real-time dashboards will help personalize engagement.

10 trendsCustomer experience in 2020 will include real-time voice-of-the-customer dashboards for service professionals to keep a pulse on customer sentiment and feedback. This single dashboard will capture relevant data points in real time and use text analytics to decode what’s being said and the sentiment towards each topic, such as: phone call transcripts (voice-to-text), social-media conversations, product rating and reviews, chat logs, idea portals and customer online community discussions.

This customer intelligence will help customer care centers proactively identify a PR crisis waiting to happen, capture new ideas and uncover quality or warranty issues, spot trends, fix problems, and most importantly, personalize engagement with the customer.

9. Text and mobile communication will help teams offer proactive service.

Historically, customer service has been viewed as a reaction to customer needs. For example, if the customer has a problem, they call customer service. It’s rarely the other way around, where customer service proactively reaches out to the customer. Michael Solomon, author of “High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service” describes the concept of anticipatory customer service, where companies predict customer needs and proactively address them before the customer even realizes they have a need.

Anticipating a customer’s needs gives companies an opportunity to provide a “WOW” experience or fix a problem before it amplifies. Customer experience in 2020 will have more proactive SMS alerts and mobile app push notifications to customers to alert them of issues like a credit card on file about to experience, fraud alerts, order status updates, bill charges out of the norm or subscriptions due to expire. All of these examples could prevent a customer from having to engage a customer service agent by giving the customer an option to fix an issue before it occurs.

10. Consumers will use “strategic” self service.

The mobile revolution has consumers placing high demand on customer service to evolve support models and resolve issues on the go, via mobile or tablet devices. The trend towards self-service is growing significantly, especially due to the cost-savings benefits achieved. There are many different forms of self service—from FAQs on a website, how-to videos, peer-to-peer communities, idea portals, top tip guides and more.

digital transformationConsumers ultimately want to resolve their issues quickly without having to go through the hassle of picking up a phone to speak to an agent. However, it’s not enough to just have these self-service channels available to customers. The 2020 customer experience will take a strategic self-service approach. For example, organizations will know and understand what the current issue resolution rate is on the help center. Brands will leverage interaction analytics to understand the top contact drivers and top-searched questions by customer location to evolve their service offerings. Lastly, self service will evolve beyond a simple FAQ page to a more dynamic help center presenting the best channel for resolution based on the questions being asked.

With technology emerging and changing so fast, organizations have no choice but to innovate and transform, or else risk becoming obsolete. Digital transformation represents the next big evolution in the customer service industry. Those companies that embrace it early on, and make strategic investments, will hold a significant competitive advantage over those that choose to figure it out later.

Lauren KindzierskiLauren Kindzierski-Ziskie is vice president of solutions and capabilities at HGS, a leader in optimizing the customer experience and helping clients become more competitive. HGS provides a full suite of business process management services, from traditional voice contact center services and transformational DigiCX services that are unifying the customer experience. To learn more or ask a question, follow her on Twitter @LaurenZiskie or email her at