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Customer Care 2020: Machines Will Rise and People Will Matter More Than Ever

Here are several trends that will shape our profession in the years to come.

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What’s in store for customer care as we approach 2020? An influx of technology will change what work needs to be done and how it will be completed. Corporate pressures to drive revenue growth and lower costs will significantly expand customer care’s scope. Smart, talented, adaptable employees will be more critical than ever as customer care leaders navigate these changes. Here are more on the trends that will shape customer care by 2020.CrystalBall

  1. Machines will rise.
    We are on the cusp of a profound shift in which machines will assume responsibility for many tasks that people currently perform. This trend will impact customer care in many ways. Virtual agent technology will be incorporated throughout corporate websites and mobile properties, automating the process of answering questions and resolving issues. Even moderately complicated questions will be answered automatically using sophisticated natural language processing, machine learning and advanced search techniques.

    Contact center software will automate painfully manual customer care processes such as 
    routing questions to other departments and chasing down answers. Knowledge bases that grow smarter and more comprehensive each day will reduce the time to train new agents and decrease the need for supervisor escalations.

    In some cases, the expanding role of technology and machines will be even more profound and startling. Your “customer” might even be a machine sometime soon. The next few years will see rapid expansion of “The Internet of Things,” an interconnected network of physical objects, devices, vehicles, buildings and other items with embedded sensors and communication technology that enable the objects to capture and communicate data. These items will be able to recognize and report problems before the humans who use them. For example, you could imagine a “smart” faucet detecting a failing seal and notifying Delta customer care before the customer even sees a leak.
  2. Customer care’s scope will expand.
    As customer care leverages technology to achieve greater productivity, new demands will more than fill the capacity.

    Marketing comes calling: Over the last several years, marketing has undergone a fundamental change. Marketers have been compelled to engage in a two-way dialogue with individual consumers rather than pushing a single message to a mass audience. Marketing leaders will recognize the well-honed customer engagement skills of customer care teams and will ask these teams to support key marketing initiatives and loyalty programs in meaningful ways.

    This movement is well underway at Domino’s, with customer care playing an important role in the launch of the “Piece of Pie Rewards” program as well as promotions like the DomiNoNo pizza give-away with Major League Baseball. The expansion of its mission beyond traditional customer care resulted in contact center volume increasing more than 30% in 2015. Customer care leaders who have historically struggled to productively engage their marketing colleagues will soon find a much more willing dance partner.

    E-commerce comes calling: Even more profound changes will result from the dramatic growth in e-commerce volume and the accompanying need for e-commerce support. E-commerce contact centers will dwarf customer care centers. Many companies will merge the two to drive efficiency and reduce complexity. When they do, customer care representatives will be asked to sell, and customer care leaders will be tasked with managing and motivating selling activity. Customer care leaders at forward-thinking companies like Vera Bradley have recognized that this shift requires fundamental changes in culture, metrics, staffing, management approaches and training.

    Management comes calling: With global growth expected to slow as we approach 2020, company leaders will be aggressively seeking ways to cut costs. Many will look to consolidate and shrink contact centers. Customer care will be well positioned to lead this consolidation because of the highly varied nature of the work its agents do today. The challenge for customer care will be to avoid getting absorbed by less sophisticated but much larger contact centers.
  3. People will matter more than ever.
    With greater automation of routine tasks and significant expansion of the role of customer care, the bar for customer care representatives will be raised significantly. In addition to resolving challenging issues and answering complex questions, customer care representatives will be asked to enhance the customer experience and sell. For leaders, hiring and developing top talent will be crucial.

    Over time, it may be equally challenging to keep the customer care team staffed. The expanded scope of their roles will produce customer care representatives with deep knowledge of the company's products, a broad understanding of key company initiatives, and extensive experience interacting with customers. With this experience and skillset, representatives will be highly sought after by cross-functional leaders looking to bolster their teams with turnkey internal transfers.

    Customer care will become a talent factory for the rest of the organization. While challenging to manage, the migration of customer care employees to others functions will raise customer care’s profi le and infuse the overall organization with better skills to understand and engage customers.

    It’s just four years until 2020. In reality, many of the trends outlined above have already begun to take root in many companies. The time is now to recognize the unstoppable march of technology and the inevitable expansion of customer care’s scope. By doing so, customer care can thrive as its role evolves.

Borcherding_Jeff_headshotJeff Borcherding is a former P&G brand manager, he believes passionately that the consumer is boss and that the boss should be happy.