Last year, the customer service industry was rife with talk of chatbots and AI. Whilst these developments further the ability for brands to offer efficiency at scale, channel adoption is still a key driver to digital care success. This year, brands should be taming both technologies and platform expansion, organizing their digital support around tentpole platforms like Facebook Messenger.
Digital support, one could say, is finally coming of age, but challenges still abound. Here’s what’s just around the corner in 2018.
The top 6 customer support trends of 2018
1. Messenger support will dominate
Messaging apps are the new kings of mobile. The big four messengers already surpassed the big four social media apps back in 2015 and they’re becoming the default form of digital communication. Brands realize this, consumers realize this, and the big messaging apps are scrambling to connect the two.
Facebook Messenger recently launched a website integration to allow brands to offer online support. WhatsApp has announced its own business app, and Facebook released a new ad unit that allows customers to jump directly into a WhatsApp conversation with the business. Already, TechCrunch reports that over one million Facebook business pages list WhatsApp numbers for support.
Both Messenger and WhatsApp also boast over 1.3 billion users each and unlike most big social media sites, are still growing. When polled, 54 percent of consumers say they prefer new messaging channels for support. In 2018, “call our support” has transformed into “message us.”
[Callout box: Read more about messaging support in The Rise of Messaging Apps.
2. AI will turbocharge agents, not replace them
The era of AI hype is finally drawing to a close and enterprises can implement algorithms without overdue fanfare. Though AI is expected to clip 38-47 percent of jobs within 50 years, it will first transform existing ones, and create new roles. In 2018, we’re already seeing this happen.
In customer service, AI will give agents a turbo boost and make them far more effective at their jobs. Gartner reports that by 2020, 85 percent of all brand-customer interaction will be automated. These interactions are largely the monotonous, routine questions and information lookups that, today, consume the majority of agents’ time.
AI chatbots will serve customers by prequalifying issues and, if necessary, escalating to a live agent. Chatbots will also serve agents as digital assistants, suggesting responses to customers and looking up information like receipts or transaction histories. AI is here, but for now, it’s only a human enhancement.
3. Customer service is brand protection
This year, customers will expect ever more convenience from brands. As the world goes mobile, consumers no longer compare businesses to their competitors – they compare them to the seamless experiences they’re accustomed to on their smartphones. All businesses are now, in a sense, neighbors with Google, Facebook, and Amazon, and have to reach the same high bar of excellence.
Nowhere is this effect more pronounced than with customer service. Every interaction deeply impacts the customer’s overall impression of the brand and it takes many positive experiences to make up for a negative one. In 2018, expect to see marketing and customer service departments grow closer than ever as it becomes clear that one cannot succeed without the other.
4. Brands will seek customer experience (CX) designers
Customers expect speed, convenience, and security. In 2018, it’s going to take customer experience (CX) designers to deliver it.
Seventy-five percent of customers expect help within five minutes. Help really cannot come fast enough, and the best support calls are the ones that never happen. This year, customer support organizations will play a larger and larger role in product design, leveraging their vast troves of customer feedback data to create better experiences that need less support. CX will be a competitive differentiator and brands will vie to attract top CX talent.
5. Data privacy laws will tighten further
GDPR has scared marketers everywhere as the world seemed to turn back against the free and open use of consumer data. Expect more throughout 2018. Consumers are weary of incessant data breaches and general sentiment has soured on data collectors and processors (read: almost every company).
Brands – European and otherwise – had until May 25 of this year to comply with giving consumers the power to request access to their data and to delete it. Customer support teams must also train their teams on the switch. Agents will have to field untold troves of messages asking questions about the new data opt-in measures and they’ll have to know how to help consumers access and delete their data.
In the eyes of European regulators, data is a type of personal currency that consumers retain the rights over. This marks the first year where many brands learn to earn it.
[Callout box: Get up to speed with the European Union’s12 step guide to becoming GDPR compliant. ]
6. IoT and blockchain will create supply chain transparency
Consumers may one day look back and laugh at the idea that anyone would ever call support to ask, “Where is my package?” In 2018, that shift is well underway. The cost of tracking devices has fallen to the point where it’s economical to chip just about everything. We’ll see this shift in everything from logistics operators like FedEx, UPS, and, increasingly, Amazon, to air carriers.
Delta Airlines, for example, uses RFID tags to allow consumers to track their bags not just by flight stage, but down to a pinpoint on a map. IBM is using blockchain ledgers to help companies open their supply chains to the public. And the success of online retailer Everlane – famous for publishing the cost and profit margin of its clothing – proves that today’s consumers are hungry for more transparency. This year, technology will fill their plates.