Chatbots, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, real-time messaging and virtual reality. New technology is changing the way businesses deliver service to their customers.
But new technology brings challenges too. Innovative new ways to support customers can be very expensive to implement, and therefore inherently risky. Those same technologies are also a steep learning curve for consumers, sometimes too steep. What will the modern face of customer service look like? Is technology going to take over customer service tasks currently performed by humans and what will this mean for our ‘service-economy’ of the future?
How technology will change customer service
Technology has a vital role to play in the development of customer service, probably the vital role. What that landscape will actually look like 10 years from now is hotly debated, but here are some universally acknowledged concepts.
Real-time messaging replaces email
Customers expect service to be always on. Real-time messaging, or chatbots, are now providing real-time customer support. For example, using automated real-time messaging, Facebook Messenger has become a prominent communication channel for responding to basic customer support queries.
More importantly, consumers relish the opportunity to engage with customer service systems immediately, and on their own terms. A 2017 Adweek infographic showed that 65% of consumers want to handle customer service issues on their own and 61% prefer to talk to chatbots rather than humans. Customer service staff like chatbots too – because they free up time previously spent answering basic questions on the phone with customers.
Video is the new ‘face-to-face’
While most people associate new customer service technology with less human facetime, the development of video conferencing and video voicemails is delivering a new way to facilitate human interaction in customer service.
Virtual reality (VR) is the most recent technological breakthrough that is transforming the consumer experience landscape for modern businesses.
There are a number of examples of how VR will revolutionise customer service. One example, highlighted by Ikea’s VR kitchen, is to provide immersive product experiences to help customers experience and ‘try’ products before they buy them. This tech is particularly helpful when buying expensive and highly customisable products like house interiors. Gamified augmented reality is another VR technique being used to unlock scaled 3D models of products.
Knowledge bases for improved search
The modern customer service mantra is ‘help your customers help themselves’. It has become increasingly important for businesses to develop knowledge bases where answers to common customer support questions can be written out. Knowledge bases, or ‘wikis’ will become increasingly important with the growth of voice search because their content can be referenced and retrieved by home assistants.
Are the robots really taking over?
‘The robots are taking over’ is a popular narrative when discussing the modern customer service industry. It’s a narrative that’s normally associated with the concepts of artificial intelligence. However, most ‘bots’ deployed in customer service are not artificial intelligence at all, but coded logic presented in a conversational user interface, like iMessage and Facebook Messenger.
Bots are likely to become a staple of customer service because they can be omnipresent, even when the humans are resting, and can perform/respond to repeatable tasks with near-complete consistency. In the future, customer support staff will only deal with edge cases where bots can't answer questions with the help of a knowledge base or a past history of customer questions.
Will this mean humans lose customer service jobs to technology? Partly, the answer has to be yes. There have been countless studies on the subject. One of the most compelling was shared by Chris Orlob from Gong.io whose AI-powered sales coaching analysed 25,537 sales calls in a matter of hours. If a human listened to 45-minute sales calls for 8 hours a day, it would take 9 years to comb through the same data-set.
Are we progressing?
Putting the science to one side it also makes common sense that the raft of automated technologies we’ve mentioned will remove the need for basic customer service jobs over the next 10 years.
Is that progress? Assuming consumers like and embrace these technologies, the answer is yes. We’ve already shown how consumers have embraced chatbots because they prefer that hands-off level of support. And with video making it arguably easier to have face-to-face interaction with consumers on their terms, it’s also important to think that technology isn’t trying to completely remove the human from customer service. It’s maximising the effectiveness of the human.
And to that end, customer service jobs will evolve. Basic customer support tasks will become a thing of the past, but in their place will be more advanced customer success functions that focus much more on evolving how customers use a product or service. This will also make customer service less of a function and more of a competitive differentiator.
Customer service roles over the next 10 years, even at an entry-level, will become more advanced, involve more technology management, they’ll focus less on repetitive tasks and be far more driven towards generating value from a product or service.
Here we’ve talked through one angle of “The Marriage of Service and Technology”. To hear more opinions and different topics around this theme register to attend The Unconference on Thursday 20th September.