More contact centers will see change in 2018 than in 2017

In 2017, many contact centers experienced a lot of firsts. This past year, the first large wave of chatbots was deployed, the average wage for customer service reps increased in the UK, many contact centers implemented new technology and some added at least one new channel (with Messenger and live chat being high on the wishlists).

In this article, we’ll take a few minutes to run through what happened in 2017 and give our take on where we’re heading in 2018 and why.

And the drivers of change are...

It’s an exciting time in the customer service industry and we believe we’re still in the early stages of a wave of technology-driven change that will last a decade. In fact, more contact centers will be changing things up in 2018 than in 2017, mostly due to an increased focus on providing a better customer experience and a desire to work more efficiently.

These are the primary drivers of change that we see in customer service right now:

Businesses’ increased focus on improving their customer experience
Businesses have finally realized that one of their most important differentiators is to provide a better customer experience than their competitors. This is especially true online where companies mostly compete on price, shopping experience and customer service.

Introduction of new technology
Availability of new technology - chatbots, AI (mostly agent assistance so far) and far better user experiences in new systems - is one of the main drivers of change. Businesses’ need to change is tied closely to the cost incurred by maintaining legacy systems, and to customers’ growing expectations in general. A lot of businesses are taking the opportunity to change to a more flexible, cloud-based infrastructure that will allow them to keep up with competitors while saving money on the systems themselves.

More efficient processes to make up for low budgets
76% of contact centers in a 2017 survey by Call Centre Helper indicated that their budget size is the main obstacle that’s keeping them from running their dream contact center. Almost half, 47%, indicated in the same survey that technology is their other main obstacle.

We believe these two are closely tied to each other, perhaps closer than most realize; using modern technology will not only help agents be more efficient, but also keep the job enjoyable for longer, which in turn also improves efficiency and customer experience.

Growing customer expectations
In the same survey, 80% of contact centers indicated that they found it harder to live up to expectations now. There are quite a few factors affecting customer expectations at the moment, so to keep it brief, we’ll just mention the three main ones:

  • One good shopping experience sets expectations for the rest. That means we now expect one store to provide a certain experience based on our experience shopping in an entirely unrelated industry. This is very true online where Amazon has been leading the charge for years, and it’s true for customer service experiences too.
  • Physical stores are ramping up on their customer experience. And in many cases we’re willing to pay a premium for it, like one of my colleagues, Thomas, who still goes to a physical bookstore.
  • Consumers as a whole have become more self-absorbed, and we’re now feeling that in customer service. In fact, over the last decade there has been a noticeable change in consumer behavior, specifically in Western culture, and we expect this type of behavior to continue.

Keeping up with expectations means making changes faster than previously. This is also one of the reasons why IT departments across the world are focusing on becoming more flexible.

GDPR - new regulation for personal data from the EU (effective May 2018)
As the last item on our list for drivers of change, we simply must mention GDPR. There’s been a lot said on the topic already, and if one thing’s for sure, it’s that the new regulation will impact IT and customer service teams equally.

The changes customer service will see in 2018

Here we’ll comment on the trends, the hyped technology and the real changes we expect contact centers to go through this year. We do believe that every single contact center can still improve, but here we’re looking at things from an industry perspective, starting with the underlying technology of your customer service operations.

The great move to cloud

More than 15% of contact centers will move to the cloud in 2018

More contact centers will see their IT department moving infrastructure to the cloud this year as requirements for more flexibility and the ability to integrate with other systems gain importance. Last year we saw an 11% increase in the adoption of cloud technology in contact centers (What Contact Centres Are Doing Right Now, 2017 Edition).

That’s the largest technology shift that our industry has seen for years, and many contact centers will take the chance to scope out new support systems.

Changing systems will bring a lot of benefits for those doing it, chief amongst them being the ability to better adapt to increasing and ever changing customer expectations. But it’ll also be a great catch-up mechanism for those who see themselves left behind: A new cloud-based phone system will provide cheaper operations (no maintenance of systems needed on the business side) as well as better routing and queue experience. For instance, not all contact centers provide a callback option to their customers, but now you can easily get that. On top of instant improvements like these, it has also become a lot easier and cheaper to implement new systems - you don’t need to run a big implementation project or pay consultants.

One more step towards true omnichannel

More than 20% of contact centers will add a new support channel

Being available to your customers on the channel of their choice is part of providing a better experience. For many companies, online chat will be the next natural channel to implement. And for those who already provide chat, finally taking to social media seems natural.

Consumers enjoy how easy and instant chat and messaging can be - especially in the context of shopping online - and more companies will have the technology to add chat with minimal effort. From a customer service perspective, this channel has many advantages including the ability for agents to handle multiple conversations at the same time, assist during shopping and buying decisions and most importantly, create an exceptional customer experience.

Inquiries on social media as a whole will stagnate

Contact volume on social media will not increase in 2018

In the early 2010’s, contact centers saw an increase in the number of customers who reached out to them via social media. Since then, social media inqiuries have been steadily declining each year. 2017 marked the first year contact centers saw a slight increase in inquiries on social media since 2010. However, due to contact centers’ inability to deliver adequate support on social media, customers still shy away from reaching out to companies on those channels.

As an industry, we should be solving this challenge (really an opportunity) a lot better. But while the fight for social media between customer service and marketing is still going on, we probably won’t see many contact centers providing support there yet. This will in turn leave customers disappointed once again. It doesn’t have to be a fight though, and we’re confident technology will solve this challenge in the coming years.

Facebook will emerge as the winner

Facebook Messenger will handle more than 75% of customer service inquiries on social media in 2018 in the US, UK & Europe

Despite our overall prediction of social media contacts stagnating, we still see increased demand for Facebook Messenger as a support channel. The demand we’re seeing is consumer-driven, and it’s to the detriment of Twitter, who seems to be giving ground to Facebook.

We’re keeping an eye on other instant messaging services too, but we’re ready to call Facebook the winner. For now.

Additionally, with Facebook Messenger’s introduction of bots, companies now have the opportunity to - to some extent - automate some of their support. While Facebook hasn’t been successful with their own bots in 2017, you can still find some fairly good options out there for certain industries and niches. But don’t make the mistake of thinking a bot can replace a human. Too many companies already walked into that trap in 2017.

Very few companies will succeed with a chatbot

In 2018 we will see many more contact centers implement chatbots, but only a handful will succeed in actually providing a better experience

By now, most of us have had the experience of talking to a chatbot. And every single one who has done so has also exposed it as terribly unhelpful and in some cases even rude and intrusive. Some of the best live chat widgets these days even say: “Talk to a human.” That says a lot.

Chatbots have been overhyped - not their potential, but their immediate usefulness. In order to provide a great experience, a chatbot has to be trained, and that’s far more costly and time consuming than most companies realize. In 2018, we predict that only a handful of companies will manage to train a bot that is actually helpful and not just a gatekeeper for your customer service.

The need for training will lessen over time, and we’ll see drastic improvements over the next two or three years. But for now, out-of-box quality is fairly low, companies are still trying to figure out how to fit a bot in their customer journey, and prices are far too high for the good software out there.

Our advice to anyone contemplating the implementation of a chatbot is simply to focus heavily on its usefulness to the customer. Don’t compromise and don’t think it can replace a human agent.

If you see or hear about a really good chatbot experience, please prove us wrong by alerting us to it. We’d love for chatbots to succeed, and we hope this prediction doesn’t come true.

Customer service will benefit from data availability and analysis

More than 70% of contact centers will be seen as an important source of information & feedback instead of a cost by their organizations

New technology will improve what kind of data contact centers and businesses can easily collect. This provides both customers and companies with many advantages:

The time when customer service is seen as a cost is largely over. Empowered by new technology, 2018 will be the year in which the majority of contact centers will finally be seen as a valuable asset by their organizations.

AI steps onto the scene

5% of contact centers will have applied AI to their customer service operations in one way or another

Customer service is prime turf for the application of AI, mostly due to the repetitiveness of the tasks involved and due to contact center managers’ cry for more automation. Right now,
there are already several ways contact centers can benefit from AI, with better routing and AI-assisted answers being some of the top use cases.

Artificial Intelligence is not yet mature enough to talk directly with customers. That’s the general sentiment we hear, and to be fair it’s also mostly what we see. Conversational AI still requires a lot of training, and most companies aren’t aware of that. In its current state, AI can however help customer service agents provide customers with the correct answers to their questions faster.

As machine learning models pick up and contact centers consolidate their data, human-assisted AI is an area we will see really take off in 2018.

Data is going to be gold, but there won’t be a goldrush in Q1 & Q2

75% of contact centers will scramble to get GDPR-ready, and at least 50% of those will live up to requirements by September 2018

The EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes effect in May 2018 and will take up a lot of resources for companies in the first part of 2018. For contact centers and their IT departments, it means that both systems and processes have to support new kinds of requests from customers, and it’ll also make the collection of the all-important data a bit more circumstantial.

The full scope of this regulation has not been realized by most businesses yet and the ones who are lagging behind will have to play catch-up, which could be very costly. Adhering to the new GDPR guidelines will require a lot of extra work from IT departments as well as resources to inform all agents of the new regulations and processes.

We see customer service being the frontline for data inquiries, and agents will need to be informed about why certain data is collected, what it’s used for and how it’s processed. They’ll also take requests from customers about access to, processing and deletion of their data. Getting ready is a monumental task, and a switch to new systems is a way for (some) contact centers to take a shortcut.

2018 heralds a better customer experience

Businesses’ ability to deliver a positive customer service experience is more important than ever before. In today’s competitive marketplaces, especially for online shoppers, good customer service and shopping assistance have become competitive differentiators. If you want to get ahead of your competition, one way is through providing a better experience.

All in all we see the industry heading in the right direction, and 2018 will certainly be a year where the overall customer experience will improve. But we can still do a lot better, especially when it comes to multichannel customer service and accessing and utilizing data.

At Dixa we believe now is the time to bring businesses and customers closer together on all channels through software that improves everyone's customer service experience - the customers’ and the agents’. There are a lot of benefits to implementing new technology at the moment, and we’re excited to follow the industry while everything changes.