In a webinar drawing on ICMI’s industry-leading research and insights from the 2020 ICMI Featured Contributors (including Serenova Vice President of Customer Success Jen Jackson) ICMI Group Principal Analyst Roy Atkinson explored what’s trending in 2020 and why contact center leaders should pay attention.
If you couldn’t join the Serenova-sponsored event, here are the trends Atkinson and ICMI predicts will reshape how contact centers operate. (The entire presentation is available on demand here.)
Millennials are now 30% of the total population—more than any other demographic. They’re also likely the largest slice of your contact center’s agents and customers.
Today, U.S. consumers are more racially and ethnically diverse, more educated and more likely to live in city centers in the west and south. Overall, demographics will continue to shift to younger and more tech-savvy. For contact centers, this means it’s essential to find ways to understand the demographics of your customers and agents and interact with them on their terms.
Employee and Agent Experience
According to ICMI research, 50% of organizations consider employee experience a priority, and 78% of employees say they are either satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs. That’s good news for contact centers focused on customer experience since research has consistently shown a direct correlation between happy employees and happy customers.
In fact, ICMI research indicates that organizations with very satisfied employees have customer satisfaction ratings that are, on average, up to 5% higher. The numbers are hard to ignore and make both customer and employee experience critically important to long-term success.
Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Despite the hype, automation and artificial intelligence are not replacing human agents, according to data. But neither is going away and both will be important to contact centers in 2020 and beyond.
AI-powered Interactive Voice Response (IVR), chatbots and real-time translation are examples of developing, customer-facing solutions that can improve the customer and agent experience. AI is also advancing predictive analytics, data analytics, customer sentiment analysis and workforce optimization (WFO).
Cloud and CCaaS
Cloud and contact center-as-a-service (CCaaS) will grow at nearly 15% year-over-year through 2025, according to MarketWatch. Credit that to the CCaaS benefits for any size contact center, including unified experience, seamless omnichannel interactions, improved data analytics and cost efficiencies.
In her whitepaper, Migrating to a Cloud Contact Center: Tales from the Far Side, another leading industry analyst, Sheila McGee-Smith, shares the experiences of four companies as they moved their contact centers to the cloud. One of those companies, Salesforce, has leveraged the cloud as the best way to create common, seamless customer experiences among its many acquired companies. The cloud benefits Salesforce derives center on delivering its customers better experiences and giving its agents a complete view of customer information.
Atkinson highlighted the importance of knowledge management, which he ties closely to a contact center’s ability to take advantage of emerging AI-powered technology and deliver optimal customer experience. Knowledge management is necessary for AI and bots to succeed because while AI is powerful, it depends on documented information that originates in human brains.
Even before it’s used for emerging technology, though, organized and accessible knowledge bases help agents provide better customer service. A robust knowledge base enable agents to provide accurate and consistent answers and resolve problems more quickly. It’s the foundation of positive agent and customer experience.
With an increasing customer preference for self-service, especially among the growing Millennial (and Gen Z) demographic, contact centers must find tools that allow people to resolve problems on their own without sacrificing customer experience. For that reason, customer self-service tools are a trend that’s here to stay, Atkinson says.
Automation and AI technology enable better customer service by guiding people to the answers they need. It also brings big changes to contact centers by freeing up agents from the simplest needs to address “the truly tough stuff.”
Self-service can mean escalation is necessary less often and contact center volume decreases. Consequently, so do costs.
But while customer experience improves and costs decrease when self-service works, it doesn’t always work. In fact, self-service can leave customers further frustrated. Atkinson underscored that organizations are usually best served when they approach self-service as a means to improve customer experience, with the added benefit of cost reduction rather than making cost savings the singular driver.
The acceleration of self-service options will force contact centers leaders to consider changes to how they staff and measure. (More on that below.)
Social Customer Care
In our modern, always-on world, consumers expect 24/7 service and rapid response. One way many industries are addressing this trend is through social customer care, a trend that will continue to be popular and important, according to Atkinson.
For brands they do adopt social media as a means to meet their customer service expectations, they must be quick to respond. If organizations can’t staff social media 24/7, Atkinson suggests that may be where a bot can help.
High employment makes finding candidates difficult. The results of a participant survey during the webinar showed 93% of participants are having at least some difficulty finding qualified candidates.
Perhaps surprisingly, a trend like self-service can intensify the challenges as the need for more qualified agents to handle more complex service issues increases. The omnichannel trend also means contact centers must find agents qualified to provide service across channels. (Technology that makes this easier for agents can help.)
The gig economy also provides work for people who might make good candidates but want more flexibility than contact centers have typically offered—further contracting the qualified candidate pool.
Rediscovering the Human Factor
Technology tools are becoming an essential part of every contact center’s operations, regardless of size. That trend will make the competitive differentiator for brands its people. The creativity, empathy and engagement that a human brings to the customer experience will be what elevates brands above their competitors.
New Ways to Measure
All these trends are affecting how organizations measure success and are necessitating change. According to a survey of the webinar’s participants, 33% have conducted a complete review of their contact center’s metrics in the last six months; 50% said they have made at least some changes.
New technologies are providing data insights on how customers feel—often in real time—giving organizations a critical pulse on more than just traditional customer satisfaction scores.
Atkinson cautioned that in an omnichannel world—where consumers call into a contact center less and depend on digital channels more—continuing to rely on the same metrics used when most interactions were by phone is problematic. He emphasized the difficulty of tracking first contact resolution, for example, for email versus phone, when an email exchange may take place over several messages across hours or a day and live interactions by phone or chat will usually be resolved more quickly.
Why Trends Matter
From shifting demographics to innovative technology and channels to agent recruitment challenges, the trends Atkinson identified will all have lasting effects on customer experience. And as customer experience solidifies as the key competitive differentiator for brands of all sizes, none of these trends can be ignored by contact centers that want to thrive in 2020 and long into the next decades.