Having it all: Customer contact trends for the 2020s

This is a guest post by Nicola Millard, principal innovation partner, BT

The future isn’t at all what we expected. Ten years ago, we might easily have imagined the contact centre of 2020 as an automated flow of digital bots and channels powered by AI, helping customers to help themselves. As we move closer towards bringing that future towards fruition, many organisations are also seeking to automate customer services, especially in light of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Ideally, this helps organisations ensure uninterrupted workflow while maintaining excellent customer service. However, it seems that most customers don’t prefer smart self-service. BT’s Autonomous Customer research for 2020 finds that customers want everything they’ve always had – phone calls and emails and online help, plus all the newer things such as messaging, and chat bots powered by AI – with help from real human agents at any time.

As we seek to find what fits in a post Covid-19 world, it’s not obvious what the ideal contact centre strategy looks like. Every organisation is different and will have to work out the right formula for its customers. Worryingly, just one in five people rate their digital experience of large multinational organisations as excellent. Clearly, there’s a long way to go. At least consumers are clear about their preferences. Our latest round of research with 6,000 global consumers, highlights five key findings that can steer organisations towards the right mix of people, processes and technology to give their customers the contact centre experience they desire.

1. Person to person phone calls are still the most popular channel

Few of us would have predicted that in 2020, more people than ever choose to call the contact centre and speak to an agent. Nearly eight out of ten (79%, slightly up on the global average of 75%) of consumers in Singapore called a contact centre over the last 12 months, making voice calls the most used channel. This figure drops to 58% for China. The phone is easy and familiar to use – and we’ve all got one to hand. We especially want to talk to another human being when there’s a real problem. But could there be a role for voice technologies (like Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa) especially for simple queries, and that would relieve pressure on the human agents? Any implementation of voice technology must be of the highest quality. Poor deployment of interactive voice response (IVR) systems was responsible for much consumer frustration.

2. Messaging has arrived, but enterprises should proceed with caution

Messaging (whether WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, SMS or local services such as China’s WeChat) is such a part of everyday life that people want that easy communication with banks, retailers and other organisations. It doesn’t have to be the latest thing. Globally, 22% are happy to use SMS (24% in Singapore, 19% in China). Email remains popular at 68% globally (69% in Singapore, dropping to 43% in China).

Messaging is now a must-have channel but will require high quality implementation from the off. If you build an app, it should have messaging built in. And if your market is younger people, they’d also like to see you use emojis in your responses 😊. Consumers are warming to chatbots. In Singapore 61% agree that chatbots will help improve customer service. This figure rises to 82% for India and drops to 48% for Australia.

3. Consumers are not using social media for contact (except as a last resort)

Generally, social media is not a contact channel of choice. Only 20% (the same as the global average) of consumers Singapore have used Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat to complain. When people do use social media, it’s often as a last resort, to reinforce a complaint – and the organisation is usually quick to direct the conversation to a more private channel.

Consumers around the world have been similarly reluctant to use video channels for customer service, even though millions of people use make video calls every day in their personal life. Video may in the future develop as a channel for niche applications such as health. In Singapore 73% (global average 74% ) say they would use video to talk to a health professional. But for now, neither social media nor video are priorities for the contact centre.

4. Identification, verification, payment: business must solve the trust problem

Consumers everywhere worry about their data and how safe it is. Interestingly, consumers in Singapore are more concerned (81%) today than three years ago (73% in 2017). Everyone would like routine identification and payment processes to be both easier and secure. We’ve heard these concerns before: “It takes too long to identify me”, “It’s irritating to keep repeating my details”, “I worry about security when giving my card details over the phone”.

Consumers are willing to trust new technologies: they like the idea of using voice biometrics for identification and verification. Solving the trust issue is fundamental to giving customers a great experience online.

5. Consumers are ready to experience outbound services powered by AI

We’ve reached a tipping point: around the world, eight in 10 consumers expect organisations to use AI for proactive notifications that can forewarn or prevent service issues. In Singapore, a majority (85%) are keen to see AI used to remotely monitor the status of goods and services they buy, or even intervene in contact centre calls to sort things out.

For some time, people have expected that the more information they provide, the better the service should be. AI makes this trade-off possible, replacing reactive troubleshooting with more thoughtful, personal outbound services that genuinely make people’s lives easier. This should be the model of customer experience in the future – identifying and meeting needs before they arise, whether a contract about to expire, a price change or an available upgrade.

The customer experience is everything

Technologies come and go but the message from autonomous customers is unchanged: “Make it easy, make it secure, and we will reward you”. Persuading customers to trust you is also about developing the right processes, supported by real people with great skills. But it’s tough and it’s complicated and time is short. Digital transformation is happening at a high speed. Inaction is not an option. Consumers faced with a less-than exceptional experience will be quick to take their custom elsewhere. Prudent businesses will find technology partners to help them think through the customer journey, make the right technology choices and co-create the best channel strategy for the future.

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