Digital consumers today play retail hopscotch as shopping spans many channels. Wherever consumers buy, in stores or online, one competitive challenge remains — ensuring great customer experiences.
Exemplary service is the differentiator. It will separate businesses that step up from those forced to step aside in 2018, as these trends shaping customer service indicate.
Trend No. 1: Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Agents Should Complement Each Other
In a perfect world, artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligent agents (IA) create a blended customer experience. The result is an integrated solution, moving from machine to human.
For instance, service-desk executive Steve Stover writes in VentureBeat:
“An overwhelming 88 percent of consumers surveyed said they expect a natural transition between automated self-service technologies, like voice-based virtual assistants, and a human agent when purchasing a product, placing an order or contacting customer service.”
To complement AI, intelligent agents pick up where IT leaves off. Or sometimes falls short, as in this example:
Never mind the dress. Two days before a destination wedding, the bride had no shoes. They were missing from her online order. Clock ticking, enter customer service agent Jaimee. She starts making calls, lots of calls, to FedEx and the retailer’s stores on the West Coast to find them. Persistence paid off. A pair of pink wedding pumps, size 8.5, were located, boxed and shipped — with a day to spare.
Odds are an AI-enabled chatbot isn’t programmed for a barefoot bride scenario. Jaimee’s customer service savvy, however, ensured the desired outcome for a destination wedding.
Trend No. 2: Consumers Are Redefining Their Experiences
Been to the mall lately? If not, why? In a word, Amazon.com, which caters to consumers online and at their doorsteps. This occurs as retailers shut stores left and right, a trend projected to continue.
Still, consumers desire great experiences, in-store and online, but redefined. For instance, pop-up shops open for a few days for product launches or event-driven sales. A pop-up shop can build brand awareness or reach new audiences at an optimal time. Also, it can create a live user experience for a brand with no permanent physical presence.
According to Metro Toronto: “The practice allows the company to develop an experience for consumers they don’t get to interact with in stores, and reinvent a brand for new, younger demographics.”
After a pop-up closes, consumers can continue their experiences online, but only if the virtual services — delivered by AI, intelligent agents or both — promote ongoing, high-quality engagement.
Trend No. 3: Fluid Businesses Need ‘Liquid’ Workforces to Scale Up and Down
Pop-up shops epitomize fluid business. As such, they require customer service operations with the same responsiveness.
Management consultant Accenture characterizes it as the “liquid” workforce, which ebbs and flows. It’s a core of salaried professionals, backed by an outside network of for-hire experts.
This on-demand model is nothing new for contact center outsourcing. Independent contractors, or agents, scale up or down with market fluctuations, sales cycles and retail seasonality. Free range and freelance, they embody the mobile workforces that fluid businesses need today.
Now, compare this to brick-and-mortar call centers, which continue to defy modern thinking. They’re bound by ZIP codes, which limits talent. Restricted by square footage, this cramps flexibility.
Sadly, any business using this antiquated model is locked in, too. Its customer service is stale, stuck in place. And that’s no place to be in 2018.
Kim Houlne is the chief executive officer of Working Solutions, scalable and flexible customer experience and contact center outsourcing leveraging an on-demand, distributed network.