Sometimes it seems as if customers are moving at lightning speed. Given the many channels customers use and the dexterity with which they move from one channel to the next, it's becoming increasingly difficult for companies to keep pace with their customers, much less anticipate their needs. These are just a few of the requirements facing companies as they look ahead to how they will need to meet customers' service expectations in the future. Nobody has a crystal ball that can tell them what will occur in the future. But if we consider customers' rising expectations to receive superlative experiences and factor in the trends that are shaping customer service, including the growth of multichannel customer service and customers' increasing use of self-service tools, we can develop a pretty clear picture of how customer service is evolving and what the contact center of the future is going to (or should) look like.
As Peppers & Rogers Group founding partner Don Peppers has stated, companies will need to develop "sense and respond"-type environments to be able to react quickly to shifts in customer behavior or preferences. In order to create a more agile and responsive contact center, companies will need to use technologies that can help them deal with the ebb and flow of customer communications into the contact center and across various channels, including voice, chat, email, IVR, SMS, mobile, etc. This includes the use of contact center systems and services that can anticipate a surge in inbound traffic so that contact center leaders can schedule and assign the right number of agents along with the right types of skill sets that are needed.
In order to develop a more agile and responsive contact center, companies will also need to closely examine the skills and makeup of their agent force. This will likely include a greater willingness among companies to extend their use of at-home agents who either prefer not to work in a dedicated call center or are unable to due to personal reasons (e.g. elder care, young children at home, etc). In fact, Ovum recently released a report where it is predicting a 100-percent increase in the number of outsourced at-home agents by 2015.
This blog only begins to scratch at the surface as to how customer service will continue to change in the coming years. One thing is for sure: companies will need to pay greater attention to service as it will increasingly be leveraged by leader companies as a competitive differentiator. It's becoming more and more difficult for companies to distinguish themselves by price or by the uniqueness of their products in the market. Those companies that can deliver consistently good and even exceptional service experiences will position themselves to drive higher customer satisfaction and loyalty.