Technology has significantly changed customer service. Mobile technology, SMS, self-service functionality, and social networking all have played a role in recent years in helping companies provide a careful balancing act between prudent financial management and customer satisfaction.
Now companies have come to realize the opportunities they can yield beyond providing efficiencies. By applying technology on a deeper level they can connect customer sentiment to R&D, customer feedback to the back office, and provide consistent engagement on a global scale.
As companies continue to adapt to new ways in which customers want to engage with them, experts predict an explosion of innovation around how organizations leverage the technologies that fuel the company-customer relationship.
Here are three customer service innovations to watch in the upcoming months:
1. Video conferencing replaces calls to the contact center
When Michael Dell announced a year ago that he planned to leverage Google's new group video chat platform Google+ Hangouts as an alternative to the traditional customer service call, the reaction was positive and video soon was hailed as the next killer app for service.
His idea made sense: Service reps could leverage video to interact with small groups of customers at the same time—an economical answer to a one-on-one phone call. At the same time, it would humanize the sales and service experience.
Even though the idea is slow to catch on, experts predict that video chat will soon provide value in certain industries as the face-to-face interactions promise to personalize the customer experience and deepen loyalty. Having the ability to directly talk to customers via group video chat could be the next step for many of these companies as they look for ways to take customer service beyond the traditional call-center script.
At its annual conference in June, LivePerson gave customers a peek at a new product launching later this year, which enables companies to conduct video chat. Jeremy Sokolic, head of marketing for LivePerson, says by adding video to an organization's multichannel service offerings companies can create more meaningful connections. One enterprise customer using the solution in beta combines customers' text data with video interactions to gauge deeper customer sentiment to draw a more conclusive understanding of customers' pain points.
While the use of video to interact with customers may not suit every industry, Sokolic says he's seeing it work best in those that have to troubleshoot issues--industries such as financial services, high-tech, and telecommunications where agents can initiate screen sharing and push "how-to" instructional videos to the customer. "I believe that [video chat] may be a trend that will take place in 2013," he says, adding that it offers the face-to-face connection that customers can get in the store. "[Video] lets people do more than just chat; it helps to collaborate and create meaningful connections."
Duke Chung, cofounder and chairman of Parature, echos Sokolic in saying that video chat offers a way for organizations to provide a customer loyalty or direct connection in the context of the contact center. He says it's progressive and that some support reps may be fearful of using video to communicate, but he believes that customers and agents will eventually embrace video. "I realize this is still early, but it will be a nice way for organizations to provide customer loyalty," he says.
On paper, video chat for service makes sense, however, the barrier to entry is huge, according to Deepak Narisety, director of technology for Siteworx. He says that he hasn't seen any customers asking for Google+ chat sessions but predicts that video adoption will accelerate next year. "As people get more comfortable interacting via video with customer service reps…we'll see greater adoption," he says.
2. Mobile apps and the contact center will connect seamlessly.
Next year passengers on American Airlines will be able to access customer service in flight directly from a smartphone app to change flights or obtain flight information.
American Airlines will be one of several companies next year set to debut a seamless customer service experience between their mobile apps and the contact center, as a number of vendors launched solutions this year to help companies bridge this gap. "This will be a really big trend," predicts Chris Cottle, executive vice president of products and marketing at Allegiance.
Cottle adds that the seamless experience will allow a company to engage on several levels. Customers also tend to be uninhibited via text so they may offer deeper levels of feedback. "Consumer will be empowered with the proliferation of mobile apps," he adds.
3. Customers will have a unique ID.
Customers are identified by dozens of numbers--their driver's licenses, social security, credit cards, Klout scores, phone numbers, and license plate numbers. But what if that all changed and companies needed only one number, or unique identifier, for customers?
Cottle says this trend of combining customers' data is about the democratization of data—information that has been siloed and separate will now join together. This offers several benefits with the main one being that when customers interact with companies, they will have a better experience because all customer data will be at the fingertips of employees who engage with customers. As a result, companies will be able to add context around customer interactions. "It's a world that's coming to fruition," he says. "It's great for companies because they can market smarter, but ultimately it's rewarding for the customers because they will only get offers and opportunities that are applicable to them."
Chung concurs, saying that the unification of customer data into a single ID is an important trend to watch. Additionally, it will allow agents to be more productive by not having to track down multiple pieces of customer information in a variety of systems. "The amount of time it takes to do all that takes minutes to hours to pull the data together to respond back to the customer with a meaningful and helpful response," Chung says. "We can simplify that process and bring that data contextually to the agent."