The last two years have seen more change and innovation than ever before. And although that statement could be applied to pretty much any aspect of daily life, which has been completely turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic, in this instance, we’re referring to customer service. The way customers interact with businesses has changed drastically, particularly since everyone was forced online within the space of a few weeks.
When it comes to adoption of digital technologies, McKinsey Digital reports that,
“The Covid-19 pandemic launched businesses and consumers 5 years forward.”
But since March of 2020, businesses have had the opportunity to refine their online customer service presence and processes and consumers have adjusted to a new normal. AI has advanced in a big way, and alongside that, customer service teams are being introduced to new, more efficient, and more effective ways of keeping their customers happy — at any scale. Let’s take a look at the customer service innovations we’re seeing in 2022.
Consumer expectations continue to rise
Digital adoption heavily facilitates convenience, and now that customers have experienced things like 24/7 availability and next day delivery, their expectations aren’t going back to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon. Not only do customers expect a very high level of service, Salesforce research shows that consumers now even expect brands to provide proactive solutions:
“50% of consumers are likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t anticipate their needs.”
Omnichannel is obligatory
Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you’ll have noticed new customer service channels starting to open up across social media networks. Brands are now expanding their customer touchpoints onto the likes of Whatsapp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, and many more.
But you can’t just be on social media — your customers these days demand that you maintain an omnichannel presence across all touchpoints. They want a completely seamless customer service experience. This means that if they contact you via Facebook Messenger, Twitter, email, and Whatsapp, all conversations should be responded to on-platform, promptly, with the full context of the conversations taking place on other channels, and all information recorded in their file.
Virtual agents take over the frontlines of customer service
Forget the frustrating chatbots of yesteryear. Virtual agents (also sometimes known and intelligent virtual assistants) kick things up a notch — or 10. Fueled by AI in the form of Natural Language Processing (which helps the machine read, understand, and respond to your customers in natural human language) and deep learning (meaning the machine can remember and recollect past conversations in full context), these powerful machines are increasingly being deployed at the frontlines of customer service teams.
They can be programmed to handle your team’s most common customer queries — often as much as 60% of the total requests. This thereby frees up your human agents to take on the more challenging and complex customer tasks that require a different kind of intelligence.
The main advantages of virtual agents is that they allow you to keep up with your customers, who expect you to respond to their requests in real time — even during peak hours and seasons when your team is completely slammed. These smart assistants can handle any number of customer service requests, and can also be programmed to automate dynamic processes, like checking account numbers, application statuses, and return requests.
Learn more about virtual agents
There’s a lot of talk about hyperpersonalization these days, but what exactly does this buzzword mean? Well, it’s a lot more than just addressing your customer by name. Hyperpersonalization is usually talked about from a marketing or CX perspective. In the customer service context, the concept means that your team adapts to your customer’s needs in real time — and that requires machine assistance.
That’s why this drive towards hyperpersonalization is being led by advancements in AI. Since true, real-time 360-degree customer personalization in this form requires huge amounts of data, anyone considering pursuing this route will need to develop one hell of a data strategy. Sophisticated CRM software, which collects and organizes customer data (personal details, purchase history, service preferences, etc.) can help — and indeed, is now more important than ever.
The changing shape of customer service teams
As machines make their way onto the contact center floor (which may or may not even exist for some companies after Covid and the drive towards remote work), the makeup of the customer service team itself is transforming.
Human agents, now free from the tedium of the repetitive customer requests they had to handle in the past, are now more available to handle the most complex (and rewarding) customer cases.
Beyond the changing role of agents themselves, customer service teams are also taking on more roles to keep up with the changing needs of the modern contact center. Those who have deployed a virtual agent on the frontline of their customer service will also need an internal automation expert — or, ideally, an entire internal team of automation experts — to be responsible for training, monitoring, and troubleshooting the AI.
As we can see, although the pandemic changed the world drastically, not every change was for the worse. The push toward rapid digitalization has allowed customer service teams to evolve. And in the two years since the pandemic started, customer service teams have progressed to communicating seamlessly across channels, using automation and virtual agents to handle common customer questions, and delivering hyperpersonalized service to meet rising customer expectations.