Back to basics for 2019

As technology continues to transform the ways companies and customers interact with each other, Geoff Land, Managing Director of contact centre and workflow technology provider Infinity CCS, looks at what contact centre and customer experience professionals will be focussing on in 2019.

Consumers have been carrying multimedia web-enabled supercomputers in their pockets for the best part of a decade now, and the range of things we can do with them increases all the time. The next generation of smartphones will bring super-fast 5G, voice control, AR (augmented reality), and bendy screens to the mainstream.

Most companies, in their customer service operations, however, have barely got to grips with social media, Messenger, and other technologies that are ten years old.

Unfairly or not, consumers now expect the same level of instant, frictionless, effortless, multi-channel service they get from digital leaders like Uber and Amazon from all the companies they deal with, regardless of sector.

Companies should seize this by making customer experience a source of competitive differentiation at a time when it is difficult to otherwise stand out in crowded markets which have similar products and services

Here are our thoughts on what businesses that want to be seen as digital leaders will be looking at in 2019 and beyond.

AI isn’t for interactions (yet), it’s for insight and automation

While chatbots have yet to live up to their hype, we believe that continued improvements in VAs (virtual assistants) like Alexa, and the tech giants’ determination to put one of these into every living room and kitchen, will eventually lead to the widespread adoption of human – bot communications.

In the meantime, AI can have a greater impact in other areas during 2019. Machine learning-driven analytics can give companies valuable information about customer and product cycles, and even help pinpoint service issues before they arise so that proactive steps can be taken. Engagement analytics and speech analytics can help predict customer behaviour and define personalised solutions and offers that boost loyalty and satisfaction.

AI in the form of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) should also be used to automate routine and laborious tasks such as data capture, writing and sending emails, running reports, processing orders and payments, and managing case files.

Self-service solutions, including chatbots, can also play a role in automating many customer interactions. Whether we’re talking about FAQs, IVR, voice control, VAs, or chatbots, the key is to always have an escape route to a human agent for interactions that become too complex for the automated solution to handle.

Not everything has to be in the cloud

Deploying software and systems in the cloud brings many benefits including resiliency, scalability, flexibility, greater ease of use, protection against obsolescence, and access to Opex-based pricing options such as pay-as-you-go.

But those benefits must be weighed against the cloud’s potential weaknesses, which can include vendor lock-in, limited customisability, and lack of final ownership. For most companies, a combination of cloud, legacy, and traditionally delivered software is the best mix.

There is no cloud or hosted contact centre solution that delivers on all fronts yet, and most operations require a degree of customisability that SaaS and even PaaS models are just not built to give. Cloud is great for single function applications and for piloting new technologies and services, but not necessarily for core business applications.

While we expect to see continued investment in cloud solutions during 2019, we will also see contact centre operators seriously assess their core infrastructure needs and build the stack that works for them functionally and financially by mixing cloud, privately hosted, and on-site solutions.

Omnichannel is a must but it’s a data and process problem not a technology one

Cross-channel customer experiences should appear seamless from the customer’s point of view. Most companies have real problems doing this because individual departments, channels and processes use different systems and databases which leads to data siloes. For omnichannel a company should really have a single customer view of all its data. In theory this means that – security and confidentiality concerns aside – it should be possible to make available to a customer service agent, or an analytics suite, all the data a company holds on a given customer.

The thinking goes that if all the information on a given customer is either stored in one place, or at least accessible from a central system, the company can make much more informed decisions.

In 2019 we expect companies to make serious attempts to eliminate their data siloes with the use of data discovery and analytics tools that can automatically mine all the companies’ systems for data, associate that data with customer and transaction records, tag it to create coherent data sets, and then make it all available via a central interface.

An additional benefit is that this is now pretty much a requirement for fulfilling GDPR data requests, which is another reason we expect to see more and more companies adopting this kind of solution.

Empowering agents to deliver will be the biggest challenge in 2019

Human agents still have by far the most important role in delivering digital omnichannel customer experiences. Due to a combination of cultural resistance, lack of training, and lack of tools, many find it difficult to do the job properly. In 2019 we expect contact centre and customer experience leaders to focus more on the agent experience in order to empower frontline staff.

For human agents, the place to bring together all the data and systems they are going to access is in their desktop application, which should provide them with a single user interface for almost anything they need to be able to do.

The use of workflow tools as a front-end ensures that any process can be carried out quickly and easily just by following on-screen prompts. Whatever data is needed for that task is pulled from whichever database or system stores it and presented to the staff member on screen.

Departmental and channel siloes are eliminated as data is made available in the desktop regardless of where it is stored. Legacy systems are also given a new lease of life and are able to work with one another, with new digital channels like chat and instant messaging, and with external systems.

So for us, 2019 will be the year of giving your human agents a helping hand, rather than thinking about replacing them with bots.

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