Toshiyuki Ima

Where Will The Customer Experience Really Be Five Years From Now?

As customers we can all see how brands are serving us at present. Phone calls and emails remain the most popular way to access a customer service helpline, but almost every brand is now engaging with customers on social channels, review platforms, and chat. But where is customer service heading to in future? Will it be the availability of new technologies that drives most of the change or a change in customer behavior?

I’m not a fan of most futurist predictions. In many of these future-gazing predictions the author merely looks at all the emerging technologies and suggests which will be important five years from now. I think that whenever you are trying to consider what might be important in your business in ten years, it’s important to look back ten years to see what has changed. 

In the customer experience (CX) environment more has changed in the past ten years than in the entire lifetime of CX as a business practice. A decade ago brands defined how and when customers could get in touch with a customer service telephone number and email address. There were no other channels; if you didn’t want to call then you could send an email – that was all.

The smartphone, particularly the Apple iPhone, changed how customers accessed the Internet. Mobile Internet was available earlier, but it wasn’t very good and, until the concept of the app store came along, you couldn’t change the software on your phone. Then with the explosion in popularity of social networks every customer became a publisher. 2008 was an important year because that was really when social networking went mainstream.

So the CX environment a decade ago was unrecognizable compared to what we face today. Will we see such dramatic changes in the next decade? It seems unlikely, because the introduction of the mobile Internet was revolutionary, but I was drawn to these ideas published by Mikhail Naumov specifically because they are thoughtful, nuanced, and not just suggesting that the future is more of the same – only faster. 

  • Automation in the contact center will help agents to focus on the customer, not the monotonous processes or tasks they need to complete.
  • Agents are focused on empathy; empathy and giving time to customers will be more important and easier to achieve. Customers are engaging with brands and building relationships and this requires interactions – easier if agents are able to focus more time on the customer and less on process.
  • No barriers to complaints; it’s already easy for customers to complain. Often they don’t use any formal channels at all, they just use a social network, but it will get easier and informal complaints may form formal complaints, as networks like Tripadvisor get smarter about tapping into online debates.
  • Outsourced customer representatives; it’s likely that intermediaries will evolve so customers just pass their problem to a service provider who then fixes the issue. This means it will be far more common for the customer to not really be a customer at all.
  • AI as table stakes; customers have an increasing expectation that if they contact a brand then you will have all the answers. Tools like machine learning and AI are going to be the most basic ammunition in this fight. 

It is important to notice how Mikhail’s ideas are talking about enhancing what we see as normal in customer service today. Many of these technologies, such as AI, will be used to support and enhance the service that people offer. I read a report in The Economist two years ago that suggested that AI was about to cause the imminent death of the contact center. How does that prediction look just two years later?

When considering the future of this industry we need to really balance the changing expectation of customers with technological possibilities. I believe that Mikhail’s suggestions about enhancing what already works well describe the most likely future vision for CX, but maybe I’ll change my mind again when I read this in five years.

Photo by Toshiyuki Imai licensed under Creative Commons.