The New Year is always an exciting time to reflect on the previous year and look to the future. Having worked in the call center industry my entire career, I’ve witnessed many changes and the continuous evolution of the industry. I’m quite amazed by the changes I’ve seen over the past five years. I’m also pleased to see people and brands holding two-way conversations on multiple platforms, with the call center playing a pivotal role in ensuring excellent customer service.
Today the customer, not the company, selects the communication route. Although a recent study confirmed the telephone as the preferred channel for quality customer service, other call center service channels are exploding. Live chat customer service, Screen sharing, virtual agents and click-to-call weren’t even on the radar a couple years ago, however, each has seen steady growth in usage as customers seek immediate satisfaction.
So where is the call center industry headed? Much of what we’re going to see will hinge on the customer and their preferences. The call center will be seen as a ‘Relationship Hub’ that will enable customer journeys, not just one-off interactions. The call center will also drive business value by utilizing data insight that can be passed on to the client or used real-time to improve the customer-agent experience.
Here’s a list of a couple trends I think we’ll see expand in the near future:
- Omni-channel – Call centers will continue to expand their service offerings to include an ever increasing number of communication channels. The key here though is to be able to connect and respond seamlessly. Customers on a website want to be able to chat online one minute then talk on the phone with a call center agent the next. And, they expect their information to carry over no matter what channel and no matter who they interact with.
- Social Media monitoring in the call center – Integrating social media monitoring into the call center’s toolbox has been a natural progression. As sites like Twitter and Facebook continue to serve as loudspeakers, broadcasting dissatisfaction, and occasionally satisfaction, to millions of people across the web, call centers can take the insights gleaned from these interactions and be the hub for monitoring and responding to online customers. According to Avaya, within five years, social media is likely to be a primary customer interaction channel for many servicing environments.
- Business Intelligence – The ability to analyze and use data to provide customer insight remains as important as ever. However the ability to do it real-time is the key. It’s all about building that relationship and being able to anticipate the customer’s needs while delivering excellent customer service. Whether a B2C or B2B customer, consumers are actively using research as part of the buying process. Companies will begin to see how effectively connecting their consumers’ inquiries with a tailored message or solution will drive a higher ROI by providing excellent customer service.
- Click to call/live chat – The ability to click a button on a website and talk with someone real-time has proven invaluable when it comes to online sales support. The platform has become nearly ubiquitous and is a critical tactic to help companies build and support relationships throughout the customer journey. eConsultancy reports that 83% of consumers require some degree of customer support while making an online purchase. Couple that with this statistic from Forrester – 45% of US consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly, and you begin to see why this option is growing rapidly.
- Virtual agents/Avatars – It sounds and looks like something from the movies but virtual agents, virtual consultants or concierges who appear as an animated form of a real person is here to stay. They may seem a little revolutionary, but they are proving to be an effective way to handle simpler customer service inquires or help guide consumers through a website or FAQs. I read a recent article discussing the testing of virtual nurses in the healthcare industry. These tests have shown that patients feel more comfortable and will ask more questions when conversing with a virtual nurse than a human nurse.
- Screen sharing – By being able to share a computer screen with the customer, an agent is able to answer questions and provide product information quicker thereby reducing call handling time and improving customer satisfaction. However, desktop sharing can be used to do more than just answer questions and resolve customer issues. To add revenue to customer service calls, many call centers offer an up-sell or cross-sell of new products and services during a call. With desktop sharing, the agent can, for example, walk a customer through a live product demo, greatly increasing the chance of a sale.
I’m looking forward to seeing how these trends shape our business over the years. The simple act of providing an exceptional customer experience is an often overlooked marketing strategy. One thing you’ll notice is the one thing each of these trends have in common is that they all focus on the customer experience. The growth of these trends shows that many companies are finally beginning to see the ROI of a happy customer and the call centers role in making it all happen.
What trends do you see in the future? Where do you see the call center industry heading? Please leave me a comment and let’s get the conversation started.