A culture of change
The customer experience is a central theme for contact centre trends in 2018.
In technology, companies are always operating in the future, particularly in the field of innovation, anticipating the shifts in customer preferences and ensuring they're delivering on their expectations. Companies that stay ahead, choosing compatible services for their business, maintain the upper hand on their competitors.
"Don't follow trends, start trends." - Frank Capra
Here's what I foresee having an impact on the contact centre and related environments for 2018:
Customer experience strategy implementation
A lot was said in 2017 around the importance of customer experience (CX). This has led to the implementation of CX strategies. Progressive companies now have CX professionals tasked with driving programmes across the company that lead to enhanced CX. All of the research that has gone into this will see companies introducing slicker processes that contribute to efficiency and productivity, all with the customer in mind. This will also have an impact on employment, with a range of CEM positions opening up.
Channel integration as an imperative
Companies will be closer to omni-channel than ever before. This will be driven, in part, by the need to optimise services, but also by the customer experience, since the goal of seamless communication across channels contributes to CX.
There will be an increase in the uptake of virtual assistants, instant messaging and mobile apps designed to facilitate interaction, in addition to more traditional channels. This will provide platform agility across channels that customers prefer, and access to the vital information agents need to deliver great service.
The benefit of channel integration is that once it's in place, the introduction of an additional channel such as a chatbot is made less complicated. Rather than operating in isolation, where it's harder to monitor and measure its success, companies can weigh up performance relating to other channels, and are able to access the data produced in interactions across all channels for improved insights.
Effective data usage will govern change in the contact centre. Let's say, for example, a user calls the contact centre and gets asked to select an option regarding a query from a menu. The menu may include: "Are you calling about your credit card?" when the user doesn't even have a credit card with that company. Known customer data can and will be used to refine interactions, personalising the service to eliminate details and unnecessary processes that aren't relevant to the user.
Artificial intelligence and chatbots
Artificial intelligence (AI) and AI-driven text-based bots with specific uses will come into play. These may be used internally - in a large company where it's not possible to conduct continuous training on complex processes, for example, an agent helping a customer on a call could access an internal bot to acquire more information; the bot will then provide the information needed so the agent won't have to call another department or employee, or force a second contact with the customer. A bot uses a scripted response, while AI, on the other hand, says: "How can I help you?" and bases its actions on the context of the user's response.
Effective data usage will govern change in the contact centre.
South African companies are slowly moving towards the use of chatbots, but remain cautious about using AI-driven technology in customer-facing platforms.
Fraud prevention and enhanced security
According to the 2017 Ransomware Digital Disruptor Report, 49% of companies experienced a ransomware attack in 2016, mostly in business and professional services, healthcare, retail and government. Hackers are developing any number of means to access company data and individual accounts, so this is an essential focus area.
Security and fraud prevention are at the heart of the financial services, so more companies will adopt watertight procedures that include voice authentication technology and, in the future, possibly blockchain models.
In theory, blockchain identity verification could prove (between two people) within seconds that the users are who they say they are based on the data they create. This could have immense potential when applied in the contact centre environment, as it could streamline the identification process and data access in the future.
Trust economy taking hold
Blockchain is especially attractive as a means of streamlining data access for financial transactions and in the prevention of fraud, providing the means to store and access financial documents, shared assets, codes and renderings of items such as identity documents, drivers' licences and even entire medical histories.
The trust economy it is based on is under close scrutiny, but it's being explored by organisations as eminent as payment transaction firm SWIFT. SWIFT has been testing use cases to demonstrate how its 11 000-plus member financial institutions can optimise the technology's transparency while maintaining the industry's privacy requirements.
The industry is nudging closer to seeing more blockchain-based services appearing, but this technology is still very much in its infancy when it comes to its widespread and real-world application. Certainly, more foundational work could be done in 2018 to leverage its future benefits, but this would only begin to bear fruit in the coming years.
Most importantly, the consideration when talking about trends, innovation and future tech must always be this: will it benefit my customers? Will it allow me to deliver enhanced customer service that generates a positive response? Don't abandon what's working efficiently for a trendy new idea, but do test that customers will have a favourable response before shifting how the company does business - after all, the customers are here in the present, with the company, and not necessarily in the company's future.
With over 10 years of operational and strategic experience in the South African contact centre industry, Wynand Smit's understanding of technology and its application to business has benefited multiple organisations across a variety of industries. As CEO of contact centre solutions provider INOVO, he is passionate about using the contact centre as a platform to drive positive change in a business.