2018 Contact Center Trends: Punching Through the Barrier.

By Bright Pattern

Customer experience (CX) ran out of steam in 2017. Almost all companies have by now realized that CX is the differentiator and customers value the experience above almost everything. Enormous effort and resources have been thrown at CX, and there have been huge gains. But according to Forrester’s 2017 CX IndexTM, CX quality plateaued or declined for most industries and companies.

It’s plain to see why. CX was a classic land grab where companies found it easy to deal with obvious problems. But now the hard work begins. Customers are getting used to enhanced experiences and want better and better service. Companies will need to keep up with these expectations or fall farther behind. Forrester is predicting that in 2018, 30% of companies will see further declines in CX performance, which will mean declines in growth or worse.

So are we going to stay put or decline? Or are we going to punch through to the next level? 2018 will be the year where this is decided. So what will be the big stories? How will technology and automation advance the customer experience? Here’s what we think will be the trends in 2018.

 

Artificial Intelligence – It’s going to get real, very fast

In the years running up to 2018, AI has been the solution to almost any problem. And for good reason: chatbots, robotic process automation, and virtual assistants have transformed customer experience and expectations, and have changed the roles of customer service agents for the better. But now the rubber meets the road. The early gains were made by applying AI to existing business operations. The true growth moving forward will be to use AI to invent new ways to interact with the customer, reinvent business processes, and create whole new markets for products and services.

A Forrester survey tells us firms’ investment in AI rose 51% in 2017. But 55% of firms have not yet achieved any tangible business outcomes from AI, and 43% say it’s too soon to tell. That’s because AI is not a plug-and-play proposition. Unless firms plan, deploy, and govern it correctly, new AI tech will provide small benefits at best or, at worst, result in unexpected and undesired CX-related outcomes. If CIOs and chief data officers (CDOs) are serious about becoming insight driven, 2018 is the year they must realize that simplistic approaches will only scratch the surface of possibilities that new tech offers.

Take machine learning for example. Companies are quickly realizing that, ironically AI requires huge amounts of human input. Agents are tagging text and speech, customer interactions. Companies are using their customers to teach their AI, and sales reps are training the AI rather than relying on out-of-the-box learning. Add to this the data hygiene and knowledge management required to keep an automated system up to date, and you will see an enhanced adoption of the blended AI model for 2018 where humans play a critical role in constantly perfecting AI to improve the customer experience.

Bright Pattern is a leader in this blended AI trend and automating with a human touch. For instance, our APIs allow bots to integrate with IBM Watson, Reply.ai, and Alterra to provide human-like interactions that can be switched to a live agent at any time. The agents also have internal assistants and bots that use AI to guide them through the call, offer suggestions, track tone and sentiment using cognitive analysis technology and natural language understanding.

 

Digital Transformation Needs to Pick up Speed

There are now heightened expectations from the customer and companies need to rise to meet them. Digital transformation is the key to making this happen. But it’s not happening at a quick enough pace.

According to Forrester, up to 60% of executives feel they are lagging behind with their digital transformation initiatives. The trend for 2018 will be that digital transformation moves from just an IT or CIO issue to become the responsibility of the entire organization. Thinking will change, it will no longer be looked at as an investment that gets a return. Digital transformation will be seen as the one thing that will keep the company alive. In fact Forrester also has a sobering statistic for this: 20% of CEOs will fail to act: As a result, those firms will be acquired or begin to perish.

 

Moving to the Cloud Will Become Even Safer

Here’s some good news! The cloud is going to get even more business-friendly in 2018. We all know that moving to the cloud provides a way to avoid capital investment in volatile technology and focus on core competencies. And it enables companies like Bright Pattern to provide rapid innovation delivery, instant upgrades and provide integrations with other cloud systems.

Every tennant on the Bright Pattern Call Center solution enjoys the very latest, most advanced version of out software. This includes data, configuration, user management, and tenant individual functionality. Every company, department and user is on the same version and the latest patch level.

And, we offer the insurance of an on-premises option using exactly the same cloud software for call centers, ensuring an additional level of control. Moreover, switching to an onsite option or back to the cloud is as easy as downloading the export file of your account and uploading it into another system.

The cloud will continue to be a dominant force in the digital transformations of virtually all successful companies. With continued innovation from Bright Pattern, we do not see this trend losing steam in 2018.

Self Service is about to get personal

Personalization will be key for companies looking to keep up with customer expectations. The empowered customer is now king, but they do not want to have every option available to them at all times. Their time is precious and they want to have a self-service experience that is hyper-relevant to them.

Companies who know what product a customer has for instance, will be able to serve up a limited set of options and disregard the irrelevant. They will learn which channels a customer prefers and route them without having to ask. Organizations that take customer experience seriously through personalization will stand out from the noise and create loyal customers.

 

The Employee Experience Will Be Enhanced, Not Just the Customer Experience (EX=CX)

The customer service employee experience is changing rapidly, so companies need to find ways to ensure that their agents are well motivated and rewarded for taking on new responsibilities. As blended AI becomes more prevalent, the role of the agent or customer service representative will change. Forrester predicts more and more agents will quit because of work overload. An example of this trend would be tagging. A live chat agent can look through a chatbot transcript to see where the chatbot didn’t understand the customer. The agent can tag an intent to that particular phrase. This additional task adds to an already complex list of responsibilities, applications, and processes that today’s agent must own, use, and follow. Without the right tools companies put employee experience at risk.

Bright Pattern provides the most effective agent desktop in an all-in-one call center app, which offers a decluttered user interface that selects and displays the most relevant information based on context. Higher levels of employee and agent engagement are known to improve the customer experience.

 

Automation Spreads From the Back Office to the Front Office

The big news in automation for 2018 will be the migration of many tried and tested robotic processes from the back office to help out in the front office. Automation will enable agents to focus on helping customers and spend less time on navigating systems or post-contact wrap up. Additionally, automation at the desktop will improve quality by decreasing errors of manual data entry, reducing rework, and decreasing complaints. Reducing manual tasks allows for a better focus on listening to the customer, empathizing, and providing a frictionless experience. In 2018, we’ll see better collaboration between the front- and back office, and see the almost immediate ROI that robotic process automation has traditionally been known for.

Channel Proliferation is a Party That Won’t Stop

It’s not news that consumers like to interact in the channel of their choice. And that channel can change on a whim and by the second. A conversation started in a messaging platform can migrate to a call that can shift to an email and back to a message. But companies need to do a better job of offering a true omni channel experience. According to Dimension Data and their 2017 Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report, only 8% of organizations say that they have all of their channels connected and, in fact, as many as 70% say that none or very few of their channels are connected.

And new channels are coming on stream all the time. Customers are communicating with brands using just emojis. Video chat is starting to be adopted. Screen Sharing, virtual assistants, in-app messaging will all continue there rise in 2018.

The big news here is that this explosion of customer expression will not be stopping any time in 2018. So how can a company keep up, let alone stay ahead?

The simple answer is to have a simplified multichannel setup for call center managers to enable a true omni channel communication style. In practice this means a conversation must be able to be continued when switching or changing channels. It means adding a messaging or content channel to an existing communication is a must. And finally the rich context of the conversation must be maintained at all times.

To do this in 2018, you must have the agent tools to simplify multi channel interaction handling. Bright Pattern has created a web-based agent desktop to make multichannel communication seamless. It keeps all the information needed in the visible portion of the desktop, it intelligently extracts the relevant elements of context to display eliminating switching, alt-tabbing, and scrolling through long pages, and it transparently rearranging the desktop when the the conversation changes from one channel to another.

Conclusion

2018 is going to be a big year of disruption for the contact center. The technology that’s coming online and the shifting attitudes of business leaders will lead to some huge developments. At Bright Pattern we are well aware and well prepared for what’s to come. Because just like you, the expectations of our customers will not stop growing.

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