Technology’s role in customer service is growing at warp speed. Social media has opened up multiple channels of communication between brands and consumers, allowing those conversations to take place almost 24/7. At the same time, more and more firms are relying on (or planning to adopt) artificial intelligence—and not just as a first stop on the customer service journey. In some basic cases, chatbots and other AI tech have the power to resolve an issue start to finish, with zero human input. “By 2021, 15% of all customer service interactions will be completely handled by AI,” says Olive Huang, a VP at Gartner. That number might seem low, but it represents a 400% increase from 2017.
Assuming this trend continues, which seems likely, should we expect the call centers of the future to be staffed by an army of robots? Hardly. Flesh-and-blood reps will continue to play a crucial role—machines can’t be counted on for diplomacy, negotiation, to express empathy or for creative problem-solving—however, they are able to sift through and complete mundane, tedious work which will result in the typical rep’s workload evolving and becoming more streamlined.
While no one can predict the future with perfect accuracy, don’t be surprised if a customer service rep in 2028 looks a little something like this:
AI will give reps of the future a big boost in brain power, not only because they’ll have access to a bottomless well of data, but also because they’ll be able to sort through it and land on precise answers, at lightning-fast speeds. (Think: finding a needle in a haystack in a matter of nanoseconds.)
Virtual reality headsets may not be as common as mobile phones just yet, but experts predict they’ll hit critical mass four to five years from now. VR-fueled service could allow a rep to walk a customer through a simple repair, employ scanners to size up shoes and other clothing (no more ordering multiple sizes to ensure fit, which leads to pricey, time-consuming returns) and much more. All of the benefits and personalized attention you’d receive in-store, from the comfort of your own home or office.
Question: How can adding more tech to the customer-service equation lead to highly personalized experiences? Answer: With chatbots handling the bulk of the mundane, tier-1 issues, human reps will recover as much as 40% of their work time. “Agents will instead be able to focus on higher-level service interactions that contribute to customer satisfaction, retention, and overall lifetime value,” says Forbes blogger Mikhail Naumov.
With AI handling a majority of the repetitive, tedious work, reps of the future are likely to find work more rewarding, as they will be able to focus their time and energy on helping people, and to begin to think of customer service as a career rather than just a job. With simple, repetitive concerns farmed out to bots, humans will be freed from the stress of having countless calls in queue. They’ll be able to spend more time with each client, to call upon their creative problem-solving skills, and truly connect with customers. Chances are, they’ll stay with their employer longer, too.
SKILLED AT SMELLING TROUBLE BEFORE IT HAPPENS- A NOSE FOR (BAD) NEWS
Technology also has the power to shift the nature of customer service from reactive to proactive. Rather than fielding an angry call from a customer whose smart fridge has gone kaput, a CS rep could monitor AI that’s embedded in the appliance, spot that its motor is beginning to fail, and alert the owner well before he’s faced with a fridge full of spoiled food.
FULLY MOBILE / UNTETHERED / TURBO CHARGED – COMFORTABLE, BUT CONNECTED
The head of JetBlue once said that the key to the company’s famously friendly customer service was “bunny slippers,” meaning most of their reservationists worked from the comfort of home. Since then, the trend toward remote work has exploded across all fields, with customer service being one of the five fastest-growing categories. Whether at home or in call centers, VR headsets and other wearables will offer workers more ways to stay connected on their own terms.