Digital-First Customers Challenge Customer Service Industry: Report

AI continues to draw attention as agents are empowered to do more complex work, but the struggle of fulfilling the needs of digital-first customers remains a stumbling block for good customer experience. We look at what Salesforce's State of Service report means for the customer service industry.

digital-first

The transformation of the customer service industry is being driven by five key trends, according to Salesforce’s State of Service 2019 report. The report, which draws on data from a survey of 3,500 customer service decision makers and agents worldwide, highlighted increasing investment in transformation across service organizations.

The survey noted that agents were increasingly performing strategic duties, empowered by AI to take on elevated roles. However, there is still a struggle to catch up with digital-first customers, who are more sophisticated in their use of channels. The study also found that the mobile workforce was becoming the face of the brand.

More Channel, More Challenges

Digital-first customers continue to offer challenges to the customer service sector. On average, customers now use 10 different channels to communicate with companies, according to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer published in June 2018.

“Customer service teams, who use an average of nine channels, are in a race to meet omnichannel expectations. While tried-and-true channels like phone and email have near-universal adoption, customer service is on the cusp of a digital revolution,” the latest report noted. The study found that 66% of service professionals reported increased case volume through digital channels.

The results for individual countries were interesting. Mexico and Brazil responses both showed 81% of service professionals seeing an increase in engagement through digital channels. Country profiles for Mexico and Brazil were based on a sample of 300 each.

Voicing Support for Voice

Use of voice-activated personal assistants like Amazon’s Alexa will see 152% growth, according to the report, yet many organizations are still playing catch up with more mature channels such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. The challenge of being across all channels that a customer could interact with a brand remains.

Within this context the role of the customer service agent continues to evolve, and the use of technology to empower agents becomes even more crucial. The demand for more challenging work was clear in the Salesforce data and there were differences between the experience of those in high-performing organizations and those in lower-performing organizations. The study found that more than 60% of agents at high-performing organizations spend most of their time solving complex issues, whereas only 43% of those in underperforming organizations did the same.

While there has been increasing skepticism about the impact of AI, it is clear that the integration of such technologies into customer experience is already changing the way that customer service functions. The Salesforce survey found that there was a 300% predicted increase in the use of AI and a 211% predicted increase in the use of chatbots in Mexico, while Brazil was predicted to see 133% increase in AI adoption over the next 18 months. Brazil had the highest percentage (86%) of organizations with self-service as a major part of service strategy, according to the report.

AI Skepticism Remains, but Adoption on the Rise

Graeme Provan, Genesys global director of business automation, explains: “In our view, we were at the peak of inflated expectations about 12 months ago for AI, and we’re now coming through the trough of disillusionment where some customers equate AI in this space to just chatbots. As we move up the slope of enlightenment, we’ll find that AI is the technology that can actually fix what technology ‘broke’ in the customer experience space by facilitating the human-to-human connections that simply got lost in many digitalization efforts.”

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Genesys’ experience with customers using AI has overall been one of real business value. “We’ve launched a series of AI-injected applications, like predictive routing, predictive engagement, and others, that are helping customers achieve tangible business value.” Provan says such projects have increased revenue by 5% or more, reduced lead cost by 60%, reduced cart abandonment by 35%, and increased net promoter score (NPS) by 15%.

In a recent global survey Genesys conducted with MIT Tech Review Insights, nearly 70% CX leaders reported that they embrace AI, not just as a tool to make the customer experience more efficient, but as a means to create deeper, more meaningful relationships with their customers.

Using AI in a way that empowers customer service agents is key, according to the Salesforce survey. “To scale support and make space for more strategic work and customer relationships, teams may look to off-load manual tasks. Seventy percent of agents believe automating routine tasks would allow them to focus on higher value work,” the report said.

Proven advocates for what he calls Blended AI: the seamless handoff between bots and humans to automate the easy stuff, so there is more time and focus for more demanding or rewarding scenarios.

The State of Service report found that high-performing service organizations were almost 3 times more likely than underperformers to use AI. The study also found that agent needs were driving AI adoption.

Overall, the report found that “service leaders are investing in their people, processes, and
technology to drive nothing short of a transformation.”

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