With the arrival of a new year, contact centers are set to experience shifts in customer engagement strategy. While many of the trends to be expected in 2016 closely mirror current ones, the ways in which technologies are implemented, agents train for and deliver service, and consumers choose to interact with their preferred brands will emphasize greater personalized attention and even more cutting-edge technology for seamless customer experiences. Here are the first five of the top ten trends for customer engagement to look out for in 2016.
While 2015 saw brands weighing the differences between multichannel and omnichannel practices-with many stating that the latter was simply an enhanced version of the former-omnichannel now reigns supreme. It’s not enough for brands to simply offer service on multiple channels-what counts is optimizing across all channels for a seamless, consistent experience and meaningful marketing strategy. Accenture reported earlier this year that 65% of consumers surveyed felt frustrated by inconsistent experiences across channels, and a survey of 120 chief marketing officers conducted by The CMO Club and Rakuten Marketing found that only 11% are currently implementing an omnichannel strategy with 55% claiming that their company has yet to do so.
Self-service has increasingly become a high-demand feature in customer service, with brands across many industries finding numerous ways to deliver quicker, more efficient service at significantly reduced costs for greater customer loyalty. Intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) are often used by airlines, hotels, utilities companies, and retail brands to name a few, with Hyatt Hotels serving as one example of a company that saw a 94% savings on fully automated interactions and an increase in ROI from 2011 to the present of between 125% to 150%. Brands as diverse as Coca-Cola, U.S. Bank, and Pfizer also use IVAs, and other technologies such as visual IVR menus enable customers to benefit from faster service on their mobile devices at reduced costs to the companies implementing them.
Video continues to play an evolving role in customer service, with more and more brands noting the importance of offering face-to-face interactions for a richer, more personalized experience. Videos may be used for greater self-service by offering customers tutorials on company websites, testimonials about brands to educate and inspire customers, and, of course, video chat for optimum customer service. Indeed, Gartner has predicted that more than 100 of the 500 largest global businesses will introduce video-based chat by 2018. Video technology is further evolving to use customer data as a means of delivering personalized videos for stronger customer service and marketing targeted at each specific customer’s needs.
No one likes to lose time, and brands that value this principle can expect greater customer loyalty. For customers who prefer to use the voice channel for service, callbacks are critical to saving them time and frustration. Technologies that enable callbacks based on a customer’s position in a queue-essentially calling back the customer as soon as an agent is free–can eliminate hold time, reduce abandonment rates, and provide greater agent efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Social media continues to play an important and evolving role in the customer experience. Customers are quick to comment on brands after both positive and negative experiences, leading to opportunities for both brand advocacy and customer churn. Companies and customers alike are further embracing social media platforms as prime channels for customer service. According to an Aberdeen Group report, companies that respond to and engage with customers over social media can expect those customers to spend 20 to 40 percent more with that company, while the same report found that 71% of consumers who have positive social customer service experiences are likely to recommend that brand to others. Twitter recently acknowledged the significance of its platform for customer service by unveiling a suite of data products and functionality designed especially to provide companies with the essential tools for delivering excellent customer service, and many companies are following suit by adopting the tools into their social customer care software.
With big data analytics, companies are able to analyze a mix of complex data sets from various sources to gain critical insights into customer behavior. This data may then be used to drive sales and provide better customer service. Big data may reveal how much a customer has spent, how often, and on which products or services, making it essential to devising marketing strategies as well as recommendations based on customer preferences. It can further be used to personalize the customer experience. For example, financial management and personal banking websites may track a consumer’s spending habits and offer cash rewards or other incentives when customers spend money, while health-management sites or devices can provide feedback and encouragement for people who are monitoring their diets or tracking their vital signs. Winterberry Group proclaimed earlier this year that U.S. marketers would spend $11.5 billion on data and related solutions in 2015 alone, with a strong emphasis on display ads and email marketing.
Customers want to feel like more than consumers—they want to be valued as individuals. For this reason, customer service is evolving into a more personalized experience, from agents addressing customers by name and using a friendly, approachable tone, to companies making targeted marketing offers that cater to individual customer preferences. In addition, adopting marketing campaigns that value customer opinions (such as voting for favorite products) is another way in which brands are establishing humanized reputations and connecting with potential and current customers. For example, Starbucks held a campaign this year asking customers to vote for a favorite Frappuccino flavor and then offering it at a discounted price for a limited time. Such strategies send the message that customer opinions matter, and that brands are striving to design products and services that are meaningful to their customers.
The popularity of cloud contact center solutions continues to grow, as it provides numerous benefits including increased security, greater flexibility, reduced costs, and a more competitive edge in the global marketplace. Market Monitor projected earlier this year that cloud market revenue would increase at a 36% compound annual growth rate, with the cloud computing market expected to reach nearly $20 billion by the end of 2016.
It has become increasingly clear to companies that happy, well-trained employees deliver better results, leading to long-term loyalty on behalf of employees and customers alike. Companies may take numerous approaches toward achieving workforce optimization, whether it be using technologies that streamline customer service processes, analyze and manage conversations across social media or monitor and improve key performance indicators (KPIs); providing improved training for the agents who use these technologies; and optimizing workspaces themselves for greater employee comfort, motivation, and productivity.
The millennial generation is a force to be reckoned with: millennials dominate social media platforms, using such channels for customer service, brand research, and to share their opinions on brands and customer experiences; and they have serious buying power. Research conducted by Youbrand found that, as of 2015, this generation has an estimated combined global spending power of $2.45 trillion. According to Forbes, 33% of millennials consult blogs before making a purchase–preferring to check the opinions of peers on social media rather than relying on standard advertising—while 62% reported that they wish to engage with brands on social media. Furthermore, Nielsen reports that 85% of the millennial generation owns smartphones. The key takeaways for brands? Mobile customer service is more critical than ever thanks to this generation, social media channels need to be optimized for both optimum engagement and timely service, and millennial tastes and preferences should be considered and, further, welcomed in the development of products and services.
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