Customer service has always been pivotal to the success or failure of a business, but in today’s fast-paced world, everything evolves constantly – including customer service.
On a grand scale – as the world gets ever faster and ever more interconnected – how will customer service practices change with the times, adapting to meet customer expectations and to attract new customers?
From using big data to predict what a customer might need and when, through to advances in technology which will change the way we use and pay for goods, here are some of the developments that you can expect to see in customer service in the future.
The role of artificial intelligence
The introduction of artificial intelligence by brands is already underway, with the rise of customer-service technologies such as chat-bots. These small revolutions help to perfect the customer experience by putting speed at the forefront.
While there are concerns about the rate of development in AI (Elon Musk is particularly concerned about unchecked progress which could lead to potentially dangerous advances). But ultimately, AI is helping to shape the world for the better.
According to predictions by IBM, 85% of all customer interactions in 2020 will be handled by AI, making the customer experience quicker, smoother and more consistent.
This could help companies make savings by increasing employee productivity, as well as creating more efficient interactions with customers, thereby keeping customers happy.
It is this efficiency that is the main benefit of the development of AI to improve customer-brand interactions. Alongside data analysis, AI will drive preemptive business problem solving, creating real-time solutions.
The aim of predictive shopping is to use big data to streamline the entire customer experience.
The method involves analysing trends in big data sets and predict what customers need next – before the customer even knows that they need it.
Amazon has patented predictive stocking, a computer modelling system which will crunch a customer’s online data – previous purchases, pages viewed, shopping cart activity, search history – to predict what the customer might buy, before they buy it.
These items would be chosen by the system and shipped to the general location of the customer or customers who may need it, arriving at just the right time.
These analytical and forecasting services are under continued development, but if done in the right way, this is something that could foreseeably happen in the future.
As consumers continue to use online services, more data gets fed into the system, which leads to more accurate predictions. This, in turn, leads to more correct predictions.
This creates a system with a built-in, self-sustaining feedback loop which improves itself each time, as new data becomes available after each delivery. This data would include the final destination of the consignment, as well as route information – making the system more accurate with every delivery.
When predictive shopping becomes commonplace, will there be new delivery infrastructures to support it?
The emphasis on delivery has become speed; in a world where time is money, nobody – especially a small business – wants to spend days waiting for a package. Thankfully, delivery times are almost a thing of the past.
The introduction of services such as Amazon Prime has set a high standard of next-day delivery for subscribers, giving consumers access to the convenience of speedy delivery – perfect for when you need things in a rush.
The pricing structure of Amazon’s Prime service hides the cost of convenience, too, while the popularity of the scheme means that the economies of scale work in Amazon’s favour.
But Amazon has promised that drones can bring a near-instantaneous delivery experience for consumers – in the future, buyers could order something online and have it delivered within 30 minutes.
The technology is viable, but there are several issues to overcome, including the lack of a legal and regulatory framework, the battery life and delivery radius of current drones, and the weight limit for packages.Because these issues will take time to iron out, companies will have time to develop a delivery infrastructure and drones which can carry heavier packages over greater distances at a lower cost.It may seem out of reach for a SME, and it’s true that it’s easier for large conglomerates with big budgets to be early adopters of such technologies. However, it’s worth pointing out that this is relatively low-cost technology. It’s certainly viable that this could be a cost-efficient option for SMEs, if your company deals with fast and special deliveries – think food, gift or flower deliveries that ordinarily require a courier service. Keep an eye on the horizon!
More mobility for mobile phones
As smartphones become a more ingrained technology, they play a greater role in how we interact with the world around us.
Increasingly, many brands and businesses are trying to attract attention and competing with each other to do it. Targeted advertising and marketing emails have evolved into push notifications on consumers’ smartphones.
Businesses with their own app are able to push notifications directly to mobile phones – but updates to the software of smartphones in recent years have meant that new user interaction is available on the lock screen.
This means that the lock screen will become a battleground for brands trying to attract new customers and retain loyal ones. Expect tailored offers and more as brands look to make the most of immediacy.
This is happening now, but it will become more pronounced as brands and businesses compete for customers’ attention in limited time windows.
Geolocation targeted advertising
Using geolocation services to provide unique offers tailored to customer data could revolutionise the high street.
By pushing notifications to customers’ phones when they are in a certain location, brands and business will be able to capitalise on impulse purchases while building brand identity.
In the future, business will be able to send push notifications to customers when they are near a physical store to notify them of offers; these could even include personalised offers based on the customer’s purchase history, wish lists, and social media activity.
Geolocation has been used for marketing purposes by a number of brands – the London based start-up Snap That Filter has helped brands to do this in a number of different ways – but there is real potential for brands and businesses to engage with customers.
These personalised offers will change the way that consumers interact with brands; it’s the ultimate form of targeted advertising. Plus, it means that non-digital brands can also reap the benefits of newer technology – phone apps aren’t just for online stores.
Business will only be able to send these notifications to users that have downloaded their app, but by appealing to these customers, they will be able to build brand engagement.
Biometrics replacing PIN
Contactless technology has reduced waiting times in shops while making life simpler and faster for consumers and improving card security.
The uptake of contactless in smartphones and internet-connected devices has seen its popularity boom, and there is no sign of it abating.
Could a quick tap with a thumbprint soon be the way to pay for your shopping? Using biometric technology to link people to their bank accounts would make fraudulent activity very difficult, if not eliminating it entirely.
A thumbprint scan could also help to speed up retail processes – at the very least by preventing customers from fumbling around for cash or card at the checkout. It would also enable consumers to purchase in person or online – and many smartphone users are already using this technology to unlock their phones.
So perhaps there could be an even more futuristic solution?
Retina scanning technology and facial recognition is already used at airports in the UK, so it’s not unreasonable to suggest that this software could become the preferred method of payment. Simply looking at a camera – or an employee equipped with smart glasses – would be enough to verify the payment, meaning wallets and even ID checking for age-prohibited goods would be eliminated entirely.
Whatever happens, there appears to be a clear trend away from cold, hard cash – a great example being online giant Amazon’s plans to run the world’s first cashier and cash-free shop. Customers would simply scan their phone on entering, before loading up their baskets and walking out.
The store would be fitted with cameras which would monitor customers to identify which products they have picked up, before charging their account later.
The cameras would also be able to analyse body language, allowing the retailer to send tailored adverts to the customer about products they may be interested in.
Finally, the most controversial example of the tech takeover – maybe the technology will become part of people. One company in the US has implanted microchips in 41 employees. The microchips allow the staff to open doors or log on to computers – and in the future could be used to start a car, or pay for goods and services. Man may meet machine sooner than we could have ever predicted.