Focused on serving the needs of customers, helping them solve problems, teaching them how to use products, and answering their questions, customer service agents are central to business growth and effective operations. The most important factor to consider when communicating with customers is to deliver personalized and contextual interactions. Businesses need to be proactive rather than reactive and provide customers better options to connect and engage via customer service channels.
So it is important to understand customer needs and adopt technologies to handle their requests through the channels they want to use. According to Bain & Company, a customer is four times more likely to take their business to a competitor if a problem they incur with the brand is service-related versus price-related.
The Future of Customer Service Channels is Now
While Baby Boomers grew up with face-to-face and phone communication, Generation X was the first generation to truly embrace digital communications through email. Then Millennials grew up with cell phones and showed a preference for texting instead of calling. Gen Z, the newest cohort to engage with customer service channels, grew up with lightning-fast internet connections and expectations of equally fast responses from brands they use. Somewhat surprising, survey results found that Gen Zs prefer both face-to-face communication and text messaging at work.
Influenced by their Millennial parents and Gen Z role models, Generation Alpha is characterized by their strong ethics and values. They can use technology to make a difference, save lives, and have a positive effect on the planet. Generation Alpha is defined as those born since 2011. Every day, more than 2.5 million Gen Alphas are born globally and they may already be buying your products.
Gen Alpha will have access to more information than any other generation before them. They have had an almost constantly customized experience and will expect this kind of personalization when interacting with customer service agents. As social research firm McCrindle observes, “a shift in educational engagement is also occurring for Gen Alpha, changing from structural and auditory to engaging, visual, multimodal and hands-on methods of educating this emerging generation.” They are also accustomed to YouTube videos and other content that will shorten their attention span. They are expected to be the wealthiest, best educated, and technologically connected group to date with the least human contact than previous generations.
After Generation Alpha it follows that Generation Beta will be born from 2025 to 2039. And If the nomenclature sticks, then we will afterward have Generation Gamma (2039 to 2053) and so on! The question is: how are we evolving as humans and how will customer service channels be affected in the future?
Here are seven customer service channels to consider as technology, behaviors, and preferences change, and as more Generation Alpha customers enter the market:
1. Face-to-Face Video Communications
Eye contact is powerful and customers generally prefer live agent support. According to Microsoft, “30% of consumers expressed that not being able to reach a real person when they needed to was the most frustrating part of a poor customer service experience. And 30% of those polled say the most important aspect of a good customer service experience is speaking with a knowledgeable and friendly agent.”
So if you are not using video conference options like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or Skype, it is time to start scheduling meetings with customers and meeting their expectations. Your customers are in the driver’s seat and nothing makes a better impression than a great on-camera experience. With these video conferencing tools, you can also break down language barriers through real-time translation in your calls.
2. Intelligent Virtual Agent
A virtual agent enables an intelligent, human‑like dialogue between consumers and your brand. It works alongside humans to interact with customers 24/7 and quickly provides the answers they need. Each conversation can be captured, analyzed, and aggregated to deliver real‑time insights to constantly optimize the behavior and improve the accuracy of the responses.
Whether it is a chatbot or an avatar, an ideal intelligent bot asks clarifying questions and knows when it’s time to get a human involved. It should be able to instantly connect to an actual person within the same customer interface, preserving the context of the conversation. The human assistant should be able to take over at the optimal moment before things get frustrating for the consumer. This type of technology helps to overcome the pressure of growing queues as well as dealing with standard operational procedures and allows personnel to provide fewer but more specialized and empathetic customer service.
3. Internet of Things
IoT is a cluster of physical devices that are embedded with software, sensors, network connectivity, and other technologies to form a system for collecting, processing and exchanging data. Automation is one of the major advantages of the Internet of Things. A recent study shows that 42% of industries are spending more than $3 million annually on IoT. Companies are trying to diagnose and resolve issues with little human intervention by tracking and controlling connected devices in an IoT system for problem-solving. Some IoT devices can even raise a ticket with the contact center. This can remove the human intervention layer and enable remote monitoring so that an agent is required only in rare instances when intervention is necessary.
4. Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-generated simulation in which a person can interact within a computer-generated environment using electronic devices, such as goggles and gloves with sensors. It immerses a customer inside a virtual environment where they can ask questions, get answers, and solve problems.
There are three types of virtual reality used today:
- non-immersive, similar to video games
- semi-immersive, which provide a more immersive experience and are often used in training by relying on a high resolution display as well as hard simulators and controls to replicates the real world functionality
- fully-immersive, which requires VR headsets and gives the most realistic experience using sight, sound, and haptics.
VR can bring self-serve knowledge base technology to your business. It can also bring a competitive advantage, as customers can get virtual tours and experience your service or product in simulated environments.
Another advantage to VR is training your contact center agents with virtual reality courses. While this technology hasn’t reached its full potential, there will be increased adoption and usage in the customer service sector. For example, Universiteit van Amsterdam created a self-guided treatment as an app using virtual reality to reduce the fear of heights with some success. Another example is the Virtual Human Cadaver Lab, an interactive VR human cadaver lab for students under development. When completed, it is expected to deliver a massive cost reduction for healthcare training.
5. Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality (AR) enhances a person’s perception of reality by overlaying the real world with additional computer generated information. AR can be defined as a system that includes:
- a combination of real and virtual worlds,
- real-time interaction
- accurate 3D registration of virtual and real objects
AR can be used for products that rely heavily on design and provide excellent mentoring and training opportunities. It can give workers frictionless access to information by smart glasses, projecting step-by-step instructions for the task in a worker’s field of vision.
For example, Volkswagen uses an AR iPad app that uses the camera to provide step-by-step details to a mechanic on how to dismantle, repair, replace, and reassemble the intricate components of the 261-mpg supercar. AR is in its early stages but it has shown great potential in the healthcare industry as well as manufacturing.
6. Mixed Reality
Mixed Reality (MR), sometimes referred to as hybrid reality, is the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. Mixed reality does not exclusively take place in either the physical or virtual world, but is a hybrid of reality and virtual reality.
MR has promising use cases. Many companies and investors are betting on its future in the aerospace and defense industries. The technology is new and there are challenges related to a stable, repeatable experience. As these technologies get more advanced, the vision of the metaverse could become a reality. Metaverse would be a network of always-on digital worlds that multiple people can inhabit at the same time. They can interact with one another and digital objects while operating virtual representations -– or avatars –- of themselves. Mixed reality is considered to be a possible successor to today’s Internet and a setting for many online activities, including work, play, studying, and shopping.
7. Brain-Computer Interfaces
The last trend in future customer service technologies is brain-computer interfaces (BCI). These merge human cognition with machines, giving us the ability to control machines with brain signals. BCI acquires brain signals, analyzes them, and translates them into device commands to carry out a desired action.
This technology is still under development. There are multiple opportunities for BCI to be put to use in the contact center of the future, especially regarding performance. Examples range from detecting attention levels during a meeting or an interaction to measuring stress levels and adjusting office lighting. BCI could also prevent an accident through the detection of drowsiness.
You Are What the Future Holds
Across industries, we are beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible in the future of customer service. Competitive advantage awaits anyone who adopts technologies early. Customer service channels of the future will still use highly trained humans who can serve the needs of the customers. But these agents will be equipped with more of the information they need to help before an interaction even begins.
Do you currently use any of these technologies? Or are you in the exploratory stages with any of them with plans to deploy in the next 12 to 18 months? What has been your experience? Leave a comment with your feedback. Thanks!