5 Over-Hyped CX Trends You Should Reconsider

Industry predictions don't always align with reality

Kindra Cooper

CX trends

In every industry, pundits sling buzzwords and make big-picture predictions five or even ten years in advance. CX is no different. The omnichannel contact centers of 2020 sound positively Jetsons-like: influencers wax romantic about predictive analytics, 360-degree views of the customer, and AI-assisted agent-facing tools that automate rote tasks so agents can focus on high-value work.

And while that sets the bar in CX literature, do today’s brands actually measure up?

What’s more, certain industry trends apply only to an upper echelon of cash-flush companies that can afford state-of-the-art technology and staffing. We decided to take a close look at some of the most popular claims by CX influencers not to disprove them but to flag some important considerations for organizations.  

1. AI-assisted technologies free up agents to do “high-value” work

CX automation tools like employee-facing virtual assistants and robotic process automation supposedly eliminate “boring” and “repetitive” routines for agents, like handling account queries or answering questions about business hours.

Influencers like to say that this frees agents to do more “high-value” work without elaborating on what that work is. Nor do they mention the drastic changes to workforce structure that would have to be made by management, like altering workflows, hierarchical structures and recruitment practices, retraining staff or even laying them off. Furthermore, automation tools aren’t plug-and-play solutions, so companies need dedicated manpower to implement and maintain that new CRM system or knowledge management tool.

A typical customer support rep at Amazon or Zappos likely spends the majority of their day fielding questions about order delivery status and refund requests. Say the company installs an IVR that can handle order tracking requests and a virtual attendant automates the refund on the back-end, what “high-value” work would the agent do instead? Is there wiggle room in your budget to reassign job titles and raise salaries?

Before investing in CX automation, companies need a strong understanding of their visions and objectives for the technology in the short- and long-term. Deploying automation technology needs to be a win-win for the organization and the customer - cutting costs for the business while providing an equivalent or improved customer experience.

But let’s face it: for most businesses, cost savings are the main value proposition for investing in AI. In this vein, it’s more realistic to say that AI-assisted technologies are an asset for empowering agents to do their current job more effectively - not a stepping stone to a better position. If agents aren’t spending their time hunting through complex knowledge bases for the right answers or copy-pasting the same data into different CRM systems, they can concentrate more fully on the customer and provide a better experience.

Vendors and influencers should be cautious about couching it as a stepladder for career progression, because the technology itself doesn’t promise that.

2. 360-degree views of the customer in an omnichannel world

The premise of the omni-channel contact center is to provide the customer with a seamless experience by gathering context and information across all engagement channels through the entire customer life cycle.

martin-sanchez-703925-unsplashHowever, our research shows that only 20 percent of businesses say customers can consistently move between channels without repeating information. That means most businesses don’t have a unified dashboard of customer data, purchase history and previous interactions with customer support.

But let’s take this a little further. Do customers really expect you to know who they are and why they’re getting in touch when they call or initiate a web chat? If I called a business that I’d interacted with a few weeks before on social media and the agent immediately knew my name, I would be creeped out.

In 2012, Target discovered a teenage girl was pregnant before her father knew about it by using sophisticated data mining methods. When Target sent her coupons for discounted baby clothes, cribs and diapers, her livid father went to a store just outside Minneapolis demanding to know why the company was “trying to encourage her to get pregnant.”

The highly publicized incident led to The New York Times publishing an investigative feature in T magazine on the superstore giant’s “pregnancy prediction” model, a method used by retailers to lure new and would-be parents to switch their buying habits and brand loyalty.

Using 360-degree views of the customer to personalize the web experience can also backfire on the business if overdone by limiting the products and content that customers see. Sites like Spotify provide personalized playlists based on your listening history and music preferences.

Meanwhile, apparel brand North Face has an IBM-Watson powered Personal Shopper chatbot that greets customers the minute they land on the homepage. Web visitors can interface with the chatbot and find what they need without ever browsing the site’s product section, thereby potentially limiting the scope of the purchase. While it shortens the sales cycle, sellers on sites like handmade crafts marketplace Etsy that retail products made for taste rely on the discovery element of the browsing experience.

3. Customers want a highly personalized experience

CS literature trumpets the importance of delighting customers and forging an emotional connection with them, but most customers just want to get what they paid for. In a CCW Digital Market Study on the Customer Experience, 44 percent of respondents said the most important factor when receiving customer service is how easy it is to get their problem solved, versus 19 percent who gauged the experience on “how friendly or personalized the conversation is.”

CX leaders like to say that customer expectations are “sky high” or “through the roof” as a rousing call-to-arms to hype impressionable audiences at conferences, but, again, customers just want to get what they paid for. Yes, they “demand” first-call resolution because the purpose of a contact center is to resolve customer issues - not make them worse by not solving the problem and making the customer call again.

They also want short handle times because a call to a customer service helpline usually constitutes a failure on the business’s part. They call because they can’t find the answer in your knowledge base, tried to DIY it using self-service and failed, or they have a complaint about a faulty product or refund that never materialized. The very least a business can do to compensate a paying customer for the inconvenience is to provide a timely resolution.

If a business offers customer support on an instant messaging app, then yes, customers expect an instant response, because instant messaging is, um, meant to be instant. Is that a “sky-high” expectation?

Conversely, shortcomings like the following are far less likely to drive dissatisfaction: the agent not knowing the customer’s name at the start of the call (13%), a lack of service in one’s preferred channel (26%), refusal to modify a stated policy (35%) or limited contact options outside business hours (37%).

4. Customers want speed and efficiency above all else

Context is everything. In the luxury sector, particularly in the domain of high-end hotels, speed and efficiency are secondary to personalized, genuine service. “Most customers, particularly in the luxury sector but everywhere now, want that degree of informality, they want that off-the-cuff piece,” said Colin Hunter, founder and CEO of UK-based innovation consultancy Potential Squared.

He fondly recalls the time when Starbucks baristas used to ink drawings on his coffee cup in black marker. “It’s about moving away from rote process and simply treating that person in front of you.”

Then there are instances where technology-facilitated bids for speed and efficiency go too far. Most live chat systems offer a sneak preview feature on the back-end so agents can see what customers are typing before they hit ‘send.’ Supposedly, it speeds response times by letting the agent prepare answers beforehand, but when Hmm Daily editor Tom Socca published a viral article revealing his personal experience with it, Internet commentators were shaken.

5. The voice channel will soon be obsolete

Companies like IBM Watson and Helpshift claim the traditional phone-based contact center is on the brink of disappearing. While there are numerous alternative channels customers find more appealing, like web chat and self-service, our research shows that 71 percent of customers still reach for the phone as the first recourse when they have a question or complaint. That should be seen as a major red flag.

With self-service tools, instant messaging capabilities and knowledge bases in place, most customers call as a last resort when they’ve tried all other alternatives. To some extent, voice calls can be considered a failure in the customer journey, especially for digitally evolved companies whose core clientele is technology-literate.

When I managed digital marketing for a small business development center, I used social media managing platform Hootsuite, which has an excellent knowledge base and support ticket system. I only called the company as a last resort when our account administrator resigned and nobody could change the account billing information. Certain scenarios still require the assistance of a live agent, and I was grateful to have that option.

That being said, reducing call volume should still be the ultimate goal, because it means customers aren’t experiencing issues with the product or running into confusions over your knowledge base.