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Contact Center Goals 2019: Phone Support and the Human Touch Prevail

Contact center leaders share their top priorities for next year

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Kindra Cooper

Contact center trends 2019

The contact centers of 2019 will leverage technology to offer more of a human touch. Automating transactional processes while investing in phone and chat support speaks to an industry-wide goal of adding a human factor to historically “low-touch” channels.

In the latest CCW Digital Market Study, The Future of the Contact Center in 2019 we surveyed professionals in customer experience, customer contact, customer care, IT and operations to understand their CS priorities and concerns for the coming year. Following are the top takeaways from our research:

1. Despite the hype surrounding self-service, 64 percent of organizations believe customers should have access to a live agent

Businesses are scrambling to unify their channels so that a customer who initiates an online chat doesn’t have to repeat their question when they call phone support, for instance. Despite omnichannel ambitions being uppermost in most contact center strategic plans, 71 percent of customers still prefer voice contact with a live agent, and organizations are responding by finding innovative ways to make phone support a better experience for customers.

Managing the call queue so that customers can speak to an agent with little to no waiting, mining speech analytics data for product ideas and implementing skill-based routing to connect customers with specialized agents like multinational Hunter Douglas recently did are just a few examples of organizations doubling down on live agent touchpoints.

2. AI should complement rather than replace human agents, say 60 percent of organizations

At its present sophistication level, AI is distinctly inhuman. While retailers like apparel brand North Face have deployed IBM Watson-powered bots on their website that emulate personal shoppers to help customers with purchasing decisions, customers are wary of companies right-channeling them to digital channels which may be more efficient for the organization but stressful or unproductive for the customer. Our research shows that 61 percent of organizations are investing in agent empowerment as a way to maximize “moments of truth.”

With AI removing rote, back-office tasks and powerful knowledge bases making it easier for agents to find information, agents are free to focus on the interaction with the customer. In fact, the technology is evolving in support of the human touch.

In fact, leading software transitions the chat back and forth between the bot and a human agent. After greeting the customer, the bot prompts the human agent to chime in so the customer knows he or she is being serviced by a real person, before the bot takes over again. When the bot is unable to complete an interaction, it transitions the chat to a human agent.

“Our real-time messaging tool uses predictive analytics and machine learning to recognize the top questions that are typically answered with one response,” says Sean Rivers, director of operations technology at Republic Wireless, an internet service provider.

“We started giving those answers out in automated fashion as customers were being connected to an expert from our community.  ‘While you’re waiting, here are answers that have worked in the past.’ If the person who is waiting says, ‘yes, that answered my question,’ it helps train the system, and the customer did not have to wait for live help.”

3. Customers prefer “easy” experiences to “personalized” ones. Organizations believe the opposite.

Only 25 percent of organizations polled believe that reducing effort is more important than increasing personalization, but their preconceptions don’t match actual customer sentiment. Our previous research shows that customers value personalization and omnichannel support simply for their practicality and convenience, but they don’t need the experience to “feel” particularly personal.

Shortcomings like 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%) are far less likely to drive dissatisfaction.

But heavy investment in personalization shows that organizations are steadfast in their commitment to creating individualized experiences. For example, baby food maker Danone Nutricia adopted Sitecore technology to tailor content on its Nutricia For You website to the mother’s stage of pregnancy when she first visits the site by asking questions to understand her needs.

For example, if a mother two months pregnant returns to the site two months later the system will know she is four months into her pregnancy and tailor content accordingly. If a customer made a recent purchase, the system can greet them with a thank you message. The more the system knows about the customer through multiple interactions, the more it can personalize the interaction in a recent trend known as context marketing.

4. Popular investment areas include customer feedback solutions, live chat and coaching

With so much data at their disposal and the analytics to convert that data into insights on customer intent, journey mapping and sentiment, organizations rely less and less on surveys and are turning to more sophisticated Voice of Customer market research techniques.

By aggregating data across touchpoints to understand how a single customer interacts with the website, what questions they asked via chat, and even what caused them to abandon their shopping cart, organizations are able to understand pain points through omnichannel Voice of Customer feedback and devise solutions to fix them and sell more products through context marketing. One feedback solution growing in popularity is speech analytics, which not only monitors customer sentiment but provides a big-picture indication of why customers are calling and what their unmet needs may be.

5. Increasing digital engagement is the number one priority for 2019

Research shows that the average contact center offers nine channel options, but not all organizations offer full-service customer support through social media. Digital engagement means being able to interact with customers across devices and communication channels, and at various junctures of the customer journey.

In 2019, organizations will be looking to rectify existing shortcomings in their digital channels, such as greater issue resolution through social media messaging and chat without redirecting the customer to other channels, using data to anticipate customer needs and identify upselling and cross-selling opportunities, and using digital assisted-service agents on social media who can identify sales opportunities by monitoring what people are saying about the brand through social listening.

Companies will also need to invest in digital infrastructure gaps, such as offering mobile e-commerce, online self-service portals and knowledge bases that are available 24/7.

Click here to access the full report on the Future of the Contact Center and gain more insights into the future of contact centers in 2019.