By 2028, the way brands deliver Customer Experience is going to look very different.

Support systems, powered by automation and next generation artificial intelligence (AI), will handle repetitive, high volume enquiries, giving consumers the instant, 24-7 customer service they are already starting to expect as standard. This leap forward will not, however, replace human customer service agents as many have predicted. Instead, employees will work with AI systems to resolve more complicated tasks that require judgement and empathy.

This will help brands provide more memorable, personalised experiences, but it will also present a significant skills challenge. To meet this head on, training and recruitment strategies need to evolve and the impact of technology must be planned for.

We’re already starting to see automation change the role of the customer service agent. Brands are integrating chatbots – text based computer programmes capable of conversing with a human – with their own web chat systems to provide fast responses to simple queries, giving employees more time to handle complex enquiries that require a human touch.

Now, in their current form, chatbots require a significant amount of agent supervision and linguistic expertise and are governed by a pre-determined set of rules. But as the technology becomes more advanced, through the integration of AI, the scope and scale of their applications will accelerate.

Eventually, this will give agents access to virtual assistants with sophisticated internal and external facing applications. These platforms will present useful information to agents, in a digestible, intuitive format, take care of increasingly complicated inbound enquiries without supervision and match representatives with the queries they’re best equipped to respond to.

An intelligent customer relationship management (CRM) system that automatically collates and disseminates customer data across an organisation will make this possible, giving agents the information they need to be more productive and deliver exceptional, tailored customer experiences.

To get to this point, brands will have to invest in new technology and lay the groundwork for its implementation. However, if they are going to realise the benefits on offer, they will also have to ensure their employees have the skills and experience to harness and manage the systems designed to support them and handle more demanding interactions that require discussion and negotiation. This will not happen overnight, but here are three strategies that brands can use to help them get there:

1. Train and recruit with digital skills in mind

In the future, customer service agents will need to have strong interpersonal and communication skills, be comfortable using technology and be agile enough to familiarise themselves with new ways of working quickly. To adapt, brands must start gearing their recruitment strategies to attract this profile today, but, in the long term, they will also need to make a greater investment in regular, targeted employee training that runs in tandem with new technologies, as they are introduced.

In addition, brands will also have to account for the broadening scope of job roles involved in the effective delivery of customer experience. Like today, customer service agents will make up the front line, but as the technology involved becomes more advanced, the provision of additional support staff will be needed to operate and manage systems.

New positions could include everything from data scientists and computer programmers, to content managers and linguistics specialists. Every brand’s individual requirements will ultimately be different, but what’s clear is planning for the financial and operational impact of an increasingly skilled workforce is now essential for any organisation that provides customer experience.

2. Use innovative training methods

When it comes to agent training, one of the biggest challenges has always been providing realistic scenarios that test employees without exposing customers to representatives that aren’t fully equipped with the right skills. In the future, as the customer interactions agents handle become more demanding, overcoming this will become even more important. The good news is emerging technology could hold part of the solution.

Virtual reality (VR), for example, can create engaging training programs that deliver effective, memorable learning experiences, by simulating realistic scenarios. Trialling VR in our own customer service teams has accelerated the development of empathetic communication and problem-solving skills, all critical competencies for the agent of the future. VR can be the perfect training tool for agents charged with handling technical queries, where they need to understand complex questions and offer step-by-step guidance.

This could be invaluable to the automotive industry, or to any other consumer facing sector where products are becoming increasingly technical.

3. Run pilot programmes

The true extent to which automation and AI will change customer experience is still evolving, but one-way brands can start getting is by implementing pilot programmes that test the impact of new technology on specific processes that only require simple, pre-determined responses to be automated. An online retailer, for example, can automate order tracking and quickly get a feel for what’s going to be required from an organisational perspective to access the wider productivity benefits new technology can offer.

On top of being a useful trial of the capabilities of different technologies, pilot programmes can also help brands see how existing customer service roles will be changed by innovation. This allows them to identify skills gaps that need to be filled through recruitment and plan training schemes that both secure employee buy in and prepare them for the future.

As we move towards 2028, technology is going to offer brands the opportunity deliver a whole new level of quality in customer experience, by looking at the skills challenge this will pose now, they’ll be well positioned to take full advantage.

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