From instability to a cost-of-living crisis, customer service in 2023 has had a lot to overcome. As we start 2024, there is scope to hope that this could be the year for positive change for customer service. Going forward, more businesses will be focused on building trust with their customers, implementing generative AI technology into their operations and becoming more proactive. 

Trust, trust, trust 

Recently, there has been the impression that customer service is emulating the throw away culture of fast fashion and fast food – customers are being seen as ‘disposable’ and churn is part of a business, with nothing being built to last. Instead, businesses are built on acquisition of customers, rather than cultivating long-term and meaningful relationships. As such, organisations decide how they view their customers and what part of the churn they are, rather than providing quality experiences to encourage a long-term relationship.

This approach cannot be sustainable and the best – and most innovative –  brands will place a greater focus on their customers and cultivate closer engagement for the long not short term. Trust will become the single most valuable currency between companies and their customers, and this is non-negotiable. For customers, trust rests on a few pillars, such as deciding if a company means well, simply put if their heart is in the right place, and as a business, if they can deliver. Like the reputation of an organisation, trust takes a long time to build, but a second to lose, so it is time for businesses to think about their next steps. 

Gen AI in customer service 

2023 saw the emergence of Gen AI tools based on a large language model which uses algorithms to create  new content , including text, images, audio, and code. This development has the potential to shake up customer behaviour, as many consumers have hands-on experience in playing around with this technology and how this is changing their attitudes to the use of AI in customer service. 

In recent years, we have seen a growth of chatbots, but they may be on the decline in favour of Gen AI. Chatbots have sometimes been disregarded due to it being too static and not conversational. Whereas Gen AI models are more human-like. As Gen AI is becoming a part of everyday life for many people, more businesses are expected to deploy this into their operations as virtual agents. If an organisation does not want to be rid of their chatbots, another option could be to implement Gen AI into them. 

If applied carefully, Gen AI could be the way for businesses to build more trust with their customers. As Gen AI models learn from interactions, responding to customers could become more personalised, quicker, and easier. However, as customer service practices change through leveraging Gen AI, organisations must not take their focus of the importance of creating positive service experiences. Customers only speak one language, and that is experience – if they have a negative experience, they are likely to complain, or in the worst cases, move to another service provider. In the same vein, businesses could see the number of formal complaints increase in 2024.  What could drive this is how customers realise Gen AI tools can help them generate complaints letters. 

What about the humans? 

Even with all this automation with Gen AI and chatbots, humans should not be forgotten. The human touch is essential to provide best-in-class customer service. In this way, contact centres and call centre agents will be held in a much higher regard. 

As artificial intelligence (AI) and automation take over in the form of large language models, agents will have less mundane tasks to deal with and be freer to focus on solving more complex issues.  Of course, this has been predicted for many years but 2024 should be a pivotal year for this transformation to really make substantial strides. Over the next few years when there are a smaller number of agents left, they will be revered for their service efforts, building trust, and guaranteeing customer success. 

Proactivity at the forefront of customer service 

For businesses to create top tier customer service, they need to focus on becoming proactive, offering personalised bundles, for example, to keep customers satisfied. As it is now much easier for customers to move to another service provider, they will be in the driving seat, and organisations need to be on the front foot. Businesses need to offer value-added services, before the point of pain, to retain their current customers, and could even build their customer base. 

One way to do this is letting customers decide on how they want to engage with the company. The technology is already available on the market, but many businesses have not gone far enough to implement this. It is not about replacing the people – technology and humans should be working alongside each other. The technology should be used to make the service agents better and give their customers more choice in how they want to engage with an organisation.

Currently, customer service for many is reactionary, if something goes wrong, then customers get in touch, but that is not how it should be. In 2024, service should be proactive, and customers should be put at the heart of all actions that a business takes. The driving force for this will be how organisations put in place central customer decisioning hubs that have the ease of access to data and the analytical power to present the next best actions for each customer at that time and place in their interaction with the business.Going into next year, we are likely to still feel the lasting impact of the economic instability which has been so rampant this past year, but it could be used as a driving force for businesses to improve their service practices and retain their customers. 2024 is going to be the year of trust, technology, and effortless customer service for all involved. 

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