THE BLOG
01/20/2015 04:28 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2015

The Shifting Support Channels of 2015

The fast-changing customer care market will continue to shift the goal posts in 2015. The way that customer support is requested, expected and required to be delivered will grow in variety and importance over the coming year.

Here are my predictions of how and where brands will interact with their customers over the coming 12 months.

2015 will be the year that self-service gets smart.

When looking for support, from the call center to on-device apps and Twitter, today's customers are spoilt for choice. However, on the care channel hierarchy, not all support channels are equal. Contact a call center and you have a 90 percent chance of a successful resolution; jump to social channels or other web-services and that falls to around 70 percemnt.

Why?

Well, many "digital" channels have historically suffered from poor discoverability, problem coverage and knowledge management processes. Customers just can't find the answer to their problems. Many customers also find self-service digital channels impersonal; they miss the two-way nature of a conversation.

In 2015, this will all start to change; research into machine learning and natural language processing is reinventing self-service. We'll see a new generation of tools emerge, tools that learn from terabytes of data to provide contextual, relevant responses instantly and with the same accuracy as a live agent in a call center.

Far from being the "second screen", smartphones will increasingly become customers' first screen.

By the end of 2015, 42 percent of the global population will own a smartphone. For these smartphone users, mobile will increasingly define how they communicate, shop and engage with brands.

Mobile is not simply another digital channel; mobile in itself is a multi/omni channel platform with voice, email, web chat, video chat, SMS and social media capabilities. If a customer wants to communicate with a brand, it's increasingly likely to be through a mobile device.

As customers hop between the different channels with ease, they see the interactions they have across these channels as one continuous conversation. So even if they pick up the same conversation hours, days, weeks or months after the initial contact, they expect brands to "remember" the context of the situation.

During 2014 we saw Starbucks and Citibank start using mobile experiences to promote customer loyalty. In 2015, I expect this attention and investment in mobile to significantly impact the focus of customer care.

The year that talking to tech gets easier.

The advent of the mobile-oriented customer will see a new era of sophisticated digital assistants revolutionize how customers interface with both their personal devices and the brands in their lives. In 2015, talking to these digital assistants; (Amazon) Echo, (Google) Now, (Microsoft) Cortana, (Apple) Siri, will become an increasingly common and accepted input mechanism for technology products.

But customers won't be limited to the voices of their devices' digital assistant; the same technology advancements in voice recognition will see the beginning of the end for Interactive Voice Response (IVR) frustrations.

Despite automation starting to reshape the care channel hierarchy, voice will continue to be the channel through which most volume passes over the next 12 months. As such, care interactions across telecoms, banking, utilities and healthcare industries will continue to utilize IVR deployments to serve their customers more quickly and efficiently.

Retail is getting ready to put the customer at the heart of the picture.

In 2015 we'll see more brands starting to appreciate that a bricks and mortar store has value beyond being just a point of purchase. In fact, for some brands, their retail stores will become central to their omni-channel customer experience delivering collection points, support services and more.

As mobile has delivered a world of knowledge into the palm of every shopper on every high street, retail assistants are increasingly at risk of disappointing customers if they don't have access to the right information at the right time. To meet and exceed customer expectations, brands need greater knowledge integration between their retail store and their wider supply chain and support operations.

Empowering retail with the right services and insights to serve and delight customers in-store will become a key brand differentiator in 2015.

Chat is fast, it's convenient -- it's what the new age demands.

Today, the default go-to for customer care is still the contact center -- but in 2015 we'll see the scale start to tip as more brands will invest in chat support.

What is unique about chat within the digital care environment is that it requires less commitment of concentration from the customer when initiating a support interaction, rendering it the most convenient and hassle-free channel for customers.

As customers increasingly reach out to brands on the go, chat will give them that all-important privacy, as well as the freedom to drop and pick up conversations later on. Chat is also an opportunity for brands to proactively initiate interactions with customers they detect fumbling through online support.

It is also the most efficient form of support for brands as a single agent -- human or virtual -- can engage in numerous chat conversations at once. Thus, in 2015 chat will emerge as a unique opportunity for brands to better support their customers proactively and across the omni-channel landscape.