You may still be writing “2017” on forms, but no one can deny that 2018 is in full swing. So what does the year hold for customer service? As always, companies who provide great customer service have a huge advantage over companies that don’t. Here are the six customer service trends we expect to see in 2018 and, more importantly, our advice on how to manage them.
Chat Support Will Increase In Importance
Chat support offers huge benefits when it’s done well. Customers get answers immediately, rather than having to wait 24 hours or more (the typical response time for email support). Furthermore, chat enables customers to ask follow-up questions in real time. An email conversation that could take days is condensed into five minutes.
Chat support also presents a great opportunity to close sales. At one of our company’s e-commerce clients, 13% of website visitors engaged with us when we reached out proactively via chat. Of those, more than half went on to make a purchase. This compares with typical conversion rates of less than 3%.
Our advice for 2018: If you’re implementing chat support, don’t forget the importance of the human touch. Make sure your customers can still contact human agents when chatbots don’t fit their needs.
Use Of Artificial Intelligence Will Rise (In A Limited Way)
Some experts predict that 80% of companies will use artificial intelligence in customer service by 2020. In fact, they’ve been predicting that for years. But now that 2020 is right around the corner, does the prediction hold up?
Sort of. Many companies are already using artificial intelligence in their customer service operations. However, its functionality is fairly limited. Some are using it to rout queries to the appropriate agent — a minimal improvement over “dumb” technology that already exists. Some use it to suggest replies to human agents. Agents can then review each reply and decide whether to edit it or send as is. But artificial intelligence is still a tool for improving efficiency. It’s not good enough to replace human agents.
Our advice for 2018: If you’re deploying an AI solution in 2018, tread carefully. Expect to spend a lot of time carefully designing the system so it actually enhances your customer support operation. And don’t expect to save a boatload of money right away. Modest efficiency improvements are a more likely outcome.
Customers Will Contact You On Social Media
Companies have spent years trying to engage their customers on social media. Now, customers want to engage back. According to ValueWalk, 63% of customers expect companies to offer support via social media, and 35% of customers prefer it over other channels.
Those numbers will only rise in 2018. Once a customer has a great customer service experience via social media, she’ll start to expect it from all the companies with which she does business.
Our advice for 2018: Do it now, if you’re not doing it yet! Start with Facebook and/or Twitter. You can easily integrate support via Facebook and Twitter into ticketing systems like Zendesk, while other social media channels (Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat) may require custom integrations.
Google Will Be Your First-Line Customer Service Agent
If you want to know when Grover Cleveland was president, you’ll probably ask Google. If you want to know how to wash toddler vomit out of a jacket, you’ll probably ask Google as well. (Now you know how I spent my weekend.)
Self-service will continue to rise in importance in 2018. We’ve talked a lot about the importance of the human touch. But there’s a caveat — customers want to talk to a human after they’ve tried and failed to answer their question themselves. And they won’t go to your website and browse through your FAQs. They’ll Google “Barbour jacket cleaning instructions.” This is the fastest and easiest way to get an answer to simple customer service queries.
Our advice for 2018: Make sure your self-help articles are robust, up-to-date and search engine optimized. Use video if you can, because it improves your SEO and can be very helpful to customers.
Companies Will Blend Domestic And International Customer Service
In the last decade, U.S. companies have started to move customer service operations back home. 53% had significant onshore operations in 2015, up from 35% in 2010.
The reality is that each one can make sense, depending on your needs. If you have a high Customer Lifetime Value, you can afford to spend top dollar delivering customer service with agents based in the U.S. or Europe. If you have a low Customer Lifetime Value, it probably makes sense to use offshore agents, who can deliver good quality at a fraction of the cost. For many companies, it makes sense to use both for different types of queries.
More Customer Service Reps Will Work From Home
No one should be surprised that more people are working remotely. Expect this trend to accelerate, particularly for customer service jobs. Why? First, the job can easily be performed from anywhere. Second, companies have a difficult time finding and retaining talent to fill these roles, particularly in urban areas. Third, it’s a great deal for companies. If you want to add 10 new seats in NYC or San Francisco, the real estate cost alone is astronomical.
Our advice for 2018: If you’re having a difficult time staffing an in-house customer service team, consider listing the job as a remote opportunity. You may be amazed at the number of qualified applicants you find.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.