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How the Digital Era Is Redefining Customer Experience
In April 1964, Americans got their first glimpse of a future they would spend the next 50 years being told was just around the corner. At the World’s Fair in New York City, AT&T Bell Labs unveiled the first-ever video telephone.
In heady predictions, the company estimated that millions of its so-called Picturephone would be in use in American homes and offices within the decade. But the equipment proved too bulky, too expensive, and its picture too small for uptake, and AT&T quietly pulled the plug in 1973.
Our first attempt at modernizing communications beyond the standard telephone may have been a flop, but the concept certainly struck a chord. For the past half a century, we’ve watched so-called “space age” technologies help our favorite heroes call for backup, translate foreign languages, and access information on the fly.
Incredibly, many of these once-fictional technologies have since come to fruition. We now have myriad ways of communicating at our fingertips, and for businesses, that means myriad ways of connecting with customers, potential customers, vendors, and each other. With new technologies and digital channels come new challenges, but there are opportunities too, including the ability for seamless communication between brands and customers.
How Is Digital Redefining Customer Service?
The idea of using digital conversations to drive sales and manage customer relationships isn’t new. People have been conversing about products and prices since humans first began bartering and trading, some 150,000 years ago. From asking a salesperson which color suits you best to messaging your hairstylist on Facebook to see if they can fit you in for a last-minute trim, conversation has always been—and always will be—a fundamental part of commerce.
When we talk about digital service today, we’re referring to a comparatively new trend: the ability of customers and brands to interact with one another via an ever-increasing number of digital channels.
In all likelihood, you’ve seen digital customer service in action, whether you know it or not: online retailers using chatbots to prompt you for questions on their websites; businesses adopting Twitter as a customer service channel, or even proactively reaching out via Facebook to let you know that your car is coming up on its next service.
Digital customer service has already dramatically changed the way many companies do business, and it’s only going to continue, as customers demand speed, convenience, and personalization. Brands that invest in digital channels and prioritize fast and helpful customer support will set themselves apart from those that continue to rely on slow and outdated methods of communication.
More Options, More Problems
Until 20 years ago, virtually all customer communications relied on voice. Call center operators would take incoming calls and route them to the proper agent. It was a relatively simple, if clunky and inefficient, system of communication.
Over time, we started to see more solutions integrated into this system, including outbound sales calling, call lists, and other bolt-ons that made it easier to automate customer communication. Then voice started to give way to digital — but it was a slow transition. Even the adoption of email as a means of customer communication took years. It wasn’t until the mobile revolution that we started to see digital solutions replace the old routing queues from the voice age.
With mobile, we’re communicating all the time. New technologies like smartphones and messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Apple Business Chat mean it’s no longer realistic to have a single clearinghouse for incoming sales calls or customer-service inquiries.
Today, businesses ignore the need to update their routing queues at their peril. Customers are increasingly demanding the ability to communicate with brands using the same channels they use to chat with friends. And whether they’re calling, texting, or reaching out via Facebook chat, they expect a seamless experience. The last thing you want is to ask customers to describe the same problem three different times to three different people.
Companies still need a way to route customer inquiries to the proper agents, only now there are myriad channels from which those inquiries can come. Some customers use messaging apps. Others use chatbots on their websites. Many continue to prefer email. And, believe it or not, people do still use their phones to communicate with brands, albeit much less than they did even five years ago. Today, a smart business is one that has a mechanism in place to split the written and voice inquiries they receive and route them to the proper channels.
The Solution: Contact Center as a Service
As we become more reliant on non-voice methods of communication, more businesses are finding it necessary to find a single tool to aggregate and route their communications, no matter where they originated. Contact center as a service (CCaaS) is an emerging market that is growing at a rate of 23.8% a year as digital service continues to change customers’ expectations for how businesses communicate with them.
CCaaS solutions help businesses reduce the friction points they face when it comes to customer outreach while empowering customers to control how they communicate with brands.
Businesses are now able to much more easily avoid restricting opportunities for communication to the traditional Monday-through-Friday business hours. They’re able to accommodate the customer whose schedule allows only quick touchpoints in those small “found moments” in the day — walking from meeting to meeting or standing in line at the coffee shop. A CCaaS solution helps businesses satisfy their customers’ expectations of immediacy and convenience. Eliminating these types of pain points builds brand loyalty.
Finding — and Filling — the Gaps
We’ve come a long way since the Picturephone. But it’s proof that while we can always predict what the future will look like, we’ll never know for sure until it’s upon us.
As our methods of communication have proliferated, we haven’t always been quick to figure out how to integrate them. This has left us struggling to juggle all of our methods of communication and give customers what they want — instant access to businesses via the channels they use and prefer.
A CCaaS solution can help businesses satisfy these ends as we hurtle forward toward a business landscape that favors digital customer service by lowering costs, promising delivery anywhere and filling the gaps between customers and the growing number of channels through which they can communicate with your brand.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from original version.