The push for exceptional customer experiences, that not only meet customer expectations but also differentiate brands from their competitors, saw some truly innovate their customer care offerings in 2014, and this will only continue in 2015.
There is no reason for customer support interactions to be homogenous across industries, brands and customers. In 2015, technology will force different approaches to customer care. Brands are rarely homogenized, so why should their support systems?
Here are my predictions of how technology will transform support in 2015.
Smart Machines Make Their Mark
Great customer care is defined by the ability to serve customers in a bespoke, personalized manner, providing an experience that is exactly right for each unique customer.
Traditionally, this has been a tall order for companies with a large customer base. But in 2015 brands will lean on smart machines to get better acquainted with their customers, without the limitations of scale.
Capable of collecting huge volumes of data and processing this to surface valuable and timely customer insights, at an individual level, smart machines will enable brands to add that personal touch. This can manifest in automated customer care, or through brand representatives over the phone or in their stores.
Customer Care Gets Proactive
With a brand's profitability at the mercy of customer experiences and the recommendations and reviews they inspire, 2015 will see many brands going that bit further, extending a helping hand before customers even ask for it.
If a customer has spent more than a few minutes interacting with the help section of a website, or flicking through a mobile help app, there is a good chance they need support; yet more often than not, brands expect customers to initiate the support conversation.
In 2015, proactivity will start to intercept customer care issues, providing a better customer experience through relationship based interactions, and reducing the likelihood of any damaging reviews. Of course, this engagement can be automated for maximum effectiveness on a large scale with healthy ROI.
As automation becomes cheaper and brands can no longer compete solely on price, smart machines will make this feasible in a way that was not possible before.
The "uncanny valley", a phenomenon first outlined in 1970, describes the negative reaction humans have towards machines that are close to, but not quite human. In customer care, this discomfort can be born from automated systems, but also from their human counterparts.
Increasingly, care agents are finding themselves zombified, bound to the systems and processes that business operations dictate to them, and so are just as robotic and disconnected from their customers as you'd expect a machine would be.
With the influx of customer care automation, 2015 will see brands start to appreciate and capitalize on the human qualities of customer service agents. To maintain a care mix that meets the needs and preferences of a diverse customer base, brands will need to consider the defining characteristics that drive customers to a specific channel.
Adapting To Change Is Not A Choice; It's A Prerequisite For Survival
In 2015, customer experience will be more important than ever before. In fact, seven out of 10 business leaders claim that customer experience is now critical to their success.
No brand is "too big to fail" and going forward we'll see agility become the most pertinent survival mechanism. In 2015, success will start to be determined by a brand's ability to adapt to the tidal wave of change in customer expectations.
Darwin's studies showed that the forces of nature push species to adapt over centuries, but in 2015 brands will be afforded far less patience. Customers will vote with their wallets in a way that won't give organizations that second chance.
Brands that consistently delivered better customer experiences over the past five years produced a cumulative return of 22 percent. In contrast, brands that consistently ranked lower for customer experience returned -46 percent. In 2015, the financial impact of poor customer experience will only grow in severity.
The Virtual Reality Renaissance
Facebook, Google, and Microsoft -- the most prolific technology giants, have all waded into the virtual reality / augmented reality pool with big-ticket acquisitions of or investments in virtual reality start-ups Oculus Rift, Magic Leap in 2014 and innovations such as Kinect back in 2010 and HonoLens just last week.
So how will we see this manifest in 2015? The physical world and the digital paradigm will continue to close in and we think this could enhance customer care interactions, especially for more technical products that require intricate instructions.
By exploiting widely accessible mobile technology, support interactions can now include features like augmented reality walk-throughs. Imagine road-side assistance being able to walk customers through possible fixes via the lens of their smartphone while they wait for the support vehicle to arrive.
We expect to start seeing some of the more innovative brands start to explore this area of technology in 2015, enabling them to provide more valuable and differentiated experiences and build a stronger, closer relationship with customers.
Note: This post was updated after it was published to clarify that Google invested in Magic Leap, and did not acquire the company.