Dharmender Kapoor

Dharmender Kapoor is the Chief Operating Officer of Birlasoft.

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By 2020, Customer Service Will No Longer be the Differentiator; Continue to Innovate or Perish!

In last two decades, technology is clearly taking a big shift and it has moved from being a productivity tool to becoming a business platform that has shrunk the world to our mobile screens.

Customer Service has been a key differentiator in building mega businesses over the past many decades. The elements that have indicated quality service have mostly been subjective and subject to customer surveys, CSAT scores and at best customer experience. Before CRM systems were introduced, understanding the customer satisfaction was limited to the surveys conducted periodically. However, it was difficult and inconsistent the way businesses understood their customers and customer categories. It was often difficult to understand the patterns, map customer journey and identify customer behavior in various buying situations.

With the evolution of communication technologies, CRM systems and response centers led to organizations focusing aggressively on customer services and thereby understanding customer satisfaction in a greater detail, between 1995 to 2005. Organizations put great efforts in understanding the journey from purchase internet to customer acquisition. This decade further made it possible for organizations to take decisions based on data at various stages in customer acquisition journey. On the other hand, while CRM technologies evolved, there was a key movement of taking these practices to the cloud and open CRM to next level of customer behavior.

Most CRM solutions integrated social presence and experience into mainstream data and decisions and being on cloud made it possible to cross organizational boundaries and connect to share experiences rather than using CRM as a transaction processing system. Measuring customer experience moved from periodic surveys to instant feedback and experience using social media. The decade was a defining period in the way organizations will continue to look at customer service in years to come. Organization vehemently moved from standardization to personalization, delivering on-time to respecting time and efforts, meeting expectations to empathy and being B2B to being P2P (People to People) business.

While organization have been catching up with technology and chasing their business processes, customer services will not look the same in 2020 as digital technologies are ready to seed another set of needs. Some of the technologies that will disrupt the customer services are following and businesses must start getting ready to see next 5 year as a period of heightened disruption.

1) IoT-driven Services: To talk about a specific case where a problem in a medical device does result in downtime and can lead to not only a loss of revenue, but even greater impact on business continuity. With most of the next devices connected and be able to publish the data on various parameters of their health, customer service will no longer depend upon report and repair cycle. It will be expected that businesses use platforms to predict health of their devices to proactively determine if those devices will go bad and proactively remain or maintain those. And in case of break down, the device itself will report that break down ticket and not depend upon human intervention.

Imagine you are driving in your car and it runs out of gas or suffers from a break down in an engine. Your car will be able to report the problem to the nearest service station on its own, track how this is getting addressed and report you with the status. Similarly, your seat belt will act as a device to continue to check your heart beat and report if you are in a healthy condition while driving.

With connected devices, the possibilities are endless. Be it aircraft engines or your home refrigerator, everything will be connected and managed remotely. This will transform customer experience in a massive way where an organization would be expected to know and act proactively.

2) Data Driven Decisions: With all the devices, instruments, machines, vehicles, human beings etc. connected and puking data, there will be a great need to make sense of this huge pile of data, understand and detect meaningful patterns and take decisions when needed. This will require investments in analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning where platforms will use previous decisions, data patterns and learning to predict the best possible decision for future. For instance, an aircraft while flying produces multi-gigabytes of data that can help ground staff take or avoid maintenance decisions based on the actual health and not periodic or planned. On the other side, the data produced by various devices and process events will be valuable for various industries to use and identify business opportunities or risks that remain unnoticed and untapped today. One of the good examples is that of the insurance industry who would use data sets on weather, traffic, people, health etc to determine how insurance premium can be determined and how to claim risks can be avoided.

3) Contact centers from a helpline approach to where the customer are: Social media has already disrupted the way customer highlight and escalate negative experience. Currently, Contact centers work on the basis of a relationship established with a customer based on what they need or ask. However, due to the availability of whereabouts, customer can experience products and services and with the availability of sentiments over social media, organization will be able to extract information from multiple channels and react proactively. The way banks have worked on reducing the footfall in banks and are able to fulfill the needs over many other channels such as phone banking or net banking, contact center’s performance would be determined by the ratio of proactive resolution to a query raised by a client.

4) Bots powering standardize response: We have seen the impact of Siri and Google Assistant. Intelligent bots have come a really long way in the last 3 year. One can only imagine where they will be by 2020. Many of us would have already experienced virtual assistant on various airlines and commerce sites assisting on queries and with machine learning playing an important role the day is not far when most of such assistance will be provided by virtual assistants through chat bots. It will also be interesting to see how it will further disrupt contact centers where consumers and end users will interacts with robots on the other side and traditional contact centers will get replaced by powerful robots or computers that can handle most of the queries.

5) Service specific Experience Design: In last two decades, technology is clearly taking a big shift and it has moved from being a productivity tool to becoming a business platform that has shrunk the world to our mobile screens. Similarly, the line between technology function and business has also shrunk as technology has slowly become business and business heads are expected to be technology savvy in this highly competitive world. The focus on the technology delivery in future will clearly shift from “Data center” to “Design Center”. With technology companies building their own design capabilities, to acquiring design houses, it is clear that in the digital world, the customer experience journey begins with design. The design is already mapping the user journey from per purchase to post purchase and newer options will evolve. With a huge focus on simulations and virtual reality prototype, design centers will mature to a level where they can provide end product experience at a much early stage in life cycle.

With patterns and technology shift such as these, customer service in traditional form will be a matter of compliance and not a case of differentiation. Organizations who will continue to remain on the edge and lead the technology wave will define the success criteria for future business. Disruption in the rear view mirror is far closer than it appears, so either you push the accelerator very hard and catch the speed or wait for someone to bump into your back and topple you over. Till then, Happy driving!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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