Top Customer Experience Trends Brands & Outsourcers Should Watch in 2020

03 December, 2019



This post — part five of our Expert Interview Series — features customer experience strategy consultant Peter Ryan discussing 2020 CX trends.

As we reach the cusp of the new year, what customer experience trends should enterprise brands and their outsourcing partners be watching?

To answer that question, we spoke with Peter Ryan, principal and chief analyst at Ryan Strategic Advisory, customer experience and brand equity advisory firm that works enterprise organizations and contact center outsourcers around the globe. Here are the main takeaways from that interview.

TBPO: What does the future look like regarding AI, voice assistants, and other forms of self-service technology? Will it replace the need for human agents or merely change the dynamic as it relates to service delivery?

PR: The biggest thing I see among decision-makers in the contact center space is devising a plan to figure out the right intersection between advanced technology related to automation, artificial intelligence, and the human touch.

A few years ago, all people were talking about was how to automate as much and as quickly as possible — and in no small degree, there has been great work in that regard. What we’re seeing now is that technology can only take you so far when it comes to generating loyalty to or interest in a brand that’s going to want to make a customer keep coming back.

With that in mind, there is a focus now on figuring out how advanced technology can be used in different consumer interactions and what role the live agent needs to play in taking the consumer to the next level to guarantee long-term customer lifecycle management.

TBPO: It sounds like what you’re saying is that automation and AI are gaining ground but still in a formative stage?

PR: I’ve been involved in the contact center industry for 20 years and seen stops and starts when it comes to automation being implemented in this sphere. For every poor example of implementation, there have been four or five great examples. But as human beings, we are preprogrammed to remember the not so great instances as opposed to the ones that went well.

The reality that the cost of finding a new customer is five or six times more than retaining a current customer is not lost on decision-makers who want to hold on to those they have and make sure they guarantee the best possible interaction each time.

TBPO: If automation isn’t replacing the human agent, how is the relationship between the two changing?

PR: A high point of discussion along this line is the whole chatbot element and seeing how far they can go these days beyond answering simple questions. Now, they can take on much more substantive discussions by leveraging AI platforms, not only with preprogrammed answers but also by learning from previous interactions over time.

That means the contact center agent is going to have a very different profile than what we saw even a few years ago. Finding agents who can think for themselves and go beyond a script, who are empowered to pick up the baton from an automated transaction and do their best to meet and exceed customer expectations is vital.

TBPO: With that in mind, what will be demanded of the contact center regarding onboarding and training?

PR: It’s going to require a lot more of the recruitment process — finding the right person within a collective group of applicants and making sure onboarding and training are done to the best level possible.

A recent survey I undertook revealed that among enterprise contact center decision-makers, finding the right agents and providing ongoing training was both the biggest pain point and greatest investment priority. That tells me the human element in contact center customer experience management has never been more critical.

TBPO: One of your blog posts talks about the basics of customer experience in the context of contact center management. What are you referring to by use of that term, and why is it essential going into 2020?

PR: The basics of good customer experience in relation to contact center management are simple: Finding the right people who can drive the best possible interaction that make the customer pleased — their questions answered and issues resolved — so the person wants to continue doing business with the brand.

Now that consumers have more ways to interact than ever, it’s become more complicated, and the basics get a little cloudy. But keeping things straightforward, keeping things simple is the best recipe.

TBPO: Are some channels going away and others becoming more central in customer interaction preferences?

PR: We are in an era where there are shifts. A few years ago, analysts said email was going to overtake voice in the contact center. What I hear now is that the volumes for email are coming down. While it’s still going to be deployed, it’s not going to be the same amount.

One channel that contact centers need to consider is instant messaging, such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. Web chat has also experienced a rebirth. Contact centers have figured out how to make web chat an optimal channel by understanding the science involved in estimating the volume of agents to conversations.

Also, social media is now the third most deployed channel in the contact center today, based on my research. Customers are comfortable with it not only with personal interactions but commercially as well, and enterprises and outsourcers are responding in kind.

TBPO: As we move into 2020, what should outsourcers, in particular, be concerned with or paying attention to?

PR: There is some excellent news on the horizon for the outsourcing community.

Now, more than ever, enterprises realize if they are going to meet and exceed expectations, working with third-party professionals is crucial. We’re seeing enterprises that have used the business model in the past coming back and others finding that it could potentially work for them.

Equally, there is reason for caution. The reality is some there are misconceptions by legacy matters that haven’t been the kindest to the industry.

The best thing an outsourcer can do going into 2020 and beyond is to position its services, not as a “your mess for less” cost play but a value play, as the right organization to help enterprises achieve their commercial goals with value-adds that ensure loyalty and repeat business.

These days, outsourcers have to have great CX management and science capabilities, state-of-the-art data protection and information security, and a robust recruitment and retention strategy. Any organization that’s not able to evolve to meet the needs of what enterprises are looking for today and in the next few years has no place in this industry.

TBPO: How do you see nearshore fitting into the outsourcing spectrum?

PR: Nearshore outsourcing has never been more popular. Based on the research I’ve been doing the last few years when it comes to buyer preferences, outsourcers serving the North American enterprise community must have a nearshore strategy in place.

There is still value to be had by going to the Philippines and other offshore regions, but executives have less tolerance for traveling long distances, spending 24 hours on an airplane, and dealing with climate and food differences.

Plus, there’s the level of familiarity that can be gained with a nearshore solution. Agents are much more aligned with the commercial and popular culture of the consumers. It also works in terms of cost arbitrage: nearshore is more affordable than you would find domestically and, in some cases, comparable to what you would find in offshore locations.

I think any company that’s looking seriously at its different location strategies will feel that some offshore is necessary — domestic delivery to — but having a nearshore option in countries such as Belize is a great check against economic and public security concerns we’re seeing right now in the market.

TBPO: What other considerations should enterprises have when it comes to nearshore?

PR: It’s no longer about finding the cheapest location. The price point is important, of course, but the ability to source good people who are motivated, who want to work in a customer experience role, and do their best to perform in that role will make organizations well-positioned to succeed.

TBPO: In light of what lies ahead, what steps should contact center executives be taking?

PR: Having the right platforms in place around analytics. Being able to understand your customers down to the individual level is so important. If a company doesn’t have the budget to invest in such technology, it should find an outsourced partner who can.

For outsourcers, having a good understanding of the vertical nature of the industries with which they work is critical. If you’re delivering third-party services, there’s no generic solution anymore. Having subject-matter expertise when it comes to particular industries is a differentiating factor.

Also, it’s vital to have a balanced delivery model that incorporates offshore, nearshore, and domestic. Figuring out what the tolerance is for different models, diversifying, and having redundancy with a talented, upskilled agent pool has never been more critical.

TBPO: Any final thoughts?

PR: Customer experience is not going to wait for anybody. The consumers’ level of patience for enterprises to provide a decent if not great level of service has never been lower.

The challenge for enterprises and their outsourcing partners is to make every interaction meet and exceed precisely what the consumer is looking for. If they don’t, they will face some pretty big loses going forward.

Reduce the cost of contact center agent attrition