This week marks the 31st year of celebrating Customer Service Week, an international celebration of the importance of customer service and of the people who serve and support customers on a daily basis.
Many companies are participating in the spirit of the week’s salute to customer service workers with a look toward improving the service experience from both the customer and the employee perspective. Pegasystems, a leading customer engagement platform vendor, is hosting a free webinar on the trends driving the future of customer service, with the results of a survey on the same topic coming later in the week.
Fortuné Alexander, Senior Director, Product Marketing for Customer Service and Sales Automation at Pega, recently shared a few of the upcoming findings from the report in a recent LinkedIn Live conversation and talks about why the future of service isn’t about replacing humans, but humans leveraging AI and automation for better service experiences, and to be more human with each other when the need arises.
Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation. Click on the embedded SoundCloud player to hear the full conversation.
Brent Leary: When you think of customer service week, what does that mean to you?
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Fortuné Alexander: It means just giving a tip of the hat and recognition to everyone, from the people who are leading contact centers. The people working in the contact center. To IT. People having to make decisions on what technology to deploy in the contact center to vendors like P&G and others who bring products to market to meet customer service and contact centers jobs easier and more rewarding.
So it’s kind of a week to just celebrate customer service professionals. Customer service cuts across all the industries. So it’s a fun time for us. We enjoy it. We get up and hang out for this week with a lot of fun content, interactive content. And we just we’re putting the finishing touches on this report called The Future of Customer Service and talking about the 3 to 5 year time horizon.
We surveyed over 750 customer service leaders all around the globe (primarily 1 billion+ annual revenue companies) to see what’s on their minds, where they think the trends are heading and how they’re preparing for customer service in the near future. A lot of insights in there.
Brent Leary: I know the report hasn’t been published, but is there anything you can share with us now about the results?
Fortuné Alexander: Surprisingly, 70% of the customer service leaders said that they’re going to be optimizing the customer service experience around Gen Z and millennials. Gen Z and millennials are the guys that make up the majority pretty soon here. So contact center leaders are definitely looking to make sure that they optimize their experience for those target audiences.
Brent Leary: But those same generations are also making up a bigger, bigger part of the employees that are going to be helping with these experiences. Maybe you could talk a little bit about not only the expectations as a consumer for Gen Z and millennials, but also them as employees that are going to be interacting as service agents.
Fortuné Alexander: I have a lot of fun with this one because we talk customer experience for years and now it’s the employee experience, and some people are talking total experience. But you’re absolutely right. You’ve got Gen Z and millennials coming into the workforce and they’re going to be working in customer service.
They’ve got iPhones in their personal lives. They don’t want to have these green screen antiquated systems that they’re trying to help do their jobs with. So that’s what I’m super excited, as we start to apply AI and automation more broadly in contact centers, they’re not having to swivel chair and stick their head up and ask a colleague; or get on Slack. The system is really guiding them through the whole process. It’s like you’re just watching the system and you’re getting a much better employee experience as well.
Brent Leary: So how are the expectations for customer service changing when you think about these two new generations that are not only coming in to being the ones who are buying the most, but also they’re all they’re going to be the ones doing all the servicing?
Fortuné Alexander: I think a couple of things come to mind – Fast and everywhere. People overwhelmingly want fast resolutions if you work in customer service. That’s pretty obvious but it’s still top of the list in terms of, hey, I want a fast resolution. Ultimately, I think where we’re trying to get to the future customer service is no service, because you’re going to be proactive and preemptive.
Now we know we’re not going to get there anytime soon, and people have said that for a while. But it is a good aspirational goal to say, hey, we’re not going to have a contact center with 2000 agents. We might have 50 people and they’re going to be managing the AI and the AI is going to be doing all the interaction. And it’s going to be like, you get stuck at the grocery store trying to check out in self-service and you’ve got a pack of beer and somebody has to come over and make sure you’re 18. But then they don’t take over. They just approve it and walk away and the machine keeps going. And that’s kind of how it’s going to be.
Most of the interaction is going to be AI. And you’re going to agents just dealing with either managing the bots or handling the super complex stuff.
Brent Leary: Do you feel like these new generations are going to be more receptive to working in conjunction with AI and with bots. Not feeling like the bots are going to take over their job, but really looking forward to working with bots to hand off the tough stuff and allow them to have more of the more human interactions with the folks they’re servicing?
Fortuné Alexander: Absolutely. And, poking fun at my own generation, Gen Xers, if I look at my daughter who’s ten, she’s digital native. And this this is second nature. I think this whole worry about our jobs being taken away is going to be less of a concern for these younger generations that come into the workforce because they’ve grown up with AI and technology at their fingertips since they were babies.
I do feel like jobs will change, and they always have and they always will. There will be jobs. They will evolve and they will look different.
Brent Leary: What are some of the surprising things you might have found in this report? I know you can’t tell us a whole lot, but were there anything that would make you do a double take? You’re like, wow, really?
Fortuné Alexander: One little signal we picked up on is more and more contact centers are thinking about revenue generation, cross-selling, upselling. And if you think about that, that’s been prevalent in some industries for a very long time.
You call your mobile phone provider and they’re always trying to sell you a new phone or get you on a different plan or what have you. So that’s not new, but what was new and that’s a little bit eye opening for me is to see that across other industries. We saw some of that data coming on where people are saying, yep, we want to measure customer lifetime value and we want to make sure that we’re engaging with our clients when they reach out for service on how they can use other services.
So that was the one nugget that came through.
Structural Changes Needed to Service Millennials and Gen Z
Brent Leary: What kind of structural changes do companies need to make in order to fully embrace some of the findings? You know how millennials and Gen Zers not only will consume, but also how they want to work.
Fortuné Alexander: We touched on a minute ago and I’ll just circle back to it. This is weird because as a vendor, and every vendor does this, you assume the market is where your latest release is at, but the market is still ten years behind.
Ten years ago, if you look at the average contact center and what they’re running and what they’re doing, a lot of them are still using stuff that’s not modern. I feel like we really need to see the industry invest in more technology to be able to use AI powered decisioning and guidance that allows that servicing process to be more seamless and faster.
That’s what people want. They want to get in and out, and ultimately they don’t want to have to call you at all. They want you to know that there’s an issue and fix it before they even know it.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.