New and more advanced technology is dramatically changing the way customers and companies interact. Processes that used to be laborious and manual are now becoming automated, which can be cheaper for a company and faster for the customer. However, there’s a serious risk of causing more confusion or even injecting additional friction into the customer’s experience.
From the standpoint of a consumer, new technology is drastically improving the concept of self service. Touch-screen tablets or kiosks can make some processes wildly more efficient. Interactions with a limited range of outcomes, like ordering lunch from a restaurant, paying for groceries or checking into a flight, can be done quickly and completely without using an employee’s time. In those instances, technology has benefited both the company (cheaper) and the customer (quicker).
But the kiosk is far from the final point in this technological evolution. If IBM’s Watson can beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy and Siri can make a reservation at a restaurant (soon a car might be able to drive you there on its own), there has to be a use for this technology to facilitate transactions for businesses and their customers. As AI improves, the range of tasks that can be performed by a machine increases.
Some day soon you will be able to plan a vacation simply by making a request into a computer or phone. Saying the words “book a flight for two to New York next weekend; I’ll need a hotel too … and tickets to Hamilton!” would fire up voice recognition software that translates those requests into actions and completes the booking without any additional work from you.
That type of innovation would definitely be an improvement for consumers, but for the companies involved, there would still be customers to support. Maybe the hotel staff would need to accommodate someone’s stay for an additional night or the theater would need to reschedule the show because a storm caused a power outage. No amount of technological advancement could possibly fix air travel.
In short, the way that technology is improving might change the dynamic between companies and customers, but it doesn’t change the baseline need for customer support. That will always exist. As more companies embrace new technology, the focus will shift from fulfilling transactions to proactive customer support.
Consumers’ technology will continue to enhance what they are capable of handling on their own, but it’s up to companies to use the same advancements to develop new processes for customer support. The support leaders of the future will predict what customers can do with their devices and what they will need help with.
The customer support teams that thrive with new technology will be the ones that re-think customer journeys and customer support processes based on the way customers will use technology, not the way they have been using it. As always, companies who think of the customer first will see the best results, but as the pace of technological change quickens, the gap between great support teams and average support teams will only widen.