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Video serviceWhat will the call center of 2025 look like? Well, to start with, it’s unlikely to be a physical ‘center’ anymore. The rise of cloud technology is predicted to lead to an increase in remote working.

But this move outside the office walls is far from businesses shunning the contact center. The omnipresent eye of social media has put companies in the limelight – for good and for bad, pushing customer service right to the top of the priority list.

As a result, customer service looks set to become a key differentiator from now onwards, and the call center will be at the forefront of this strategy.

Here we explore the trends that look set to transform the call centre in ten years’ time.

1. The call center will become a ‘relationship hub’

For years, many have considered the call center as a way of dealing with immediate problems. This led to a short-term strategy of dealing with one customer emergency after another – reacting instead of adapting to the needs of the customer.

Instead of picking up the pieces when things go wrong, we predict that the contact center will become an integral part of business strategy, acting as a ‘relationship hub’.

Contact center agents are the first to know if something isn’t working and are therefore perfectly poised to advise the business. It’s the people on the other end of the phone that know what the customers really think.

Customer service can be seen as an afterthought – what happens after the marketing department has reeled them in, but really, it should be part of every stage of business development, supplying sales and marketing with repeat purchasers and advocates, as well as an essential data point for product management and development.

2. Customer service agents will become ‘super agents’

As the call center becomes an increasingly important part of the business, so do the people that work there. They will need to adapt their skill-set to meet the demands of the future customer and the expectations directors place on the contact center.

Plus, with the rise of ‘self-help’ and user communities, only the most complex problems will end up in a call center. Agents will need to be ready to tackle challenging issues and be able to unpick the situation to pinpoint what exactly went wrong.

It’s therefore not surprising that in the next ten years, the average customer service agent will need to have a much wider range of skills.

Aside from excellent communication skills, they’ll need analytical problem-solving skills, project management – and in some cases, technical training, in order to understand the finer details of the product or service.

Alongside all of this, customer service agents will need to be able to adapt to changes in technology – from becoming an expert in every new app and social network, to utilizing the increasing range of data on their CRM.

3. Call routing systems will find the ‘perfect match’

Intelligent call-routing is already available now, but it’s predicted to grow in the next ten years – matching the customer with the right expert almost instantly.

As CRM and workflow management systems develop, a complex ‘match-making’ process will occur every time a customer calls, to ensure the right expert is on hand to solve every problem.

Many also believe that organizations will begin to publish their agents’ availability online, so that customers can pick the agent that best suits their needs and call them directly.

4. Web chat will become an increasingly popular customer service channel

It can be frustrating to be on the other end of a phone – whether you’re an agent or a customer, the channel has its limits. The success of Amazon Mayday has made video-based live chat a real possibility.

The channel has huge potential, because it allows agents to develop a more personal connection with customers through face-to-face chat. Plus, have you ever wanted to show a customer how something works? With video chat, this becomes a possibility.

It also eliminates the idea of being put on hold – even if the agent isn’t speaking, the customer is connected via the visual feed.

Video web chat also allows contact centers to anticipate problems as customers navigate their website and ensure the right agent pops up at the right time.

5. Customer service will become the key differentiator

With the rise of intangible products, which only exist via your mobile or laptop, customer experience is becoming more important as a differentiator.

Consumers don’t just want great customer service, they demand it. In the UK, half of consumers said they would buy from a competitor as the result of poor customer experience. This is similar in the US, with 44% of consumers taking their business elsewhere as a result of inadequate service.

Plus, with the death of sustainable competitive advantage, companies can no longer rely on their well-defined niche to keep them ahead. The elusive ‘experience’ becomes more important and customer service moves straight to the top of the agenda.

Add to this the growth of social media and customer service has transformed from a one-to-one interaction to a public conversation. With customer service becoming this transparent, companies have realized they need to up their game.

You can no longer hide bad customer service behind closed doors; every business has an online footprint of their successes and failures for all to see.

As a result, companies will start to compete to offer the best customer service – with social media recommendations being the ultimate prize.

6. Mobile is the future – for customer service agents and customers

According to the Economist, mobile apps are predicted to become the second most important channel for engaging with brands – just behind social media.

And it’s not just about apps, as the mobile phone becomes an increasingly important part of everyday life. It’s how your customers are most likely to get in contact with you – via email, live chat, social media or in a voice call.

Companies need to optimize their mobile functionality for this – particularly by allowing customers to multi-task on their mobile. For instance, being able to read the FAQs page while on the phone to the customer service agent.

Your customer service agents will make the same demands for mobile. Being able to access a mobile CRM is a key ingredient for flexible working.

7. Expect channel preferences to change (and change again)

As consumers demand a personalized approach to just about everything – they expect to be able to mix & match the customer service channels to create a tailor-made service.

However, it’s becoming increasingly hard to predict and plan for the channel-hopping. That’s why we predict that whatever the preference is at the moment, it will change in the next ten years – probably several times.

How contact centers are able to adapt to customers switching between channels will determine their success. This is particularly true if businesses want to appeal to the millennial generation, who are notorious for channel-switching, as they move from mobile to tablet to laptop, all in a matter of hours. Being able to follow those channel hops while maintaining the context of the interaction is key to customer service success.

And it’s not just about keeping up with the change in device or channel, businesses need to keep up with the technology itself. New apps and social networks are launched all the time – WhatsApp is a great example of a channel that’s taken off rapidly and is becoming a popular choice for customer service.

8. Voice biometrics will replace security questions

“What’s your mother’s maiden name?” is one of many common security questions, but in the next ten years, it’ll be more about how the customer answers a question than the answer itself which confirms their identity.

Gathering the unique ‘voiceprints’ of your customers could be the answer to security problems, as voice biometrics technology develops.

It’s much harder to replicate the human voice than it is to steal facts about a customer. Voice biometrics record the intricacies of the human voice – from picking up on the size and shape of the mouth to the tension of the vocal cords.

9. Remote working and location-based services will increase

With the rise of cloud-based SaaS, having all your agents in one place is no longer necessary. It’s actually much more than unnecessary – switching to remote working agents has lots of benefits.

This approach can reduce the costs associated with running a call center and give employees greater flexibility. It is predicted that the growing number of virtual call centers could lead to more location-based services.

For instance, a customer calling a company could be automatically connected to an agent working remotely a few miles from their location. The agent could even arrange to meet the customer if necessary, which could be very useful for certain sectors.

10. The “internet of things”

Described by many as the third great wave of computing – the “internet of things” or the “internet of everything” could change the way the world works.

With more and more devices being able to connect to other devices or people independently, it gives rise to a world where almost everything is connected.

This could have huge implications for the contact center, enabling businesses to deliver pre-emptive service. For instance, if a patient’s heart monitor is over-heating, the device could send an automated service request to the right team.

On a more domestic level, washing machines may be able to self-diagnose problems and notify the manufacturer when the part needs replacing – taking the customer out of the equation altogether.

The implication is that attitudes will shift – instead of buying a product, consumers will be buying a product with built-in customer service, raising the stakes for getting service right.

Find out how you can future-proof your contact center technology and find your competitive advantage.

Moderated by Forrester Research, join Salesforce, NewVoiceMedia and ClickSoftware to discover how an integrated customer service solution can help you gain greater visibility through all stages of your service cycle.Learn how world-class service companies are empowering their service teams with the right data, immediately accessed from anywhere in their service chain, to deliver a contextual and personalized service to their customers.Join the webinar to learn how world-class service companies are empowering their service teams with the right data at the right time to:

• Deliver pain free customer service

• Proactively engage customers for service

• Personalize customer service interactions

• Accelerate service delivery - See more at: http://www.newvoicemedia.com/events/66/the-future-of-customer-service/#sthash.RMIHMNdr.dpuf

Article first published on smartcustomerservice.com.

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About Tim Pickard

Tim joined NewVoiceMedia in July 2011 with over 20 years' experience as a leader in the IT industry. He served as VP and board member of RSA Security's international business for seven years where he ran marketing in EMEA, Asia Pacific and Japan. He spent two years as Chief Marketing Officer for SaaS/Cloud-based email management provider Mimecast.

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