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Enthusiasm for the arrival of a New Year habitually produces irrational behaviour. We promise to change personal behaviour only to discover that habits are more entrenched than a mere promise to ourselves.

Equally, we peer into the future imagining we can really predict. This seems easy when the forthcoming year’s slate is still clean. But how many then actually come true? All too often blown off course from events no-one saw coming. Good thing there is not a money back guarantee on this stuff.

So why the fascination? Are we just suckers for a crystal ball? Or is there a value in reading predictions that are not based just on their final accuracy?

I hope so! Retweets and likes tell us that around the turn of the New Year, predictions are a hugely popular topic. Indeed I just co-delivered a webinar on guess what? “2014 Contact Centre Predictions”.

In the process of crafting yet another viewpoint, I read 18 other versions as groundwork, plus a good few extra pieces as I sorted through the candidates. I learnt from experts in contact centre, ecommerce, digital, social, technology and customer experience. Each chose different topics to tell their story but they all connected up. To my mind, they were describing the same transformation.

One of the best insights I came across recognised this very point. Michael Fauscette (IDC) is a very experienced trend watcher and I think nails it with this comment.

“The predominant trends in the customer service for the last few years – mobile, social, cloud and now Big Data – aren’t nearly as interesting by themselves, as they are if you mash them up”.

I would agree. These trends really do interconnect. Indeed that is the whole point. It’s the mission we are all on. Whether the particular focus is on achieving a 360° view of customers, an omni-channel capability or a seamless customer journey, the core prediction is that we are all going for a joined up future.

So what did I pick out to tell the story of developing more of a joined future during 2014?

Real-time convenience

The rise of web chat, which surveys tell us is now expected within a minute of asking for it, caters to the quickening of daily life that digital transformation is causing. Our expectation for simplicity is also seen in the rise of social interaction and the early growth in mobile services such as visual IVR, call backs and proactive alerts. As we live our lives faster we need brands to deliver services to us at comparable speed and ease of consumption.

Market sectors respond differently. Their unique challenges and opportunities will keep fragmenting where best practice can be found. For instance, the real time nature of travel has already catalysed some of the best SLAs for social responsiveness anywhere. The best airline and train brands are now consistently under 15 minutes. Yet global SLAs remain at hundreds of minutes. Hence the gap between best and worse will expand in the short term. Customer expectation will eventually travel across sectors to force standardisation. But this is unlikely to be a 2014 reality.

Let’s move onto another example of sector specific innovation. The unique challenges for service at scale which all mobile operators face has produced one noteworthy new service I’m sure others will copy this year. O2 has launched Twitter-based self-service (#tweetserve). Once authenticated, users can access a range of account information that deflects live calls and caters to the expectations of autonomous smartphone customers. A useful, relevant innovation.

Proactive and pre-emptive take up the slack

If you are in the market this year for a luxury car or the latest in office or medical equipment, chances are that some form of customer service will be now embedded. Sensors track changes in performance. Automated alerts then inform you and the service department when things need fixing. The same goes for our personal health.

In part, this is because our multi-functional smartphones are now being virtualised. In other words having shrunk computing down to a smartphone size it is now being liberated into all sorts of other devices to make them just as connected. That was the central message from this year’s CES show.

Of course customer analytics precedes this coming era of sensor based smart service. Social media monitoring is now a must for customer service teams. I’m glad to report from my own 2013 experiences that interaction analytics also continues to win converts for mainstream voice and text channels. Whatever the form, customer service 2014 style needs as much real-time insight as it can afford in order to stay in the game.

What’s the biggest 2014 surprise?

Maybe the biggest shock will come from how fast mobility has taken over. UK figures place smartphone use at 69% of mobile users and tablet access at 50% of households now that prices are racing to rock bottom levels.

Yet how many service operations are aware of the percentage of inbound traffic that originates from a mobile device? If so, what does that mean? What has to change? Marketers are only just getting websites ‘responsive’. Customer Service still has a blanket over its head on this one.

So to finally answer my own question: what are predictions good for? Personally I used them this year to educate me and help set my priorities. I consume lots to find common themes and build a panoramic view of what’s going on. How about you?

Read the slides, listen to the webinar

This post was just a teaser. The rest of the good stuff is here. So feel free to grab the slidedeck or listen to the webinar and what the audience added as their 2014 predictions. It was a good 60 minutes of crowdsourcing.

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