AI hit the mainstream, the customer experience continued to shape just about everything, and servitization gave field service a competitive shot in the arm. 2017 was a big year for customer service. 

But things are just getting warmed up. We’ve picked out five trends we expect to see make customer service even better for customers, agents  and managers in 2018…

 

1. AI and IoT will make service (even) more proactive

Thanks to the growing accessibility (and acceptance) of AI and Internet of Things (IoT), trailblazers such as Coca-Cola and KONE are using the technology to transform field service into a smarter, more proactive, and connected experience. 

Leading manufacturers are already using AI and IoT to detect impending faults in their products and flag nearby engineers to resolve the issue before the customer notices anything is wrong. It’s an easy service-win no brand can afford to ignore, and as customers begin to expect pre-emptive service as standard, expect 2018 to be a big year for field service AI and IoT

 

2. 24/7/365 self-service will become the default

Digital technology has had a phenomenal impact on the way we communicate and engage with the brands we love. But here’s the thing: we’re talking less. As consumers, the internet has changed our expectations of what a service experience should be – and in almost every case, it means being fast, convenient, and un-intrusive. 

People expect 24/7 real-time customer support, but they don’t want to ring a tired service agent at 2am to troubleshoot a fault. Digital self-service makes sense for them, and it makes sense for you. It lowers support costs, it allows for wiser distribution of resources, and it gives customers what they want, when they want it. 

Gartner says 85% of customer-brand relationships will be managed without human interaction by 2020 – and to us, that screams customer independence. Watch this space.

 

3. Smarter and faster chatbot experiences

A product of automated workflows and AI, chatbots are stepping in to add more power to the 24/7 self-service revolution. 

In our State of Service 2017 report, 54% of consumers and 80% of business buyers expect companies to respond to them in real time. Due to resource limitations, this isn’t always possible. But with an AI-powered chatbot, service teams can automate constructive responses to simpler customer queries, with humans only stepping in should things get complex.

In 2017, our partners at IBM helped Autodesk speed up customer response times by 99% with a Watson AI-powered Virtual Agent. And as word spreads, 2018 could well be the year AI-powered chatbots become the industry standard. 

 

4. Sales and Service will be better aligned than ever

By aligning sales and service teams, brands can turn contact centres from cost centres into key drivers of profit and customer experience. In fact, as we heard at Salesforce World Tour 2017 in London, sales and service alignment in Coca-Cola’s B2B operations has greatly accelerated its own product processes. 

With sales and service drinking from the same cup, it now takes just 72 hours to get a new cooler to a retailer, where it used to take months. And should they need it, both teams can collaborate to recommend products, process orders, and resolve customer concerns.

A great opportunity to personalise service queries and upsell appropriate products, contact centres are set to win big love from CFOs in 2018. 

 

5. Robots will handle more of the admin

The least surprising trend on this list, but critical nonetheless – the automation of procedural back office tasks is long overdue. Salesforce Service Cloud has simplified even the most complex customer service processes, but without it, many service teams remain suffocated by banal, repetitive administrative tasks. 

But as process automation continues to gain traction, and customers increasingly get used to the superfast customer service it enables, it seems likely this sector will see significant investment in 2018. A strong pick for every service team’s new year’s resolution.

 

To learn more about the trends driving customer service and helping them smarter, faster connected experiences, check out the 2017 State of Service report.