The traditional customer support experience has been calling a helpline, being placed in a queue, and waiting for an agent to answer. Then you had to verify your identity with security questions, explain your issue, and hope that the problem could be completed by the first agent. The reality was that you would likely be transferred and have to repeat this process multiple times before the issue was resolved.
When email became a support channel, it made explaining the problem much easier, but you didn’t know how long it would take for a response. And even when you received a reply, you wouldn’t know if it would have your solution.
Website chats improved the customer experience by speeding up the process of connecting with support and providing agents with the ability to send links, save conversations, and resolve issues faster. The introduction of web chats emerged at the beginning of mainstream internet usage. With the launch of smartphones and social media, channels became more augmented.
Voice and IVR improved through the implementation of more modern technology like Wi-Fi calling through smartphones and offering more options through a single device. Web chats on mobile browsers could offer support without degrading the user interface and experience. The smartphone combined multiple communication channels into a single device. Now customers can make voice calls, use website chat, text, and communicate with customer support entirely through an app.
With ever-growing capabilities and channels, smartphones today are essentially supercomputers in the palm of one's hand. The question now is how can brands tap into the rich functionality of smartphones in order to provide a truly one-of-a-kind support experience?
Follow the demographics
Every brand has an online presence, and today, it is more important than ever to meet your customers where they are.
App Annie reports that 194 billion apps were downloaded in 2018. Statista predicts that by 2022, this number will reach 258.2 billion app downloads. Mobile games continue to be the highest download category, followed by entertainment, social media, and communication apps.
Mobile gaming is designed for a casual audience play during commutes, waiting in line, or before bed. These brands don’t need to focus on a website because audiences all interact through the app. Entertainment apps, like streaming services, will address many of the same issues like subscriptions or service outages. The demographics of these genres are wide.
The challenge for brands is to stay relevant to their audiences. Millennials and Generation Z have grown up and matured with the internet and are most comfortable with mobile-centric interactions. They have moved away from voice-only interactions and prefer to use text, chat, videos, and photos for the majority of their communications with friends and family.
Millennials and Gen Z use mobile devices for everything. Social media apps reinforce content sharing through photos, videos, and more. Casual mobile gaming apps connect users enticing them to beat high scores and then share their victories. Each app interaction is designed for sharing.
Brick-and-mortar retail still has a place, but brands must augment that with a digital presence. Online ordering, with an in-store pickup, is an option that many businesses offer, but this is in reaction to online retailers like Amazon, who account for “49.1 percent of all online retail spend in the country, and five percent of all retail sales.”
Most brands emphasize connecting with customers online either before or during the purchasing process. But what about after that purchase? How can brands offer high-quality customer support to keep them as a returning customer?
Modern customer support will be in-app focused
Industries are seeing incentives to integrate technology quickly. Finance apps unchained customers from visiting banks. Now, customers can deposit checks, transfer funds, and pay bills all from their device.
Large retailers release apps so customers can complete the entire customer journey inside a single platform. Mobile shopping grew 70% from 2016-2018 in the United States. This shows how mobile is a preferred platform for all consumer interactions. Loyalty points, online purchase with in-store pickup, and more keep customers inside apps and by extension the physical store.
With each click and search, companies can find out how customers interact in the app and predict future buying habits. Since every step was completed in the app, customer support will have all the necessary information if help is needed.
The on-demand market relies on mobile apps to provide customers convenience and give contractors jobs and tasks. More companies are exploring and finding solutions leveraging technology to modernize processes and make things centered around a mobile experience.
Brands will need to offer convenient communication channels and while it works on the mobile web, in-app support will continue to grow. This is because customers will not want to be disrupted by needing to leave the app experience to contact customer support through another channel. The support experience will need to become seamless.
Customer support must be included in the app development process from the beginning. Instead of understanding that customer support will be needed, it’s important to understand how customers interact with agents in the past and how brands can improve for the present and in the future. Being proactive in planning, in the beginning, will help create a native customer experience.
Building the right mobile-focused customer support
A brand has to understand its industry and think about existing support problems.
- How difficult was it to contact support for different types of issues?
- How many channels were offered?
- How quickly did the issue get resolved?
- How many transfers were necessary?
- How many times did customers have to repeat the problem?
These are just a small segment of the questions that need to be answered.
After these questions are answered, it’s time to think of what channels to provide customers.
While many still exclusively prefer voice calls and IVR, that is transitioning with the addition of chat and text. Voice is still the best channel for urgent issues and brands will need to continue to support this channel. But voice could be replaced with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or video calls if the app supports the right functionality.
IVR trees can be useful if designed properly. Visual IVR can also be helpful but can be seen as a low-quality solution. These trees might only answer basic support questions and lead customers to answers they aren’t looking for. At the end of these trees, there should be an option to contact support through voice.
Chat, specifically in-app chat, will continue growing in popularity. Many websites offer web chat which might be supported with a chatbot. That chatbot uses machine learning to understand the question and offer what is considered a relevant answer. If a customer isn’t satisfied, the chatbot can offer other contact options.
Brands can also offer live chat during business hours so customers communicate with a real-life agent. There is also the option to combine the two and have the chatbot respond first and then transfer customers to agents if the problem can’t be solved.
Text is a parallel channel to chat. Instead of using in-app chat, customers can communicate directly with brands through a designated phone number. With the expansion of Rich Communication Services (RCS), this channel will enable brands to offer an improved experience that matches the branding of a company.
Text will also benefit from chatbots. RCS’s visual and operations improvement will help brands communicate with customers who don’t want to install another app on their mobile devices. While that may seem strange, “the average person has 60-90 apps installed on their phone,” and might not want to install something new for a one-time order.
These main channels remain the core of customer support, the question is the platform that they are used on. Whether it’s the desktop web, mobile web, or in-app; brands need to find which platform is best suited for its audience.
Implementing new technology
Chatbots are already available in customer support. The question is quality. To say you have a chatbot, to check a box, doesn’t mean that it’s useful for the customer. It actually might be making the support experience more frustrating as certain situations may call for a live agent rather than a chatbot.
However, there are numerous upsides, such as automating repetitive tasks that agents would have to do like closing simple tickets. A chatbot could help a customer process a return and enter it into a system, or it could log a delivery outside the supplied delivery window. This allows agents to finish helping a customer and then move on to the next with less time in-between.
With machine learning, chatbots can quickly and accurately sort through and find the relevant data needed to accurately answer questions. But machine learning is only as good as the accessible data. Simply stating you have machine learning doesn’t mean it’s learning from the best data. The best quality data will ensure that the chatbot can accurately answer common questions and eventually complete other tasks.
A well-developed artificial intelligence chatbot can be a huge benefit for customer support and give customers the right information from a few simple queries. This is also through the addition of natural language processing (NLP).
Customers don’t text or chat as they speak to others in person or over the phone. This is why NLP needs to be able to recognize the intent in shorter sentences. The combination of NLP, machine learning, and artificial intelligence will lead to a chatbot that can understand almost any type of query that it is given. UJET’s Automated Agent is developed in this way.
Chatbots may be able to mimic the communication skills of a real agent one day. Through constant refinement and development, customers who contact support through chat and text will be able to have full conversations and never realize they were communicating with Automated Agents.
Be strategic with mobile-focused customer support
Customer support channels like voice, chat, and in-app are common across all support teams. The difference is that teams choose specific parts to use. It might be voice calls and IVR only. Or voice with chat on the website. Mobile-focused and digitally native companies, like on-demand services, will want to leverage their app whenever possible.
Companies can still choose which channels to support, but need to begin laying the foundation for the support conversations of tomorrow. Instead of voice, why not VoIP? Rather than make people text, include an in-app chat with photo and video sharing. It meets customers on familiar channels and allows them to communicate in the ways they have learned.
Implement Automated Agents in website chat and in-app chat. Develop a best-in-class visual IVR that can understand more with artificial intelligence to lead customers to the answer they’re looking for. Customer support channels will never be replaced but augmented by technology. It’s up to brands to offer a customer experience that aligns with how they interact and not force something that only benefits one side.
Millennials and Gen Z will be the demographic with the most buying power in a few short years. Companies taking the necessary steps now will be set up for success moving forward.