In today’s world, customers decide how customer-centric a company is. Good customer service should capture the fundamentals of a great experience: ease, effectiveness, and emotion

Looking ahead, Forrester sees 10 trends for 2017 that customer service professionals should take into account as they move the needle on the quality of service that they deliver: Here are six of them:

Customer service organizations address a smaller volume of simple voice-based customer contacts as they mature their self-service, automated engagement, and digital operations.

  • Trend No. 1: Companies extend and enhance self-service. Customers of all ages are moving away from using the phone to using self-service — web and mobile self-service, communities, virtual agents, automated chat dialogs, or chatbots — as a first point of contact with a company Dimension Data reports growth in every digital channel and a 12% decrease in phone volume. In 2017: Customer service will continue to invest in structured knowledge management and leverage communities to extend the reach of curated content. Service will become more ubiquitous, via speech interfaces, devices with embedded knowledge, and wearables for service technicians.
  • Trend No. 2: Companies sustain automated customer conversations. Customers need to ask questions in natural language. But they also want to sustain a conversation. Close to half of consumers use introductory versions of intelligent agents like Siri and Alexa to do this with varying success. In 2017: Companies will continue to explore the power of intelligent agents to add conversational interfaces to static self-service content. They will anticipate needs by context, preferences, and prior queries and will deliver proactive alerts, relevant offers, or content.

Customer service needs to get smarter by delivering the right service experience — either self-service or agent-assisted — to the right user at the right time within the cost constraints and customer experience goals of the company. We see the following trends in this area:

  • Trend No. 3: Robotic process automation guidance will standardize service delivery. RPA software robots perform routine business processes and make simple decisions by mimicking the way that agents interact with applications through a user interface. Companies can automate entire end-to-end processes such as account onboarding or insurance claims awards, with humans typically only managing exceptions. In 2017: Expect to see continued focus on RPA for automating repetitive rules-based tasks. Companies will explore the nascent world of cognitive RPA to drive real business value by improving nonroutine tasks requiring judgment.
  • Trend No. 4: Prescriptive advice powers offers, decisions, and connections. Decisioning — automatically deciding a customer’s or system’s next action — is pervasive in customer service organizations. Rules route interactions to the right resource or recommend answers to customer questions. In 2017: Organizations will continue to extend the power of analytics to prescribe the right set of steps for customers or agents to more effectively service customers. They will learn to better route a customer to an agent who can most effectively answer a question, which they base on past success. They will also push the right next steps using customers’ current behavior to help preempt future calls.

Today customers use self-service for straightforward interactions, leaving complex issues like account closure or claims disputes for a phone conversation. These questions often take longer to resolve and are opportunities to build positive long-lasting customer relationships.

  • Trend No. 5: Field service becomes the face of your company. These customer interactions are by far the most personal channel for customer engagement, and they can make or break a relationship. In 2017: Expect to see continued focus on using field service technologies outside of traditional industries. These technologies will increasingly leverage analytics to manage scheduling and dispatching, taking into account skills, tasks, work orders, assets, time sheets, and service policies. They will explore augmented reality (AR), which overlays digital information on the physical world and helps companies spread that knowledge more effectively.
  • Trend No. 6: IoT insights transform business models.  Companies use support automation to preemptively diagnose and fix issues from connected devices. Preemptive service wins on all fronts: faster resolution at lower cost, better planning, and anticipation of future customer needs. In 2017: IoT will continue to transform companies from being product-based to service-based.) To make the business model of IoT work, companies must keep a close eye on emerging IoT ecosystem components, networking protocols, security, data models, and analytics to connect with contact center solutions and act on the received triggers.

Read the full report here.