The future of digital customer support: methods for creating interactive, on-demand experiences

Published January 13, 2022

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By the time someone turns to customer support, their relationship with your business is likely already strained. Navigating a web of menus, enduring terrible hold music and getting passed from agent to agent like a hot potato assures a further rise in a customer’s blood pressure.

Tomorrow’s customers will expect better treatment from the brands they frequent. They will anticipate interacting with businesses on the channel they choose and at the time of their choosing. That means businesses must embrace digital transformation and extend their customer support operations from call centers to the digital world.

Each new and existing channel must remain interconnected so that customers don’t find their concerns falling into the cracks. Interaction with your business should move smoothly and continuously from channel to channel. 

The digital transformation of your customer support operations can whittle down wait times, empower customers to ask for help in their channel of choice and ultimately improve your bottom line.

Interactive, on-demand customer support will become the norm

Customers crave exceptional customer support, with 90 percent of people in a Microsoft report calling it an important factor in the businesses they patronize. However, customers rarely feel they receive the service they expect, and 58 percent of respondents ditched a brand because of poor customer service.

That means excellent customer service, provided through the channels your customers want, is a surefire recipe for your business to differentiate itself from the competition.

Customers demand exceptional customer service with digital options

Our studies show that before the pandemic, 43 percent of customers used primarily in-person channels to contact brands for support. As of today, one-third have switched to digital channels as their main channel. 

What’s more, the aforementioned report indicates 45 percent of customers predict digital channels will be their main way of contacting brands in the future.

Incorporating new technology to meet this demand costs money, but the savings in personnel and the added value of customer retention make it a wise investment in the long run.

Digital customer support cuts costs and boosts revenue

Software can save businesses on staffing costs, no matter the industry.

For example, the average chatbot interaction costs $1 vs. $10 to $12 for a call center representative or $150 for a dispatch call. Banks see an average interaction cost of $1 for video banking compared to $4 when customers interact with a branch teller.

Businesses don’t just see improvements on the expenses side of the ledger. The payoffs for valued, great experiences are tangible: up to a 16 percent price premium on products and services.

Giving customers the assistance they need—and fast—also retains sales that might otherwise be lost. Online, 53 percent of people are likely to abandon their online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their question. It’s not just speed that matters, either. Quality counts in customer retention. One in three consumers says a single bad experience will prompt them to abandon a favorite brand.

Consulting firm Bain & Company cited Chick-fil-A’s customer retention program as an example when it reported a five percent increase in retention equals a 25 percent increase in profits. If the chicken chain’s revenues, which boasted record profits in 2020, are any indication, retention is good business.

Digital support also scales. A single call center representative can handle one call at a time during an eight-hour shift. Digital customer support solutions can serve multiple customers every minute of the day, year-round.

Customers will seek their own answers using digital help centers

Businesses should implement digital help centers to empower customers to find answers by themselves, without the need to reach out to agents for help.

Digital help centers as a first customer support touchpoint: Two-thirds of customers start with self-service options like digital help centers before turning to customer support.

At its most basic, a digital help center offers a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page. This resource uses customer service call data to offer answers to the pain points customers often encounter with a product or service. If the answers to these questions are complicated or need further explaining, businesses can link to solutions articles and how-tos for deeper dives.

Digital help centers improve product knowledge: A digital help center is also a good place to talk about the features that differentiate your products and services or even provide product reviews. This level of transparency builds customer trust and can help steer customers to the right product without requiring any interaction with a customer service rep.

A searchable database is key: The more robust your digital help center, the greater the need for smart query capability, providing customers with an easy way to search for the answers they need. This solution is a win for everyone because it is both low effort for customers and low effort and cost for your business.

Create a community: The ultimate way to help customers help themselves is to provide a community forum where they can connect with other customers. In a way, this solution is like a social media platform that’s under your company’s control. Customer service representatives can enjoy direct engagement with customers and potential leads.

While only 12 percent of customers think self-service tools like digital help centers are the most important aspect of customer service, 88 percent of customers expect you to offer it. That makes it an important place to start. 

Chatbots will harness machine learning to become more helpful

Chatbots powered by artificial intelligence (AI) technology that helps them simulate human behavior helps your business deliver answers to your customers fast and cost-effectively.

AI-powered chatbots work by feeding the bots questions from previous customer service interactions and the ideal responses in those situations.

The chatbots use machine learning to better predict a customer’s needs and then provide more robust answers. This process can take several weeks, but the time investment is worth it for businesses to answer some questions automatically.

Once they are operational, chatbots basically function as interactive digital help centers that get smarter with time. They can provide customers with images to match descriptions, video explainers or links to solutions articles.

Chatbots are still not ideal for answering questions to complicated problems, but businesses can use chatbots for questions about:

  • Creating or accessing an account
  • Store location and hours
  • Scheduling product demos
  • Determining the status of an order
  • Basic answers about product features or comparisons between products

As technology improves, the use cases for chatbots will continue to expand. In the meantime, it’s far more cost-effective to enable bots to answer questions like the above and leave the tough questions for human beings.

Live chat will step in when artificial intelligence doesn’t cut it

Ultimately, people still prefer dealing with real, live people when they have a problem they can’t solve on their own.

If a question can’t be found in the digital help center and is too nuanced to be handled by a chatbot, try turning to live chat.

Live chat is cost-effective and time-efficient: With live chat, customer service reps can handle several customers at once compared to a single customer on the phone. It also remains a low-effort activity for customers, who can access this tool right from your company’s website or smartphone app.

Customer satisfaction with live chat solutions improved to 85 percent even in the midst of the pandemic, according to Comm100’s annual live chat report. Some of those happier customers likely enjoyed that wait times dropped 30 percent to 35 seconds.

Ensure a smooth handoff from bot to human: Key to a great live chat system is a customer relationship management (CRM) software that keeps the info gathered by chatbots and other digital customer support methods. Answers elevated to this level can skip straight to the problem and not waste customer time.

Again, solving customer problems quickly is critical. Seventy-three percent of customers say that “valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good online customer service.”

Customers will expect text to provide service with a 😃

As with in-app or website chat features, companies can use SMS to text with customers using a blend of AI-enabled bots and live agents to deliver convenient, fast customer support.

Customer support firm reports 72 percent of people thought texting with a live agent would make for a better customer support experience.

Businesses are responding to this demand and seeing results. A Harvard Business Review survey showed 56 percent of organizations have seen text messaging improve customer engagement. Texting customers has also opened a new, direct marketing channel for 51 percent of businesses.

In addition to allowing customer service representatives to provide support to multiple people at once, businesses benefit from better insight into digital support performance with texting. A Harvard Business Review study revealed that 82 percent of organizations identified the metrics and analytics data, along with features like read receipts, as the best part about using messaging apps.

Businesses will present a friendly face with video chat

Video chat can help service reps tackle complex or emotionally charged customer challenges because it puts personalization and the human touch back into the equation.

While this synchronous and one-to-one customer support channel is more expensive and time-consuming, it can still offer companies an edge over traditional call centers. That’s because it personalizes the interaction – customers can see a helpful face on the other end of the call.

Video chat in action: Interactive teller machines (ITMs) are a great example of how to provide convenient, cross-channel support to customers using video.

With an ITM, customers can start with self-service at an ATM, but if they need it, video is available so they can reach a teller virtually. This market is expected to grow more than 74 percent in the next half-decade to reach $1.3 billion by 2026. is expected to grow 12 percent annually from $744 million in 2021 to more than $1.3 billion by 2026.

Beyond the financial industry, 45 percent of companies are using video chat for customer support, and another 38 percent plan to implement this technology within the year.

Co-browsing will reduce repeat service calls on technical questions

For technical, website-based problems, co-browsing can be the perfect answer for a customer to quickly troubleshoot an issue.

Co-browsing allows a customer service rep to work virtually side by side with a customer to work through a problem, whether they are in a live chat or on the phone. 

Unlike screen-sharing, the customer only shares their browser screen, which is better for privacy. It also doesn’t require customers to download or install any tools or programs.

The service agent can complete the actions for a customer or draw circles around the right button to click and allow the customer to carry out the action on their own.

This show-and-tell method can also give customers a firmer grasp of the solution, which can curb future calls on technical questions. It’s also a far less expensive option for businesses than having to physically send a rep somewhere for a service call.

Customers will increasingly turn to social media for a response

The conversation never ends on social media. Engaging with your customers on the platforms where they are most active is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a layer of support customers expect.

A Microsoft report shows 46 percent of customers expect brands to respond to a social media post or direct message within the hour. Meeting those expectations is important for your company’s reputation because 59 percent of people feel better about businesses that respond on social media.

Today, 50 percent of brands use social media for every aspect of customer support, while 45 percent use it to redirect customers to other channels for support. 

Best practices for great social media support: Regardless of the method businesses use to address concerns on social media, it’s important to eliminate silos between the marketing team handling social media and the customer service agents resolving issues. Marketers must make sure agents have all the information customers have provided so that the conversation doesn’t have to start fresh. 

Public response to a customer’s concern is often best because transparency and a fast response that closes the loop on a problem is good for your company’s brand. However, cases that are complicated, emotional or require personal information to solve should be moved to a private forum.

It’s also important to remember that while brand voice on social media can be more informal for many businesses, it’s critical to always exercise empathy with the customer.

Don’t forget about the power of email

While email is less dynamic than new technologies like co-browsing or AI-powered chatbots, it’s still a common route for customers looking for answers, and companies neglect this channel at their peril.

Success starts first and foremost with responding and responding quickly. Customers expect a response within an hour, but 62 percent of companies don’t respond at all to customer support emails.

Email remains an effective tool for delivering a quality customer experience by helping customers track orders, requesting feedback after a digital support interaction and thanking them for their support.

And just because email is old school doesn’t mean these kinds of messages can’t be delivered with some innovative flair. Email isn’t just HTML or text anymore. Businesses can engage customers with video, interactive menus and more.

Customer support teams will be empowered to provide interactive, on-demand experiences seamlessly across channels

Delivering multiple-channel service means multiple ways to support your customer. But it only works if they are all integrated. The worst experience for a customer passed from service rep to service rep (or digital channel to digital channel) is having to repeat information. A CMO Council report shows 87 percent of customers find it frustrating to repeat themselves in multiple channels.

This offers an opportunity for businesses to set themselves apart from the competition.

Businesses don’t have to travel this path alone. Instead, they can empower their customer service team with the right tools and expertise to provide next-level digital support.

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