You, Machines, and the Future of Customer Service

Outdoor portrait of modern young man with mobile phone in the street.

This post originally appeared on the FCR blog on June 8, 2016. Click here to read the original.

As Bob Dylan once said, or sung, “The times they are a changin’”. This most certainly applies to customer service and the way companies deliver it.

While phone has been the predominant channel for supporting customers, other text-based channels are catching up— fast. Chat and email, the usual suspects, are not a surprise as they’ve been around for a while now. But text messaging and social media are continuing to emerge as channels handled by the contact center and may be delivered to an FCR program near you very soon.

While doing some research for a client webinar on text messaging as a support channel, we found some compelling reasons as to why these new channels are taking root with companies. Think for a moment about some of the ways smartphones have changed your life. They’ve quickly gone from something we didn’t know we needed to something we can’t live without.

In a recent Zendesk study, they show the preferred support channel broken down by generation. The most prefered support channel for the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers is far and away the telephone. While phone is still significant for Millennials and Gen Xers, email, social media and smartphone apps have clearly surpassed the telephone. A Forbes article noted that 75% of Americans already use their mobile device to send and receive text messages. According to OneReach, 64% of customers prefer text messaging over voice for customer service. While the phone probably won’t go away altogether, it is clearly moving into a supporting role thanks to continued technological advances.

A look into the future promises an even more dramatic impact on customer service as we know it. I’d like to highlight three terms that everyone in this space should be familiar with.


With the advent of multiple support channel options, the goal is not to have multiple different systems for contact center agents to log into in order to communicate with customers. We all know that a disjointed approach leads to mass confusion for both the customer and the colleague. In a Zendesk study from 2013, they noted that 37% of customers want to continue to speak with the same customer service representative regardless of the support channel they choose.

An omnichannel approach to customer service means that customers should be able to have a single conversation with a customer service representative all while being about to switch channels mid conversation without skipping a beat. For example, they may contact customer service with a text message and then quickly turn that into a phone call with that same agent. Or perhaps turn a web chat into a video chat with the click of a button.

As companies like InContact, Zendesk, Interactive Intelligence, Five9, and others work to offer all support channels under their umbrella, omnichannel will become less of a dream and more of a reality.


Are you ready for chatbots? Say what? You may very well have conversed with a chatbot and not known it. Combining chat support and self service, companies are now able to use artificial intelligence to answer customer questions. According to OneReach, 40% of customers prefer to solve their issue on their own without contacting customer service.

With chatbots, customers can initiate a chat or a text message with customer service and interact with a computer, backed by the intelligence of IBM Watson, that is sophisticated enough to mimic human conversation. If the computer can’t answer the question, the conversation can then be transferred to a human being who can take care of the issue. This eliminates the need for customers to wait on hold for routine, self-service matters and frees up agent time to work with customers on those cases that truly require human problem solving ability.

Deep Learning

Now if you really want to blow your mind on what’s possible with technology, look up the TED Talk by Jeremy Howard on Deep Learning. In his talk, Howard highlights the way computers have been programmed to be able to see, listen, and understand what is being said. In one case, a computer understood what a man was saying in English and translated it into Chinese—  all while using the English speaker’s voice. Think about the power of being able to speak with someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you and having a computer interpret.

This technology has tremendous implications for customer service. Thanks to deep learning, Amelia was born. She is an artificial intelligence platform that has the ability to digest tons of information (AKA training and documentation) and interact with customers, even speaking with them on the phone to answer their questions.

Yes indeed the times are a changin’. This new technology has tremendous potential to make customer service more efficient and reduce the amount of effort customers have to put forth to get their issues solved. As we look into the future, this will most certainly change the way companies handle those routine customer service inquiries but it won’t replace the need for well-trained customer service representatives who are passionate about connecting with people and solving complex problems.


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