Top 4 Customer Service Tech Investments for 2021
The pandemic is accelerating technology investments across most business units and functions. Recent data shows that COVID-19 accelerated companies’ digital communications strategy by an average of six years. Customer service is no exception, with technology-enabled remote support centers and agents becoming the norm.
Remote teams aren’t the only factor driving tech investment in customer service. More than 74 percent of service leaders say they’ve seen an increase in support volume over the past year. More calls and tickets – combined with rising customer expectations – are pushing service leaders to invest in the right technologies sooner rather than later.
To help service leaders better understand the future of technology investments in support in 2021, CGS surveyed more than 200 business leaders about where they’re putting their money. We talked to decision makers across the spectrum, from finance executives to IT personnel, to find out which tech investments are the most critical in 2021 and beyond.
1. Work-from-home Technology
Despite the obvious economic challenges presented by COVID-19, our survey data indicates a promising outlook with regards to technology investment in customer support. More specifically, more than half of respondents indicated that in 2021 they’ll increase spending around virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). This is primarily to enable a more effective work-from-home (WFH) environment and agent workforce.
Virtual desktop infrastructure is simply the use of central software and servers to provide end users with a virtual desktop environment. With VDI, support agents can access their company workspace from home with all the data storage and processing taking place on central company servers. Our survey indicates that more than 66 percent of large enterprise companies will make substantial investments in VDI this year. VDI and any other technologies that empower WFH will be critical to maintain performance and efficiency.
2. Virtual Agent Training and e-Learning
With support agents more dispersed than ever, it’s no surprise that 45 percent of the decision makers we surveyed said they plan on investing in eLearning and virtual training technologies. This trend is particularly pronounced amongst small- and mid-sized companies – 54 percent of businesses between 1,000 and 10,000 employees indicating plans to invest in immersive eLearning.
While virtual training can and does consist of standard online training modules for remote contact center personnel, our survey indicates an uptick in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) training investment in 2021. For example, support agents can learn about the ins and outs of physical products using an immersive VR environment and then use that knowledge to serve customers better. Our data shows that a higher percentage of customer service (41percent) and information technology (40 percent) decision makers plan on investing in AR/VR this year than any other roles or departments. Previous CGS data also found that 91 percent of executives agree that AR is helping improve service operations during the pandemic.
But when it comes to overall eLearning investment, finance and customer service departments are leading the charge. Finance leaders likely see the bottom-line ROI in cost savings as opposed to in-person training. And service leaders recognize the impact on efficiency and quality of service that better-trained agents provide.
3. Chatbots and Virtual Assistants
Virtual assistants (VA) and intelligent chatbots aren’t new to customer service. However, the remote call center environment is increasing the need and demand for these technologies. The uptick in chatbots and VAs is likely tied to the huge increase in support volumes while customers are stuck at home during the pandemic. Chatbots can also lower costs and improve service outcomes by allowing humans to focus on more complex tasks or those that require empathy and higher-level thinking.
While 43 percent of our respondents say that they plan to increase spending on chatbots and VAs in 2021, data also suggests that VA-related technology must be employed strategically and in the right areas. An October 2020 survey conducted by the digital experience design studio MyPlanet found that customers preferred chatbots for basic customer service or scheduling tasks. However, the survey also indicated that the general public is much more apprehensive about using chatbots for service interactions involving private banking or healthcare data.
Given costs and efficiency outcomes, it’s no surprise that a larger percentage of enterprise companies say they plan on upping the ante in terms of chatbots in remote call centers. About 66 percent of companies between 10,000 and 50,000 employees say they’ll invest more in chatbots this year, likely to help scale and streamline support for large call volumes.
4. Advanced Data Analytics
Contact centers possess a treasure trove of customer data from various touchpoints, between sales and marketing all the way through to service interactions. Leaders in our survey recognize the potential business value of this data; 50 percent report they plan to invest in advanced analytics for the call center in 2021. Companies can make use of the data flowing into a contact center to make improvements, enhance efficiency and improve service outcomes.
Finance (75 percent) and information technology (56 percent) teams are leading the way in advanced analytics spending, according to our survey. Those results shouldn’t come as a shock, as these departments tend to be very data-driven and metrics focused. If analytics software can help improve things like an automated decision tree or agent routing, for instance, metrics like customer churn and average lifetime value could be improved significantly.
Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are critical for capturing, storing and organizing data for call centers. But about one-third of our respondents stated the need for a new, enterprise-wide CRM strategy for 2021. This includes help with development, implementation and maintenance/management of their CRM.
Chatbots, VDI for work from home, virtual training and advanced analytics appear to be wise investments for support and service leaders in 2021. While the pandemic has changed customer expectations and behaviors dramatically, wisely investing in and deploying the right technologies should lead to continued success for contact centers in 2021 and beyond.