Major transformations in customer experience and the contact center are well underway and accelerating this year such that businesses risk increases for companies being left behind by more agile competitors. The results are in from the latest survey of global customer experience leaders in the 2020 NICE inContact CX Transformation Benchmark, Business Wave. This year’s survey turned up key trends in digital transformation in customer service channels, self-service channels, artificial intelligence and social media.
In June, we reported on the shifts by contact centers as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic with digital interaction volume surging and companies reporting that they are accelerating their move to the cloud. Over the last 3 years, adoption of digital channels has been progressing steadily, and we’re now seeing significant growth in businesses offering them according to this year’s benchmark.
Here’s the new baseline for digital channels overall: 100% of contact centers offer at least one digital channel. Most of those channels—9 of 11 digital channels—are offered by at least 43%. While we don’t expect that any one business would provide service in all of them, the pervasiveness and variety of digital channels offered is impressive.
We expect this to continue and to become requisite for companies to attract and retain customers especially as buying power increases among digital-only consumers. Of the 11 digital channels in the survey, video chat and home electronic assistant are the only two left out—with only a quarter of contact centers offering either of them. And both of those have been increasing steadily over the last two years.
Four Major Trends in Channels
To make it easier to evaluate and identify trends across all these different channels, we also looked at groups of channels by type including digital channels, AI-powered channels, social media (private and public), as well as self-service vs. agent-assisted channel groupings. This helped us pinpoint the most important findings and several major trends when sifting through all the data from the global study of over 1,000 respondents in United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia. Companies report higher preference for digital channels compared to phone interactions with a customer service agent: down 11 points in this year’s study.
TREND #1: All about chat—and chatbots!
Online chat is now offered by three quarters of contact centers with 73% of businesses are offering online chat vs 67% in 2019 and is the 4th most common channel. In addition, online chat is now achieving better satisfaction than phone, email or website according to company estimates.
For self-service, chatbots are also gaining ground. Almost half of companies report offering them (46%) and more companies indicate it is one of their top preferred channels (17% in 2020 vs 14% in 2019). While that’s still a small percentage overall, it’s a significant increase in those indicating their preference to use them.
These promising creatures have been hyped and overhyped in the last several years, and they are undoubtedly getting smarter and have a key role to play in handling the growing number of interactions that companies are managing. Containment is very promising, estimated at 80% of chatbot interactions. Now in the 2020 study, the buzz and real-world pilots have started to yield results with businesses estimating year-over-year improvements in two important metrics for chatbots including satisfaction and Net Promoter Score® (NPS®).
We expect chatbots to become even more widely used and more effective in the coming years as the technology continues to improve and since companies are actively investing in them. Our survey found that majority of companies (61%) believe that customers expect them to offer chatbots.
Gartner has several studies and free online resources about chatbots including this webinar and estimate: "By 2022, Gartner predicts that 70% of all customer interactions will involve technologies such as machine learning applications, chatbots and mobile messaging, up from 15% in 2018." In this blog article about the Gartner Hype Cycle for Customer Service and Support Technology, 2020, there are further insights for the variety of chatbots to be employed. “Chatbots represent the No. 1 use of artificial intelligence (AI) in enterprises. Primary use cases are in customer service, human resources, IT help desk, self-service, scheduling, enterprise software front ends, employee productivity and advisory.” In another report, Digital Business Acceleration, Gartner analysts recommend that digital initiatives in the “fast lane” are a priority, including digital customer interactions. The authors also call out that future-ready capabilities are critical “in this increasingly volatile world,” citing one example of how “…a chatbot can hold its own while a call center is temporarily down.”
TREND #2: AI-powered customer service channels
The majority of businesses—6 in 10—are now offering at least one AI-powered channel for customer-facing service (this is a significant increase in one year—up 16 points since 2019). Artificial intelligence (AI) channels include chatbots, conversational AI IVR and home electronic assistants (for example, Amazon Alexa, Echo or Google Home).
Companies estimate that customer satisfaction in these channels overall is about the same as all self-service channels with 44% of companies estimating that they are achieving high levels of satisfaction ratings at 9/10 among customers.
We also looked at the transfer rate from any AI-powered customer service interaction to a customer service agent. Respondents estimate that about one in five customers get transferred from conversational IVR (19%) and chatbots (20%). Conversely, the containment (meaning that the interaction did not result in a transfer or escalation) was nearly 80%. Companies who offer those channels can benefit from these channels as they are handled at lower cost, keeping agents available for more complex customer interactions.
Companies recognize the benefits of AI for customer service with 40% planning to invest in customer-facing AI for self-service in the coming year. Overall there are many benefits of AI in the contact center. This chart looks at several different ways that businesses can apply artificial intelligence (AI) or automation technologies to improve the customer service experience. Improving operations is the top investment opportunity.
With AI becoming one of the transformative technologies or our time, business leaders increasingly are looking to build a “cognitive contact center.” We collaborated with Forrester Research for this whitepaper “AI-Infused Contact Centers” that explores new and existing contact center applications—all powered by AI—from chatbots, to quality management, to workforce management. The research outlined in the whitepaper identifies the challenges for AI as well as the expected benefits, including operational hurdles with people, process and technology. With the proliferation of so many interaction channels (13 in the 2020 CX Benchmark), “Agents not only need training on these new channels, but on any AI solutions that are deployed to augment their capabilities.”
TREND #3: Two Mobile Channels Growing Faster than All Other Digital Channels
The two fastest growing channels (among all 13 individual channels) are mobile text and mobile apps. 49% of companies are now offering text messaging (up from 38% one year ago). Mobile apps for self-service are up significantly as well with 56% of companies saying that their customers can use the company’s mobile app (up from 48% in 2019).
Satisfaction for both channels is also up impressively. Text messaging improved to 40% of companies reporting satisfaction levels of 9 or 10. Mobile apps are also up significantly with 48% of companies reporting satisfaction at 9 or 10. Of all 13 channels, mobile apps have the highest estimated NPS scores at 44.
38% of companies are investing in improving the mobile app experience
TREND #4: Bring on More Self-Service
Another major shift was a preference for self-service channels compared to agent-assisted channel: increasing by 15 percentage point from 28% in 2019 to 43% in 2020. We see this as aspirational and an indicator of the pressure companies face as interaction volumes increase coupled with the need to control operational costs. According to the survey, of contact centers reported an increase in digital interaction volumes during the global pandemic. While companies would like to shift more towards self-service, the actual percentage of self-service vs agent-assisted interactions holds steady with no change in the overall percent of interactions that were handled by contact centers. Today, 61% of interactions are agent-assisted vs 39 percent are through self-service channels. Investments in self-service channels will help. Gartner suggests, “Combining online chat with other self-service options such as searchable FAQs can reduce volumes an estimated 20-40%, therefore helping to lower handle times and cost per contact across all channels.” In this year’s NICE inContact CX Benchmark, 58% of companies indicated that they plan to improve customer experience by investing in improving the website experience.
Empower Contact Center Agents to be Digital Experience Pros
Let customers choose how they communicate with you, and then give them an awesome experience without missing a beat. To do that, you want to empower you contact center agents to create extraordinary customer interactions across any channel. CXone Omnichannel Routing provides your agents with full customer context sentiment, and, conversation history with an integrated Customer Card—powered by optional pre-built CRM integrations—all in one consolidated agent desktop. By connecting information in your automatic contact distributor with customer data, agents can be ready to handle large contact volumes quickly and efficiently, while personalizing each interaction to increase customer satisfaction.
81% of organizations say their agents can handle 1-4 digital interactions concurrently.
The best call center software will give your agents streamlined and efficient tools to handle all types of digital channels as well as advanced analytics to fast track your quality management program. Lauren Comer recently posted an excellent blog article about the connection between digital channels, agent preparation to handle those channels, and the quality management imperatives for digital customer service.
Another finding from the study commissioned with Forrester Research and whitepaper was the ultimate benefits of AI: “While AI will handle simpler, repetitive interactions, agents are still needed to manage the more complex, higher-value interactions that require advanced skills and additional time to resolve. But all is well as agents prefer to spend their time on more impactful interactions than provide repetitive service for easy issues. So ironically enough, chatbots do allow human agents to feel less like automatons.”
What’s in the Research for You
On a global level, trends among contact centers are interesting reading, but what’s really in here for you and your business? For your challenges and plans? Definitely not every page and every chart, but here’s a reference guide to the report, so you can skip to the places that are most relevant today to your business today.
- Fastest growing digital channels – are you there – page 9
- What investments are you making – page 19
- How are you doing across the channels you offer – key metrics including satisfaction, first contact resolution and NPS – page 8
- Looking at self-service to reduce costs – yes many of you are – but what is first contract resolution in self-service by channel – page 8
- Interested in artificial intelligence to improve CX – pages 16, 17, 20
- Looking for industry data on social media – pages 10, 18
- Primarily operating in US or Canada – detailed charts for US page 22 and Canada page 28
- Operating or expanding to UK or Australia – detailed charts for UK page 24 and Australia page 26
About the NICE inContact CX Benchmark
The NICE inContact Customer Experience (CX) Transformation Benchmark is fielded in the US, Canada, UK, Australia with two surveys, one among consumers and one among contact center decision makers. The 2020 business wave of 1,000 global contact center decision makers was fielded in April 2020. Trends reported are based on 2019 business wave that was fielded November to December 2018.
We are now measuring 13 different channels, after adding two channels to the 2020 survey including conversational AI and private social messaging apps. (Previously social media included both public/private combined into one.)
Agent-assisted channels (7) including phone, email, online chat, text, social media, social messaging, video chat
Self-service channels (6) including website, IVR, mobile app, automated assistant/chatbot, conversational AI/IVR, home electronic assistant
**New grouping in 2020 report** Digital channels (11) including both agent-assisted digital—email, online chat, text, social media, social messaging, video chat—and self-service digital—website, mobile app, automated assistant/chatbot, home electronic assistant
**New grouping in 2020 report** Traditional channels (2) including phone and IVR
**New grouping in 2020 report** Artificial intelligence channels (3) including automated assistant/chatbot, conversational AI IVR, and home electronic assistant