As the traditional call center has evolved into a contact center, companies have begun to view the function less as a cost center and more as an opportunity to provide strategic, experience-oriented customer care. The initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to adopt physical distancing, test their business continuity plans, and rapidly deploy work-from-home models, all while customers rushed to digital channels. This urgent response has now given way to a pervasive uncertainty about what lies ahead. One certainty, however, is that personalization will continue to be central to the customer experience.
Even before the pandemic, personalization had become an integral part of exceptional customer experience—not just in e-commerce channels but in all customer interactions. This transition was fueled by rising customer expectations and increased pricing and product parity, which have increased the importance of shaping the customer experience and perception at every touchpoint. The crisis made personalization—and the empathy and connection that go with it—even more critical.
Personalization takes a variety of forms. In the physical world, it is about taking care of individual customers. On digital channels, companies must meet a new standard: the “care of one,” an ethos that focuses all decision making on serving individual customers and their personalized needs. For example, e-commerce players have reset the bar by providing personalized offers. Advertising has also moved in this direction. At the same time, technological innovation has enabled the radical reinvention of the operating model as the cost of creating personalized experiences continues to go down. This combination creates an opportunity for companies to double down on hyperpersonalization and the care-of-one approach.
Companies should make hyperpersonalization in customer care a top goal for 2025. This time frame reinforces the urgency while providing enough time for companies to achieve the goal—if they take action now. Of course, enterprises are at different starting points: incumbents are often slow to shift gears, while start-ups have the benefit of skipping the learning curve and accelerating their capabilities. Companies across industries have already blazed this trail. It’s now up to executives to follow their lead.
What does it take to deliver personalized care?
Managers and workers who have been on the front lines of providing excellent customer care may assume that pursuing hyperpersonalization is simply a matter of continuing to do what they are already doing, only better. In fact, companies will need to elevate their game with new strategies, technologies, and processes that tailor the care experience to each customer’s needs and journey. Hyperpersonalization consists of four elements:
- Knowing your customers—truly knowing your customers. Companies that can aggregate all customer information—including user attributes, behaviors, and past interactions across all channels—will be able to engage much more effectively.
- Reacting to customers before they even know they need you. Data and analytics can enable contact center agents to predictively identify opportunities to delight, preemptively solve issues based on personalized needs (for example, a help desk pushing computer updates remotely based on call-volume trends without the end user ever knowing), and determine the right times to reach out when a live interaction is preferred. These insights can help create a better-trained, more empathetic workforce to support proactive outreach.
- Integrating technologies and contacts across all channels. A seamless customer experience throughout the journey (for example, starting the interaction in one channel and picking it up in the next) requires better alignment and collaboration of customer care, product development, marketing, and operations.
- Implementing real-time agent tools. Companies that incorporate added functionality (for example, “in-moment” coaching) and eliminate cumbersome platforms can reduce barriers to addressing customer needs and resolving problems. Agents can then be freed up to show true empathy and make real-time decisions in their interactions with customers. This role will require a different hiring process to ensure that organizations have talent capable of stepping up.
Ultimately, the evolution of the contact center to an experience center requires investments in new technology, processes, and mindsets.
What could this look like in 2025?
As customer care continues to evolve, personalization will be a core tenet of companies’ broader care strategy. Its impact will be felt in enhanced digital channels (as the volume of customers using self-service channels continues to rise) as well as in live channels. In some industries, companies will focus live customer engagement on the most emotional, complex, and loyalty-driven interactions.
Customer care in 2025 will focus on four key attributes:
White-glove customer service for all
Organizations will shift from reactive service centers to centers that take proactive control of the customer relationship. A customer’s real and potential individual needs will be identified and solved before the customer thinks to reach out. The predictive nature of engagement will allow companies to complete purchase assistance, deliveries, status updates, appointments, and other tasks with precision, personalization, and minimal effort.
Data from all customer interactions will be fed back into analytics to inform operations, help the company understand behavior patterns, and guide the organization on what matters to each customer. Creating this distinctive experience will rely on data-driven recommendations for the best method, channel, and time to interact with individual customers. Setting up this feedback process will be a critical element for personalization. For example, contact centers will automatically determine the optimal time to reach out with an offer based on recent customer actions as well as when live outreach is required to prevent attrition or build personal relationships. Customer feedback, behaviors, and trend data will flow directly from the contact center to the rest of the enterprise to improve products, marketing, or upstream interactions (such as the in-store experience and marketing outreach and promotions).
One company, one voice (omnichannel communication)
In the next five years, companies will achieve total consistency and transparency across channels, prioritizing a seamless experience for the journeys that matter most to the customer. A dynamic platform will collate, record, and visualize all customer interactions (both proactive and reactive) and activity across channels (such as digital, voice, and in person) in a single data repository used to predict customer needs and streamline every contact. This detailed view of the customer relationship and journey, supported by tailored customer relationship management (CRM) tools and databases, will allow agents and organizations to instantly see, react to, and choose personalized actions based on a customer’s profile—including lifetime value, preferences, sentiment, and patterns—as well as context based on holistic interaction history and the customer’s most recent journey. Agents and customers will have the freedom to seamlessly communicate across multiple channels without losing context. The result will be more personal experiences and consistent service.
The workstation of the future (digital enablement)
Human agents aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future, but technology will enable companies to be more targeted and effective in how they deploy the workforce to pursue personalization. The ‘care of one’ will be supported by advanced analytics, AI, real-time natural language processing, and other tools that detect customer sentiment and emotion. Cutting-edge agent-productivity tools will fully support the end-to-end interaction with automation for both the agent and the customer. With this in-call guidance, agents will be able to focus 100 percent of their time on listening to and interacting with customers and tailoring responses. And with the greater visibility afforded by these tools, agents will draw on the expertise of their coworkers to resolve customer requests on first contact. After calls, robotic automation of backoffice functions will further free up agents to focus on high-value tasks. The challenge for companies will be twofold: selecting the right suite of technologies to create super agents, and calibrating the optimal balance in machine–human collaboration.
Contact centers: The future talent factory
Strategy and operations will increasingly be guided by the voice of the customer, putting a premium on employees with a customer-first mindset. The contact center will evolve into a highly valued feeder of long-term talent into the company, so customer care must change the way it attracts, retains, and develops talent. People analytics will be used at each stage of hiring to ensure that incoming talent has the right attributes for success. Customer service representatives will be supported with digitally enabled in-moment tools and coaching (allowing for successful performance with greater spans of control with supervisors); well-defined career paths; tailored, ongoing training; and upskilling for roles in the contact center and beyond. Other areas of the organization will increasingly look to contact center graduates to fill hiring needs, which will help to embed a deeper understanding of the customer throughout the organization.
By 2025, a good portion of customer service representatives will be graduates of online high schools and universities, so companies must change their approach to training and development. On-demand training will be provided through dynamic delivery models and tailored to learning styles and needs. By offering long-term careers for agents, companies will also shorten the recruiting process and create significant cost efficiencies.
To achieve hyperpersonalization and the advantages it confers, customer care organizations have much ground to cover in the next five years. When the only certainty is change and the only speed is faster, companies that stand still will soon be left behind.