Industry Experts Share Lessons Learned From 2023 and Predictions For 2024
2023 was a year of transformation. Organisations and consumers alike grappled with the consequences of high inflation and the cost-of-living crisis. Pairing these challenges with the climate and energy crises as well as the wars being waged around the globe, we found ourselves living in a polycrisis world.
At the same time, 2023 saw the sudden rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Almost overnight, ChatGPT and Generative AI had taken over, creeping not only into large companies and start-ups but also into the daily lives of individuals.
Now, after closing the 2023 chapter, we reached out to several CX experts to find out what they learned during the last year and what they predict for 2024. More specifically, we spoke to:
- Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service (ICS)
- Leigh Hopwood, CEO of the Call Centre Management Association (CCMA)
- Amanda Whiteside, Head of GTM Revenue Enablement at Freshworks
- Manuela Pifani, Founder and Managing Director of CXellence Consulting
- Ian Golding, CEO and Founder of Customer Experience Consultancy Ltd.
- Rod Jones, Founder of Rod Jones Contact Centre Consulting
LOOKING BACK AT 2023
TECH AS A SOLUTION
Not surprisingly, all of the interviewees pointed to the shiny new tech when asked what set 2023 apart. Moreover, some argued that it was viewed as a solution to the aforementioned challenges as organisations sought to cut costs and increase efficiency. At the same time, they hoped that the introduction of these new tools would help enhance their customer service.
In an interview, Jo Causon revealed the findings of the ICS’s research, sharing that customer satisfaction took a sharp decline in 2023, dropping to the lowest since 2013.
“2023 saw customer service arriving at something of a crossroads. In an attempt to address both cost reduction and falling customer service, UK businesses turned to technology – and often overestimated their ability to integrate customer experience, data, processes, systems, and application. The takeaway here is that service is still, above all, about personal connections – and about having human oversight even as the use of technology rises. Tech and AI have the potential to enrich our lives and service experiences, but we must never lose sight of knowing when human intervention really matters to create a genuinely personal experience,” Jo shared.
Ian Golding commented on the adoption of technology in 2023, claiming that organisations felt “conflicted in their approach to adopting ‘emerging’ technology”; that is, they questioned whether it could help cut costs or even improve both employee experience (through enhanced productivity) and customer experience (through greater accessibility, simplicity and affordability).
Echoing Jo’s words regarding the state of customer satisfaction, Leigh Hopwood explained that customer expectations are evolving much faster than providers’ ability to keep up. According to her, “there is no point expecting satisfaction levels to revert back to the levels of years gone by, as the environment has changed out of all recognition.”
Taking this further, Leigh also discussed technology’s potential to improve the employee experience, sharing: “While the importance of customer experience is not a new concept, in 2023 there was finally a groundswell in recognition of the need to improve the lives of people working on the contact centre front lines, and of how better processes and technology can help.”
CONFUSION AND APPREHENSION
It is important to note that AI was not associated solely with potential and excitement in 2023. Amanda Whiteside explained how AI evoked feelings of fear and confusion in consumers, stating:
“One of the most profound lessons from 2023 in the B2B SaaS sector was the realisation that the rampant use of "AI" as a buzzword created substantial confusion, misunderstanding, and fear among customers. While artificial intelligence holds incredible potential, its application became so pervasive that customers often struggled to differentiate between genuine AI-driven solutions and mere marketing rhetoric.”
Consumers were not the only ones who struggled to understand AI, with many employees fearing that they could be replaced by the new technology.
“Overall, the deluge of AI-related marketing without clear communication led to confusion and apprehension among B2B SaaS customers. The industry learned the importance of demystifying AI, providing transparent information, and addressing customer concerns to build trust and facilitate informed decision-making,” Amanda explained.
PREDICTIONS FOR 2024
WHAT WON’T CHANGE?
Many of the challenges we faced in 2023 are likely to continue affecting us in 2024, our interviewees predicted.
“The focus on technology will only continue to accelerate. I only hope that this acceleration will coincide with a more intentional alignment to the customer journey. In an increasingly financially and conflict challenged world, I also believe the focus on ‘cost control’ will further intensify,” Ian told us.
According to Jo, customer service is set to remain under pressure during this year as well: “Not only is the consumer of 2024 increasingly cash-strapped, discerning, and searching for value, but the business landscape is also under pressure as the impacts of higher inflation and cost to service debt is still very present.”
The one thing we all know won’t change is the popularity of AI. Development and adoption of AI tools and automation will undoubtedly continue to grow in the new year. However, the way these new technologies are employed is expected to change, as organisations have a year of lessons to build on.
USING AI TO STREAMLINE PROCESSES
When discussing how we can best utilise AI in 2024, the words “streamlining” and “aligning” kept coming up in conversation. In 2023, organisations experimented with AI with little to no regulation, causing concern and confusion. This year, it is hoped that this technology will be utilised more effectively and efficiently.
“In 2024, the CX landscape will be defined by this delicate balancing act – embracing the efficiencies of AI and automation while maintaining and improving customer interaction quality. It’s a year where technology and strategy must align more closely than ever to meet evolving customer expectations,” Rod shared.
Jo echoed Rod’s view, stressing that organisations must be cautious when adopting AI to ensure that they do not forego the human touch:
“While I strongly believe that implementing new technology cannot cause a loss of human connection, AI has massive potential to improve efficiency, streamline processes, and utilise data. Customer feedback and our own research has shown that companies are not always getting this right, particularly with simple things like chatbots and directing queries in the right direction. So, while the AI revolution will continue in 2024, it mustn’t be at the expense of human service and assistance where needed.”
INCREASED RELIANCE ON OUTSOURCING
Considering that customer expectations are growing at a rapid pace, it is also anticipated that there will be an increased reliance on outsourcing and live manned channels in 2024.
“While recent years have seen attempts to deflect demand away from synchronous channels, investment in live manned channels will increase in 2024 to meet customer needs. Salaries in the contact centre will continue to rise alongside appreciation of the skills and qualities needed. Outsourcing will continue to grow in popularity, as brands grappling with increased complexity opt to engage specialists,” Leigh predicted.
Similarly, Rod presented outsourcing and BPOs as solutions to the challenges and pressure businesses have faced in 2023:
“The pressure on organisations to improve Service Level and First Contact Resolution (FCR) will intensify. However, this must be balanced with the ever-present mandate to reduce costs while enhancing service quality. The solution? A strategic pivot towards automation, bots, and an increased reliance on outsourcing and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO).”
FOCUSING ON LISTENING
While some organisations believe they will gain a competitive edge by adopting the latest technologies, the thing that will make businesses stand out from the competition in 2024 and beyond will be their customer service and the experiences they can offer. It follows then that organisations must have a clearer understanding of their customers and their expectations.
According to Manuela Pifani, there will be an increased focus on adopting unstructured feedback analysis systems this year. Expanding on this, she explained that although organisations have already implemented effective Voice of the Customer (VoC) platforms to capture customer feedback, these tools do not provide a full and deep view of customers’ experience and loyalty.
“Firstly, increasingly fewer people respond to the surveys, making the VoC programme not fully representative of your whole customer base. Also, when answered, comments tend to be generic and not fully actionable, therefore not capturing the true 'why' underneath the scores. This is why in 2024 we are likely to see an increasing focus on building capabilities which provide unstructured feedback analysis, which can generate comprehensive and deep customer insights from rich, unstructured natural language sources like contact centre transcripts. These insights are a full reflection of all customers' interactions and can reveal issues which VoC systems would miss, in an actionable way, supporting customer remediation, process improvement, insight-led decision making and predictive modelling of customer behaviours,” Manuela told us.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
Although we can never be certain what the future will hold, we can keep our finger on the pulse of our industry to ensure we move with the times. With the focus on technology expected to continue growing in 2024, it is crucial that we keep in mind the importance of human connection and transparency.
To prepare you for the future, we at Engage Customer will continue sharing how world-class brands are navigating the current landscape. Learn from industry leaders and network with likeminded individuals at one of our (free-to-attend!) events at The Brewery in London this year.
- Future of Customer Contact Conference: 8th February
- Customer Engagement Transformation Conference: 12th June
- Customer Engagement Summit: 26th November
We hope to see you there!