2018 is here and we see several collaboration and visual engagement trends that will transform the landscape of the customer experience.

Forrester defines customer experience (CX) as “how customers perceive their interactions with your company” from the standpoints of being useful (delivering value), usable (making it easy to find and engage with the value), and enjoyable (emotionally engaging).

In 2018, customer services organizations will increase their efforts to make doing business with customers easier, more productive and more enjoyable across all their preferred modes of communication, which will include both AI and human interactions. Companies that are best able to humanize customer relationships during critical touchpoints will rise above the competition.

2018—The Coming Evolution of the Customer Experience

Blending AI With “HI” (Human Interaction)

In 2018, automated self-service will expand as a solution for simple online transactions. But AI-enabled voice assistants are not a replacement for human agents. Steve Stover writes in VentureBeat, “An overwhelming 88% of consumers surveyed said they expect a natural transition between automated self-service technologies and a human agent when purchasing a product, placing an order, or contacting customer service.”

As the Harvard Business Review (HBR) concluded in a survey of 1,400 service reps, programmable AI won’t cut it when the complexity of an issue or the subtlety of its solution demands assistance by a highly trained agent with sophisticated skills and expertise (to help, for instance, unravel healthcare billing from multiple providers).

The Customer Experience is Another Term for “Relationship”

For CX initiatives it’s paramount to remember that people—both consumers and the organization’s employees—are the relationship. Consumers want to do more on their own for the sake of convenience but will still demand that there is a human helper available if needed at the other end. The future success of CX depends on creating a more seamless journey, where interactions with humans are a critical ingredient in meeting high customer expectations. In 2018, expect to see companies emphasize customer-centric cultures in which human agents work with customers to identify potential issues, solicit feedback, and proactively solve problems by essentially “leading customers by the hand” using visual engagement, social media, and live chat.

AI Will Uplift Human Agents, Not Replace Them

AI systems can address customers’ basic questions and requests, like a change of address or checking on a bank balance, but cannot replace people for handling higher-level questions. In 2018, customer service teams will be able to shift more of their human resources away from handling rudimentary questions and tasks to helping customers with more complex issues. When executed effectively, a company’s ability to pivot elegantly from AI to higher value human interaction can become a “customer satisfaction” engine that generates brand differentiation and long-term loyalty. When a service team shows that it knows its customers well enough to make relevant suggestions, handle issues adroitly, and get users where they want to go with a minimum of frustration, customers repay that excellence with respect and loyalty.

2018 is shaping up to be a banner year in the ongoing march toward a more perfect customer experience.