I’m in the process of refinancing my home at a lower interest rate. As part of the loan submission package, I’m required to submit a plethora of documents proving my credit worthiness. One of the requirements included providing two month’s worth of copies of checking and savings bank statements.

Simple.

Since I’ve opted for paperless statements years ago, I promptly logged onto my bank’s website, only to find that the site was down. In fact, the site had been down for two days. After some research, I found that many U.S. banks were under threat from terrorist cyber attacks, causing many banking sites to freeze to a standstill or shut down altogether. I realized that I would need to physically drive to the bank, walk into the building, speak with a live human being, and request a copy of the statements in person. I couldn’t think of the last time that I actually needed to walk into a bank to make this type of simple request. This event made me ruminate on the nature of today’s always-on, connected, social, and mobile customer service environment. Over the past two decades, technology has permeated every aspect of customer service – for the better – which has dramatically affected human behavior.

I like to call this the “New Normal.”  Consider the following:

  • When was the last time you actually walked into a bank for a routine transaction?
  • When was the last time you actually called your airline to request or make a seat assignment/change for an upcoming flight?
  • When was the last time you wrote a check, licked a stamp, and walked to the mailbox to pay your utility bills?
  • When was the last time that you didn’t know – at any given point in time – where a shipment was physically located en route to your delivery destination?
  • When was the last time you walked into a new restaurant without knowing if prior patrons had a pleasant experience?

You could probably think of several other examples to add to my list above. Twenty – and maybe ten – years ago, you would have provided a much different answer. Today, consumers want to conduct business and interactions on their terms – when, how, and where. In the years ahead, I believe we’re on the path to another “new normal” state of extreme customer service reality. This past week, IBM released the results of a study that consumers of the future will be more mobile, social and self-sufficient, willing to share details on themselves and their preferences in exchange for highly personalized relationships with their favorite brands. For any company, this “new normal” will bring new changes to customer service and contact center organizations:

  • Self-service becomes smart service:  Self-service has become much more than a standard FAQ library within a corporate website.  In the future, customer-centric companies must integrate a variety of data sources business rules, and customer information to better anticipate needs within self-service environments.  Airlines, banks, and pay-TV providers will immediately know why you’re calling them the moment you’re connected and provide a relevant list of personalized options rather than having to traverse down an endless IVR menu or explain your problem to a human.
  • Mobility Accelerates Customer Service Expectations: Today, you can conduct routine transactions from your mobile device in the car while waiting at the red light.  As a result, mobility has created a new reality that has dramatically shortened customer service lifecycles and interactions.  This hyper-state has shortened consumer’s attention spans and patience thresholds.  As a result, mobile apps must seamlessly link to the contact center whenever live assistance is required – maintaining history, context and session information.  In addition, agents and self-service systems must leverage all data and immediately have a 360 degree view of the customer.
  • Social Creates new levels of Engagement: Social media spheres will open new doors for brands to engage consumers.   Agents can become better aligned with customers based upon business and personal preferences.  Brands can better target consumers through targeted social media ads based upon transaction history and social graph.  Finally, purchasing decisions ultimately will become a group decision – rather than an individual undertaking.

As we begin a new year, companies should start looking ahead and design a customer experience around tomorrow’s digital natives.  Companies should break down conversation silos across multiple voice, web, social and mobile channels to create one seamless “cross-channel conversation.”  Social media and mobility should move from the confines of marketing and integrate within the contact center.  Finally, core customer service processes that cut across front and back offices, web and social sites, and smart phone apps should align into a seamless customer service chain.

In the not too distant future, we will soon be living in another world that will become the “new-new normal.”