Are your customer service technology, team, and process ready to manage entirely virtual customers?
Increasingly, companies need a plan for providing customer service to strictly virtual customers, suggests the latest research from Gartner. As IoT devices, AI, and other solutions make it easier to find and onboard customers with limited human touch points, customer service strategies need to adapt. It’s important to remember that servicing virtual customers is not yet fully automated, but the capabilities of existing digital technologies suggest that will change. As customer service processes adapt to enable full-on automation, virtual customers “shop” with no (or minimal) human intervention. Here are five key challenges companies need a plan for, and how they’ll impact your customer service strategies.
Technological Capabilities and Limits
According to Gartner, the thoroughness level of profiling a customer’s personal preferences and the extent to which external factors affect a customer’s actions are the two areas your technology needs to be optimized for. Without these, a virtual customer doesn’t become a viable long-term stand-in for a face-to-face customer. In other words, virtual customers do not make purchase decisions in the same way as their in-person counterparts. Moreover, machine-to-machine communication may be rife with compatibility problems, which will further hold back the acceptance of virtual customers.
Regulations Concerning Data Privacy
Existing operating environments for virtual customers are, understandably, bound by data privacy regulations. In some cases, companies need to be prepared to securely interact with virtual customers that carry personally identifiable information (PII). For many organizations, cybersecurity demands and internal policies need to be evaluated to ensure they’re ready to deliver secure transactions even when human oversight may be limited. Even when a virtual customer operates entirely on its own (for example, an AI-powered assistant reordering supplies as needed without bothering an office manager), it’s critical that mechanisms are in place to verify the transactions.
This is probably the most critical stumbling block for full-on adoption of virtual customers. Organizations still need to determine whether or not constitutional law protects the user data gathered by virtual personal assistants in their transactions with virtual customers. Another potential gray area is in the management and settlement of failed sales transactions; liability matters surrounding failed sales transactions are still murky and ill-defined.
Effects on Branding Strategies
The emergence of virtual customers is expected to intensify the already growing sway of digital gatekeepers. Gartner predicts this may lead to a dip in customer brand loyalty. It is predicted to potentially erode 20% of brand equity value from 75 of the world’s top 100 consumer brands.
Acceptance of Virtual Customers to Human Consumers
Research from Gartner shows that many people choose to forgo convenience in exchange for securing the privacy of their data. This particular distrust for digital technology may delay the growth and acceptance of virtual customers. Thus, business organizations need to look for ways to foster trust and promote confidence.
For customer service leaders, developing technologies and processes that support virtual customers will be key. However, as routine purchases and customer interactions become increasingly virtual, companies will need to develop a plan for serving these virtual customers.