Over the last 20 years, customer service has expanded beyond the telephone and the written letter. Customers now have many additional communication options if they experience issues with a product or service, including Internet chat apps, email and more. In the future, the customer experience will change even more, as products with built-in sensors continue to emerge. When companies gain access to real-time data, they have the ability to respond to trouble automatically.
Industry pundits believe that in 20 years, many customer service departments will revolve around data gathered from integrated sensors, which are placed inside products before they're shipped to customers. These sensors are connected to the Internet and, in turn, customer service departments. Customer service departments connect to the devices, read error codes, and either offer customers self-help instructions or send technicians.
As of 2015, quite a few Internet-ready sensor-equipped products already exist. Washing machines and dryers with inbuilt "smart" technology make life easier for customers by transmitting error codes directly to customer service departments. Customer service professionals have been able to connect directly to consumer's computers to figure out issues for several years. Smartwatches, which share health information with providers, are also making an impact on the industry.
In the future, experts believe that the number of items connected to the Internet of Things, or IoT, will rise enormously. Estimates vary, but some sources predict that as many as 212 billion items may be attached to the IoT by 2020. Jewelry pieces that carry personal information, clothing that simultaneously charges electronic devices and advanced health-centric wearables are among the more innovative items set to join the IoT.
Larger IoT devices will probably include furniture pieces, a greater variety of appliances, toys and business products. Over the next 20 years, the amount and type of data gathered by the sensors embedded in products will also expand.
Because of the increase in connected devices, preemptive customer service communications will likely rise in frequency. If your washing machine throws an error code while you're on vacation, you may receive an email from GE or Maytag with a proposed tech appointment before you even return home. Data gathered from your machine's sensor might also be used to figure out a time during which you are likely to be available for the tech appointment.
In 20 years, experts believe that human-to-human customer service experiences will be rarer. Instead, products will communicate with humans and machines in customer service departments. Perhaps thankfully, automated telephone systems will become obsolete.
In short, customer service is set to switch from a passive industry in which customers reach out to companies, to an industry in which companies act proactively, sometimes in advance of complaints. Using a variety of tools, many of which are already available in the IoT, businesses will improve their customer service regimens and the overall customer experience.