Customer Service 2025: „Hello, Colleague Robot, Can You Take Over?"

The customer service in the telecommunications industry meets a clientele that already lives mostly digitally. The challenge for the future is therefore to intelligently combine digital and human skills for a solution-oriented and empathetic customer service interaction. What does this mean for customer centricity? Gereon Hammel from Deutsche Telekom Service GmbH and Detecon's associate partner Andreas Penkert venture a visionary outlook.

Customers already live digitally - with consequences for customer service

The telecommunications industry, with its service-intensive business and high contact volume, is driven in this context by the question, among others: How can digital and human capabilities be intelligently combined in the future for empathetic, individualized, high-quality and efficient customer service interactions?

Customers have long lived digitally - across all age groups and segments - and the Corona pandemic is providing an accelerating special effect here. Figures bear this out: for example, 86% of respondents to a cross-industry study (HDE Onlinereport 2019) store online because it seems more convenient. A majority of respondents are also willing to communicate with a chatbot. Deutsche Telekom expects fully automated chat dialogs to increase from 8% to 29% share of contact volume from 2020 to 2024 alone. In the medical sector, the willingness in the German population to seek medical advice via chat or video conferencing has increased by more than 60% in the last few months alone since Corona broke out (Detecon Research).

Customer service from the perspective of customers, technology and service agents

The telecommunications industry is rightly asking itself the question: Where is the journey going? Let's take a visionary journey into the future of customer service in 2025 from three relevant perspectives: 1. customers, 2. technology, and 3. service agents.

1. Customers want a solution immediately - as digital and individual as possible!

Customers expect to be able to use the fastest and most convenient contact channel for them around the clock and seamlessly. An immediately available as well as proactive, individual solution to problems is a prerequisite. Customers prefer to solve problems digitally themselves; in special cases, it is still people who make the difference. Innovation and integrity are more appreciated, brand loyalty loses its significance.

What expectations do customers have of the customer service provided by their telecommunications provider?

Omnichannel: Customers prefer the channel that is most convenient for them in the respective context and change it flexibly as needed. Even today, 72% of customers first obtain information online before calling a live agent and 69% have a company website or app open in parallel. According to McKinsey, 50% of customers already use 3-5 channels for support. The only important thing is that the concern is resolved quickly. The smartphone is the most important contact channel, with all devices and touchpoints connected. Disney theme parks are a shining example of how this already works today: the visit and stay at the theme park can be planned in detail online from home, saving time-consuming orientation and searching on site. Guests at Hilton hotels enjoy using the Hilton Honor app to select and book their room online, as well as check in and check out via their smartphone. The trip to the front desk? Completely unnecessary - after all, the smartphone also serves as a room key.

Proactivity: Customers no longer want to report problems, but instead want to be informed about solutions at an early stage and on their own initiative. In this context, communication is good from the customer's point of view if it is proactive, predictive, individual, simple and fast. A best practice for this type of proactive support is the car manufacturer Skoda with its Car Connect service in the event of malfunctions: the vehicle automatically reports status data to a server, and Skoda service employees then proactively arrange maintenance appointments with customers. Apple customers who go to an Apple store are already familiar with the direct, personalized service by requesting their personal Apple ID.

Anticipation: In the future, the telecommunications provider will know its customers better than they know themselves and will anticipate their needs. Personalized product recommendations are highly valued and provided on the basis of data analytics, accompanied by individualized communication, at every preferred touchpoint.  In the "Nike Live" store concept of the sporting goods manufacturer of the same name, for example, the personal shopping experience is stimulated by updating the assortment every two weeks on the basis of behavioral data (sport, purchase, app use) of local, registered customers.

Top Service & Integrity: Customer demands for quality, consistency and reliability continue to increase. Affinity for innovation is increasing, while brand loyalty is decreasing. 84% of Millennials and Gen Z's would turn their back on their favorite brand if someone else offered more personalized service (Telesperience). Service promises and actions must match - along the customer-centric value chain of marketing, sales and service. Tesla, for example, promises an entirely new driving experience through a system of technology, features and services - all digitized and very easily accessible to the customer. The smartphone app serves as a central hub: vehicle settings, service upgrades or maintenance services can be customized individually and modularly as required. In contrast, HUK Coburg insurance deliberately targets customer groups who appreciate personal advice on site or by phone. Here, the focus is on qualified, empathetic problem solving by customer advisors and the positioning as a traditional company.

2. Technology is an enabler to make the service more digital

Artificial intelligence and big data enable carriers to identify customer problems in advance and solve concerns before they even arise, or at the latest during the initial contact. Text and voicebots are the 1st-level assistants of the future, AI including proactive tools are fully accepted as communication media on the customer side. In case of individual need, the human being takes over again - the handover from bot to employee is fluid, without waiting time.

How can customer service become so digital and at the same time empathetic in order to excellently meet increasing demands and expectations?

Data-Driven: Customer problems are predicted and solved before they arise, but at the latest during the first contact. Service agents know why a customer is calling and inform them directly if there is a problem. As a basis for this, customer insights must be systematically collected across all channels and made available for interaction at all times. The car manufacturer Volvo reads out machine data via a telematics system, employees monitor this machine data in real time and send warning messages to Volvo dealers if necessary. The dealers in turn contact affected customers and take preventive next steps before breakdowns, damage, etc., occur.

Bot-to-Bot: In the future, not only companies but customers themselves will use the "colleague robot. For many concerns, customers will let their own personal bot communicate, which will find a solution on its own. Voice assistance will become the preferred channel in this context. Experts from the Munich Circle expect that between 2025 and 2029 AI-based personal assistants will be able to communicate independently and autonomously with other AI-based systems. Google Duplex, a smart personal digital assistant, already takes care of minor requests such as booking appointments at the hairdresser's or at a restaurant - via voice call with real people, completely autonomously in the background, without the active involvement of the human "client". Duplex is easy to integrate as a voice interface on Google Speaker, smartphones and Chrome browsers.

AI: Customers don't mind not being attended to by service agents when they have simple concerns. As already mentioned, the immediate solution is primarily important to them. Artificial intelligence is therefore fully accepted as an interlocutor. In special cases, when the bot cannot help, the hand-over to the agent* is seamless. Hello Fresh uses the chatbot "Freddy" for this purpose, which - integrated in Facebook Messenger - provides customers with recipe ideas from the Hello Fresh blog on request. For regular customer contact, "Freddy" proactively asks quiz questions about healthy nutrition or posts new seasonal recipes on his own initiative.

3. The work with the customer becomes more qualified and flexible

Artificial intelligence and service employees work together in an integrated and efficient manner for the benefit of the customer. The service center is becoming hybrid - partly virtual, partly with presence, decentralized. Motivation is shifting to impact and real purpose, the patchwork workstyle has become widespread. Service work has become more complex and demanding in terms of content:  The "super agent" is empathetic, technologically savvy and highly competent.

How does this change the service organization and the world of service employees in concrete terms?

Human-Machine Interaction: Working methods in customer service are evolving from manual to cognitive skills, from machines as tools to human-machine collaboration as a matter of course. In this process, humans and robots work harmoniously hand in hand. The company 4tiitoo has developed an AI-based solution for this, with which desktop application programs can be controlled easily and intuitively by gestures, speech or simple eye movements (eye tracking). By reducing the number of mouse movements, employees increase their efficiency with less manual workload at the workplace.

Hybrid Office: The previous service center has changed into a hybrid office model with new career paths, leadership culture & tools. The new work model increases the attractiveness of the profession, while at the same time there are new challenges in terms of employee management and control of day-to-day business in an environment where employees work partly on-site and partly virtually distributed. More self-determination, OKRs, for example, are a useful tool for promoting team self-direction and motivation. As a consequence of the Corona experience, Facebook already advertises remote-only positions for certain job profiles (e.g., software developers) and also offers this option to existing employees. Twitter sent its 5,000 employees to the home office at the start of Corona and offers those who remain in the home office permanently a $1,000 allowance for workspace & IT equipment.

Balance: Motivation is shifting toward work-life balance and the meaningfulness of one's own actions - classic career paths, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly uninteresting.  A "patchwork lifestyle" with a mix of private and professional components is becoming widespread. Purpose", "sustainability" and ethical corporate governance are not only important criteria for customers when choosing a service provider, but also for employees. Patagonia, a California-based manufacturer of outdoor clothing, has made "saving the home planet" a clear Purpose and has taken a strong public stand against racism. After the Purpose campaign, there was a clear increase in sales, as well as an impact on employee satisfaction.

Superagent: In the future, superagents will take on the really complex customer issues where machines have reached their limits. This type of customer advisor will present themselves to customers as effective problem solvers: highly qualified, empathetic, friendly, solution-oriented, empowered and supported by the latest technology. At T-Mobile US, Teams of Experts (TEX)-small, regional service teams-take care of customer concerns personally and immediately or they are solved by technical experts in the team. TEX are trained in all necessary products and technical solutions and act autonomously. At Kuka, humans and robots already work hand in hand. Bots support agents in providing advice, search for special customer offers in the background, or fill out applications.

Conclusion: Continue to develop good basics consistently!

There is still a long way to go before the idea of Customer Service 2025 can be implemented and developed. The good news is that the basics already exist, but must now be consistently pursued. Customers are ready and open for the next step of digitization. The technological dimension, for example AI, is sufficiently developed and proven to revolutionize customer interaction in the coming years. If telecommunications companies take a pioneering role as enablers for the digitization of society and become pacemakers of the customer service of the future - and take their employees and customers with them - the vision can soon become a successful reality.