Customer expectations have continued to increase and the proliferation of connected devices and online channels – from the Apple Watch to Periscope – has made the world of multichannel customer service more complex than ever.

As we look ahead in 2016, the pace of change shows no sign of slowing down. Here, Cormac Twomey, Senior Vice President for global customer management specialists Convergys, outlines his top customer experience predictions for the year ahead.

Brands will need to be smarter about the digital journey

Businesses have invested heavily in digital service channels in recent years: from social media to online self-serve tools. This is undoubtedly the future of customer experience but, in too many cases, these digital channels have been created and maintained as standalone offerings and this is now starting to cause issues for brands.

Pushing customers exclusively towards digital-only channels can cause deterioration in the customer relationship. Often this is because digital channels – especially social media conversations – make it very difficult to identify and gather meaningful data on individual customers. Without this insight, it is impossible to personalise services and establish meaningful relationships with customers.

In 2016, businesses should therefore make an effort to step back from a channel-focused approach. They need to think holistically about the entire digital customer journey in order to ensure that they are supporting customers in both the short and long-term.

Getting chat right will be the top multichannel priority

Online chat is now well established as a key part of the multichannel mix and overall digital journey. Convergys research found that 50 percent of customers have used online chat in the past six months, with young adults particularly keen to resolve customer service issues in this way.

However, for many businesses, the approach to chat as a channel is still pretty unsophisticated. Our research shows that the best results depend upon being able to selectively engage the right customers in chat, rather than a blanket approach and through empowering agents to personalise the chat experience for the customer. This requires a strong analytical capability and improved training, but with chat set to become increasingly important for customer service teams in 2016, it will be vital for organisations to get smarter about this channel.

Sales and customer service will no longer be siloed

As businesses strive to deliver an increasingly connected, cross-channel experience to customers, they will inevitably need to address the internal barriers that are currently holding them back. And one of the biggest obstacles in delivering a seamless customer experience is the divide between sales and customer service.

In the majority of organisations, sales and service teams exist in siloes: there is little data or knowledge sharing between them and, as a consequence, businesses are missing out on opportunities to improve the customer experience, drive efficiencies and boost revenue. Inbound customer inquiries, if managed correctly, can be excellent opportunities for companies to successfully implement a tailored sales approach by offering alternative solutions or cross-selling additional services. Equally, sales efforts can be much more effective if they are able to draw on data and insights from the customer service team to support targeting.

Making these kinds of structural changes can be extremely difficult but the organisations that are brave enough to try will be well placed to reap the rewards in 2016.

Striking the right balance between on and offshore

Recent years have seen many brands move customer service teams back on-shore, as part of a strategy that deliberately prioritises customer experience over cost reduction. However, with the Chancellor recently announcing a significant minimum wage increase for UK workers, the balance between repatriation and offshoring is likely to change again in 2016.

The economic pressures put on businesses by the ‘living wage’ will necessitate some difficult decisions for customer service organisations. They will need to weigh the cost-saving potential of off-shoring against the possible service improvements that can be gained from UK-based teams.

For most brands, there will not be a single, simple solution. Rather, each business will need to take a nuanced approach that takes advantage of lower cost off-shore models for some services and customers, but invests in local staff for other areas. This trend will start impacting decision-making in 2016 but the full repercussions are likely to take several years to be fully felt.

Organisations move to more strategic vendor relationships

As customer service professionals encounter mounting pressure to deliver a high quality, lower-effort customer experience, they will be increasingly looking at their outsourcing contracts and reassessing how providers can help them to shape future strategies to yield better outcomes.

Through 2016, more organisations will look to move to an outcome-based pricing model, resulting in more control and accountability being placed with outsourcing partners, to innovate and make decisions that will positively impact on customer experience. New commercial frameworks will further align activities and outputs with desired business outcomes. Sales and customer retention are proven areas for outcome-based pricing models, where alignment around revenue is pushed all the way to the individual agent. Beyond having the right metrics and incentives, with the right leadership, outcome-based models can engender a positive cultural shift, to drive the behaviour of each individual, to focus on the same outcomes as the overall contract, and as such, deliver more consistently and effectively for the organisation.

Cormac Twomey, Senior Vice President, EMEA, Convergys