Skip to main content Skip to footer Skip to menu

The Phone Is Still King, and Other Takeaways From the State of CX in 2024

Chatbots, mobile apps and text support have changed the way customer service gets done. But not enough to shake one long-standing truth: Customers are still picking up the phone. 

In McKinsey’s 2024 state of care report, customer service leaders continued to rank rising call volumes as their primary challenge despite decades of new self-service channels becoming available. 

Eric Buesing, Partner at McKinsey & Company and one of the report’s authors, recently joined the Dialed In podcast to shed light on this trend, which is exacerbating other contact center challenges like agent attrition and persistent talent shortages.

Those insights, plus what to do about them, below:

Gen Z is more likely to prefer voice over other channels

Customers not only continued to prefer voice in 2023, survey responses suggest that phone lines will keep ringing well into the foreseeable future. Gen Z – a demographic that vastly prefers digital channels for day-to-day communication – is just as likely to pick up the phone for customer service as baby boomers and 30-40% more likely than millennials.

It’s a big reason why most leaders expect call volumes to increase by as much as one-fifth over the next two years.

“15 years ago, we were talking about the death of the contact center because the promise of digital was going to drive all interactions online and to apps,” says Buesing. “In fact the opposite happened. We needed contact centers more than ever.”

Over the years, frustrating experiences with chatbots and IVRs led to the phone becoming even more popular as customers lost confidence in the “first wave” of automation. Thankfully, the report signals that AI has already become a significantly more reliable solution for both callers and contact centers, which is good news for service leaders. 

Customer-facing AI tops CX priorities 

How are contact centers adapting to a world where voice remains a preferred channel, but agents are harder to hire than ever? To close the gap, more than 80% of leaders say they’re already investing in AI, or expect to do so in the coming months. 

Perhaps an even more telling statistic is where these leaders plan to apply the technology. More respondents plan to use AI in 2024 to directly resolve customer requests than for any other use case. In fact, internal-facing use cases for AI like real-time agent assist and automated post-call surveys rank at the bottom of the list. 

AI can not only complete tier-1 calls at the same level as agents, but customers have shown to be much more willing to use the technology than previous automation or self-service solutions. For service leaders, this all means that AI is quickly ushering in a future where contact centers are less reliant on an agent-only model that asks workers to complete as many calls as possible.

Agents are becoming journey managers that add more value 

As customers gain confidence in AI’s ability to resolve requests quickly, and more callers are contained without needing to escalate, agents will burn out less and develop new skills as they focus on more engaging customer requests. 

“I think there’s a lot of evidence and emerging capabilities that will make the job easier and get rid of the ‘swivel chair’ where [agents] are just bouncing around across screens, which makes the job very complex,” says Buesing. 

The traditional contact center model is adjusting to a future where there are fewer agents, but also fewer mundane calls with AI. As it does, the onus will shift to contact centers to value agents as journey managers instead of simply task managers. 

In the near future, AI will become less and less of a differentiator for contact centers. A competitive edge will instead be gained by those who value agents more; it will be up to organizations to chart new career paths that reflect the increasingly crucial role of agents. 

Putting your AI roadmap in the fast lane

The state of customer care report finds that contact centers are adopting AI at two different speeds. Top performers have seized opportunities to drive efficiency and excellence across the customer journey with “ruthless prioritization.”

Others are unsure where to start their journeys and are trapped in an evaluation cycle “with no clear destination or road map.” Oftentimes, this boils down to analysis versus action.

“The big question I’m hearing now to get out of that kind of ‘POC purgatory’ is discussing adoption and scaling from the start,” says Buesing. The most innovative CX leaders don’t want to simply run some tests and see what works, instead they’re asking, “How is this going to scale across the organization?” he says. 

To avoid getting stuck in the slow lane, it’s crucial to work backwards from a solid hypothesis. For example, asking how much AI could reduce wait times and lower agent call volumes by automating even a single call type can lead to more productive questions and faster stakeholder buy-in.

On the other hand, starting with questions like “when will our CCaaS be in a good enough place to explore AI?” can box your strategy in and prevent you from evaluating AI solutions that may be easier to implement than you think. 

To form a solid hypothesis for your business, a Call Assessment that identifies your most AI-ready call types and projects the savings you’d see from automating them is an ideal place to start in 2024.

After all, the current state of care makes clear that a markedly different customer service future is on the horizon. Ensuring your organization gets there quickly is priority number one. 

design element
design element
Request a free
call assessment
Schedule a call with an expert