Elevating customer service in 2021


30-second summary:

  • Consumers crave human connection in their service interactions. With social distancing still in effect, human connection has become increasingly important, especially for customer service
  • Reliance on technology has never been greater. According to Gartner, “When customer service reps feel the systems or tools they use enhance their ability to handle customer issues and simplify their day-to-day work, their productivity can increase by up to 20%, customer satisfaction increases by 11% and customer effort decreases by 9%”
  • Businesses are getting creative to leverage resources – moving staff to new positions; outsourcing support and focusing on what is “core” to their market differentiation. Outsourcing tasks that are context, exacerbates the demand on the provider to deliver extraordinary customer experiences via a blend of technology and human interaction
  • Providing more technology would actually enable better human interaction. Removing ‘tasks’ and increasing access to expertise via emerging tech, AR/MR.

After a year in which life as we know it was completely upended, businesses needed to revamp to address sudden and abrupt pandemic restrictions while keeping employees safe and customers supported with high level customer service.

Prepping for 2021 means strengthening existing requirements, building from what has been learned during the crisis and, most importantly, elevating those efforts to ensure customer support is equipped and available for whatever new challenges lie ahead to ensure long-term success.

Improving automation

Years before the pandemic, companies had employed technology in their call centers and customer service activities to improve productivity while minimizing hinderances to their employees’ day-to-day responsibilities – improving everything from speed of delivery to lessening errors.

Implementing such initiatives traditionally would start with using existing technology and enhancing where needed. Although automation has been around for decades, in 2020 it was accelerated to help companies of all sizes across industries to support customer service.

Most recently, in preparation for the expected holiday crunch, FedEx committed to adding more technology on top of its pandemic ecommerce boom, and Amazon invested in new solutions for its warehouse facilities.

Digital enhancements across the supply chain are expected to continue through 2021 as the pandemic keeps many employees and vulnerable citizens from meeting face-to-face.

Given the continued restrictions of social distancing and working remotely, 2021 will accelerate businesses’ use of emerging tech. For a more immersive connection that will guide customers, we should expect to see automation support through a “see what I see” (SWIS) technology via augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR).

Employing these technologies can be most effective in situations where the subject matter experts (SMEs) are unable to be onsite. For example, this can be used with in-home consumer repairs and support – such as fixing an appliance or connecting cable TV.

In a recent survey, 91% of executives stated that AR was helping improve service operations during the pandemic. Findings also confirmed by a wide majority (95%) that AR solutions will help organizations better keep up with rising customer expectations.

Use of SWIS technology has been successful in interactive support with workers in the hospitality industry – such as resetting a coffeemaker or fixing an appliance.

In these scenarios, workers at a restaurant would be accessing information via their own phones or tablets and integrating the ability to access a human, who in turn benefits from the SWIS view, expediting the resolution on the more complex or unsolved issues.

Consumers crave human connection

Ongoing social distancing or quarantining has resulted in many consumers reaching out to customer service representatives for support – and not just to fix a gadget.

Humans are generally a sociable species and in a time of turmoil, once they reached customer representatives, they were looking to engage beyond their initial issue. During a time of heightened anxiety, delivering thoughtful and timely service became even more critical to businesses.

The pandemic has intensified health and security concerns, leading to customer support needing to lend an empathetic ear to customers.

Soon after the pandemic shut down much of the world, our research confirmed that working remotely enhanced the need for human connection in people’s customer service interactions.

Nearly half of U.S. and U.K. survey respondents stated that having an opportunity to speak to a human agent is a make-or-break factor in ensuring a satisfactory customer service interaction, while more than one-quarter of these respondents were disappointed by a brand because they were unable to reach a human agent.

Yet, there will not be a move away from automation. Research findings confirm that the best use of technology in the customer support world is often behind-the-scenes where it promotes automation of tasks that do not hinder the customer experience.

According to IDC in its “FutureScape Worldwide Future of Customer and Consumer 2021 Predictions,” by 2023, enterprises that excel at empathy and safety at scale will outperform those that don’t by 40%.

IDC notes IT and customer experience (CX) departments will need to work very closely to integrate emotion recognition technologies into the existing customer journey in a seamless manner that adds value. The technology must adapt to and serve real-world customer experience, not vice versa.

Further to elevating the customer experience, use of technology should enhance the scenario in which consumers can seamlessly access information and assistance through such emerging tech as AR/MR.

In recent Twilio research, “COVID-19 Digital Engagement Report,” an overwhelming 92% of executives said digital communication is extremely important amid current business challenges in which people are working, shopping and connecting with others – personally and professionally – from a distance / mostly via phone or internet. Companies are backing that with investments.

Not surprisingly, Twilio found that 79% of budgets for digital transformation increased amid the pandemic.

Conclusion

Aiding customers – as well as customers of our customers – will require a new way of doing business as we meet the challenges of this global pandemic for a second disruptive year.

Integrating technology in customer support for supplementing and enhancing customer experiences – not distracting or irritating them – will be key to a successful 2021 and beyond.

Now, more than ever, customers do not want a never-ending call tree. They have a heavy load of do-it-yourself and want seamless, helpful customer support.

We’re living in what research firm Forrester has dubbed “The Age of the Customer” – where the sheer number of choices has created a seismic shift in power. The possibilities are endless. And that means expectations are extraordinarily high.


Steven Petruk, President, Global Outsourcing Division, CGS, has more than 20 years of experience in IT, infrastructure and customer service. He leads the company’s highly experienced executive and global delivery team in the development and implementation of technology-based outsourced solutions.  



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