Customer service trends in 2021: the post-COVID contact centre


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Customer service trends in 2021 will be driven by COVID-19 and its lasting ramifications.

Contact centre managers have had to radically rethink their business models, continuity plans and infrastructure.

And these changes have accelerated a transition into a new way of working. A way of working that is remote, flexible, and technology-led.

It’s clear that the pandemic has caused a complete reappraisal of the contact centre industry and its management. We can expect to see early reactions to the crisis settle into business as usual processes, plus the emergence of new spin-off trends.

So, here’s a closer look at the post-COVID customer service trends set to dominate 2021 and beyond.

The new WFH contact centre team

Thanks to COVID-19, contact centre employees had no choice but to adjust to remote work in 2020. This transition to work from home (WFH) operations marks a huge entry for customer service trends in 2021.

Agents working from home will likely become a more permanent strategy as employers wake up to the cost savings of a remote workforce.

(Smaller offices or even no office space means lower overheads, for instance.)

Even with the rollout of coronavirus vaccines, the pandemic will still impact what’s safe in 2021. There will still need to be social distancing and a mass rush back into offices is not on the cards. In fact, 89% of UK contact centre leaders say that the COVID-19 crisis has changed the industry forever.

So, the reign of WFH contact centre teams – whether partial or total – looks set to rise. And contact centre office spaces are set to shrink, in kind.

A recent industry survey supports this view of a long-term WFH transition. 35% of contact centre leaders now think that their contact centres will become mainly homeworking.

A higher percentage, 58%, think homeworking will be partly optional and partly compulsory. Either way, the busy on-premise contact centre of the past is set to give way to a more flexible and remote work culture.

A WFH related non-trend

While on this topic, it’s worth debunking another predicted customer service trend of 2021: the resurgence of outsourced, offshore contact centres.

Some predict that contact centres leaders will start eyeing the productivity statistics of their remote workforce and seeing no major dips. Then, they might start evaluating the challenges with remote equipment provision and onboarding.

As it dawns that remote teams are highly productive, that remote workers are cheaper overseas, and that providing for a remote setup can prove a hassle, it’s predicted that some might stray to third party outsourcing.

But contact centre leaders have already learnt that offshore outsourcing is a damaging CX move. As such, this prediction is more likely to be false than a true customer service trend moving forwards.

It’s more feasible that third parties will come into play in a more subtle way, assisting by providing technology and equipment services to help get remote contact centre workers set up.

The rise in remote support technology

Hand in hand with the rise of the remote worker is the next of the big customer service trends for 2021: the rise in remote support technology.

Just as it’s transforming homes into office spaces, COVID-19 is forcing face-to-face support into decline. But that doesn’t mean that the need for support is in decline — far from it.

Customers still demand accessible, high-quality support. And in 2021, that means more customers will connect to services remotely.

So, a major necessity of the changing customer service landscape in 2021 is remote support technology. (That is, any technology that enables agents to connect with customers remotely.)

For instance, cloud VOIP systems, live chat software, video consultation, asynchronous messaging, SMS service lines, and so on. Emphasis will lie on technology that facilitates service from a safe distance.

The use of remote technology will form a major trend not only for customer service, but for agent monitoring in the contact centre industry as well. Contact centre managers are hungry for performance metrics, and will want to track employee activity at home.

And from a more empathetic angle, with COVID-19 reducing face-to-face interaction, tools such as sentiment analysis could prove helpful when it comes to monitoring agent morale. (Much in the same way as it helps agents manage customer mood.)

The rise in self-service

As customers turn to ecommerce and remote support, web-based self-service will also rise. This translates into an increased need for accessible, up to date and even personalised online self-service options in 2021.

Customers increasingly expect to achieve their goals without needing to connect to support, using only the tools available on your website. This means that chatbots, customer portals and knowledge bases are all part of a major customer service trend in 2021.

COVID-19 meant that everything went online and remote. In turn, this has readied customers for a contactless approach to service. That is, serving themselves before they even consider getting in touch.

So, contact centres will need to ensure that alongside their remote support options exists relevant, accurate, and helpful self-service options.

The optimised tech stack

The rise in remote support technologies – each its own point solution – is creating a point pollution problem.

The fast-growing contact centre stack is becoming tangled. And, as new solutions and services pile onto the heap to cope with the remote work shift, contact centres end up with ever-more data siloes.

This increased reliance on new tech tools calls for cohesion. A rise in point solutions – and point pollution –  will highlight the negative impact of an unintegrated tech stack.

So, a necessary customer service trend in 2021 will be the push for an optimised tech stack. Data needs to be better shareable (while remaining protected) between the technologies that contact centres will increasingly rely on in 2021.

Expect to see an increased focus on evaluating, integrating, and optimising the tech stack for cohesion.

Customer centricity and importance of experience

Before COVID-19, customer centricity was the hottest buzzword of the customer service industry. While this may have taken a back seat in the early days of the coronavirus disruption, customer-centricity will return as a necessity in 2021.

The fact that support teams are working from home doesn’t change the fact that customers expect a smooth, slick support experience.The way in which support is delivered may have changed. But the demand for quality support has seen no such disruption.

Indeed, the importance of customer service experience stands to be higher than ever in 2021. Post-COVID, when choosing who to buy from, 59% of consumers place more emphasis on the customer experience.

Experience, then, will act as the key differentiator for consumers spoilt for choice.

Customer-centricity is all about making the customer experience central to your service. And with experience holding the power, its comeback is one of the cornerstone customer service trends for 2021.

Rise of empowered agents

The rise of empowered agents is the final of the customer service trends we expect to see in 2021.

Agent empowerment is all about giving agents the skills, trust, and autonomy to make the right decisions for the customer. Alongside improving agent morale, it’s a cultural shift that increases customer satisfaction.

With agents working remotely, managers need to ensure they have the power to handle the harder problems on their own. They need to allow for more flexibility; for the ability to apply sensible solutions without micro-management.

Agent empowerment, then, will be a must moving forwards. It will save time, demonstrate service quality, and importantly, boost the customer experience.

Customer service trends in 2021

The customer service trends for 2021 revolve around getting back on track following the disruption that 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic wrought.

The core focus for the customer service sector in the coming year is simple. It’s all about doing more with technology to emphasise and elevate the customer experience in an uncertain time.

Customer service in 2021 will be remote, contactless, and integrated.

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