Digital-first or traditional customer service and digital transformation.

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Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Kate Leggett blogged the emergence of what she calls “digital-first customer service solutions.” These types of solutions are characterized as delivering automated interactions over digital channels. She contrasts these with what she calls traditional customer service solutions that offer workflow-based inquiries, case management, and guidance for customer service agents. Diverse sales models and the changing needs of both customers and the business means most companies will find themselves adopting a mix of both.

And while these solutions might seem different, they share a key similarity: a dependence on workflow and automation, some of the fundamental building blocks in digital transformation. And over the last several years, it’s become abundantly clear that digital transformation across the entire business, not limited to customer service, is no longer optional. Why? For several reasons, including:

  • Ever-increasing customer expectations
  • Rapidly changing business models
  • Reducing costs
  • Minimizing friction in all processes
  • Delivering resilient operations

The pandemic has only further driven each of these points home, and even accelerated this $7.4 trillion shift to digital. Digital transformation efforts in customer service offer benefits to both customers and the company.

Mobile

Almost universally, people have come to depend on their mobile devices. Anytime and anywhere, we expect to be able to communicate with friends and family or to perform routine tasks related to our personal and professional lives. Allowing customers to conduct customer service inquiries from a mobile device is no longer a nice-to-have.

Providing a mobile-optimized experience on the web is now table stakes. If a brand also has an app, offering the same service options in that environment is also expected. Lacking these options, customer satisfaction will be affected.

Self-service

In Leggett’s blog, she mentions self-service has become a primary channel for customers. This is not surprising, given it has been a growing trend for the last several years.

Today, self-service covers many facets. Searchable knowledge bases provide article-based solutions to problems. Communities allow customers to post questions that may be answered by fellow customers or customer service agents, which automation can transform into knowledge base articles. And speaking of automation, common requests like address changes or warranty registrations can easily be performed by customers online. Chatbots can provide conversational answers to common questions, and dip into the knowledge base, community, and other sources for solutions. When unable to find an answer in any of these places, customers can always submit a case online, as well. (And of course these should all be available from a mobile device.)

For customers, self-service means convenience. For companies, it means meeting customers’ needs in their channel of choice with lower costs and potentially faster service.

Machine learning

After initial “training” (reviewing and learning from prior human actions and the results), machine learning can complete processes significantly faster than humans with a similar or lower error rate. Two examples are case triaging and assisting agents.

Cases created online must be analyzed and passed along to agents. This means setting a case’s priority and category, then assigning it to a properly-skilled customer service agent. Machine learning is ideal for this mundane work.

Machine learning can also suggest information to agents assisting customers. By evaluating prior closed and solved cases, options like knowledge base articles, community responses, or automated solutions may be suggested.

One of the greatest advantages of using machine learning in customer service is its speed. This equates to faster solutions for customers; for businesses, that can translate to higher customer satisfaction. Companies also benefit from reduced costs by having machine learning perform tasks previously performed by humans.

Connected operations

Issues are sometimes more than simple problems that can be resolved with a knowledge base article or by speaking with an agent. New and complex issues might involve research and collaboration with other parts of the company: billing, legal, manufacturing, etc.

Prior to digital transformation, a customer service agent might send an email or instant message to these departments for assistance. This type of communication is problematic because it lacks traceability and accountability. Lacking these, a customer problem may not be addressed as quickly as possible.

This is why workflow–beyond just improving customer service–has an important place in company-wide digital transformation. It means no matter where teams are working and who is available (such as when a pandemic forces a sudden move to work-from-home), constant visibility of tasks in-process is available and progress is made. This in turn makes faster customer issue resolution possible and positively affects customer satisfaction.

Survival of the fittest

Digital-first and traditional customer service are important considerations, but they are just pieces of the digital transformation puzzle companies face. And despite reportedly having spent $1.9 trillion on digital transformation in 2019, the pandemic quickly demonstrated where cracks still exist. As anyone who has attempted to modify travel plans during this period can attest, customer service at many companies has been hit especially hard.

A World Economic Forum article puts it in clear terms:

In the coming years, it is possible that no one will speak of “digital transformation” because the term will have become irrelevant: Non-digital businesses will simply not exist. To avoid becoming one of those dying businesses, business leaders must take the opportunity – and a pressing need – to invest in bold and purposeful digital transformations now.

“3 Ways Digital Businesses Can Enable the Great Reset” by Manju George and Nokuthula Lukhele

The time for excuses has passed. For companies to survive and thrive, they must accelerate their digital transformation efforts to reap the benefits in customer service and across the organization.

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