From The Calamity of COVID to The Start Of A New Model for Customer Service


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The Story So Far

COVID sent everyone scuttling back home as fast as an incoming Tsunami causes mass evacuation. Organisations, customers and employees found themselves displaced from any familiar lifestyle. Now forced to cope with the logistical, cognitive and emotive impact of lockdown.

However, the resilience of the human spirit is such that opportunity knocks whenever the status quo is disrupted. Especially when shared as a common experience and amplified over social and conferencing platforms. We learn fast when we need to.

Adaptation quickly follow.  

New mindsets germinate and become active overnight. Strategic agendas are torn down and reprioritized. Purposeful energy is released to get things done without backseat interference. There is little time for politicking.

As a result, in terms of readiness to operate as digital first organisations, more has been achieved in these last few months than any comparable pre COVID period. The momentum this continues to generate is propelling customer service into an accelerated period of change.

Where this eventually takes the industry is still being influenced by the knock-on effects of the pandemic.

  • Latest official figures show Eurozone economies contracted 12% in the second quarter of 2020.  Sectors most affected by social distancing remain under the greatest threat. In these instances, recession triggered budget cuts imply an urgent search for lower ‘cost to serve’ strategies. How this translates into headcount changes as furlough is withdrawn will be known before the year is out.  
  • Consumer habits formed during lockdown have translated into a more complex contact mix.  Significant growth in text channels is being reported as well as new use cases for video engagement. Self service and proactive messaging are also being rapidly scaled to remove the pressure on live assistance and pave the way for lower cost to serve journeys. One consequence is that omni-channel orchestration becomes essential to keep things simple.
  • Meanwhile, the positive benefits of working from home are being actively voiced by customer service teams as something they to want to see become part of a permanent capability. The ongoing uncertainty of how to tame COVID means home working remains core to business continuity.

Added together, a new hybrid model for customer service is in the process of being formed. This has significant implications for operational management in terms of culture and best practice. So too with the associated infrastructure. This needs to offer a secure and scalable ecosystem of data, workflow and communication wherever the delivery of service takes place.

Finally, the drive to reduce cost cannot become one that drags down the quality of customer experience in the process. Anxious times produce anxious states of mind. Psychology tells us this translates into reduced tolerance, co-operation, and ability to understand. Any of which can become fault lines that fracture customer loyalty, trust and openness to forgive mistakes.

As a result, there is a growing urgency to upskill teams in emotive interaction and use service design to double down on the sources of petty aggravation in the most common journeys that flow through the contact centre.

The mission to refocus around relevant, empathetic customer experiences delivered at significantly lower cost is the new catalyst that will fundamentally change the way customer service is planned and delivered. It is the start of a new operating model. Something often claimed over the years. But now likely to take shape rapidly.  

Navigating The Unknown

I have just completed a report on all these topics with the Sabio team. Using a mix of interviews and online survey, a detailed picture emerged of the journey that customer service teams have been through since lockdown and the decisions they now face.

In fact, it is less of a report and more of a story told by those who contributed their voices to the research. It starts during the first intense period caused by unforeseen lockdown. Teams stepping up and saving the day through extraordinary hard work to migrate work environments overnight.

The story ends in present time. Leadership teams are now tentatively planning a return to bricks and mortar sites. Figuring out how this option blends with working from home. Still considering what becomes permanent as temporary fixes are replaced with new virtual models of getting things done within governance and regulatory standards.

The most fronted footed teams have started to map their new North Star and cost the journey to get there in a still dynamically changing world.

There is lots to think about and not much time to reflect.

The Sabio research provides a companion narrative against which to form your own decisions as we move on from just coping to something more intentional. It will accelerate your own thinking. You can pick up a copy here.

You can also join me and the Sabio team on August 18th for a live debate on the findings which will add to your own decisions on priorities and plans. Simply sign up here.

Thank you for your attention and hopefully your further participation in the near future.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Martin Hill-Wilson, Hill-Wilson
Customer Service, CX & AI Engagement Strategist - Chair, Keynotes & Masterclasses. Brainfood is an advisory and education service. Advice in terms of co-designing practical engagement strategies that balance customer and business needs. These are orchestrated from a blend of live assistance, self service and proactive contact using whatever optimised mix of voice, text and video works best across realigned customer journeys.


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