The Pandemic Has Been A Watershed Moment for CX—Here Are 3 Trends Defining This New Era

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For many, the one year anniversary of the pandemic in the US has ushered in a time to reflect on the swift and significant change of the last twelve months. While the COVID vaccine has promised some return to normalcy, we may never fully go back to our offices, as companies transition to hybrid and fully remote models, or take a plane again without wearing a mask. Many practices and behaviors made obsolete by the pandemic are gone for good, while those that bridged gaps are now the new standard.

Customer service is no exception. With remote agents and limited resources, brands have been working to ensure business continuity and data security, while their customers expect even more efficient service across channels. In fact, according to PwC’s 2020 Global Digital IQ survey, 66% of companies said revenue growth and profitability would suffer if they didn’t digitally transform quickly enough. The pandemic has introduced a new standard for customer experience for brands that is more urgent than ever before.

While change can sometimes be daunting, it often pushes brands to accelerate innovation and advance practices that were previously under the radar, unlocking new opportunities for positive transformation at scale. I believe that the pandemic created a watershed moment for customer experience (CX)—one that has broken down traditional barriers and paved the way for stronger brand-customer relationships in the future. As we look ahead, here are three rising trends CX professionals should account for in their strategy:

The tech-enabled agent is here to stay.

Social distancing and stay-at-home mandates have dramatically accelerated tech adoption across CX. While sophisticated technology like artificial intelligence (AI) quickly became a must to manage the flood of CX inquiries amidst the pandemic, agents remained one of, if not the most, critical touchpoint in the CX journey. In fact, a recent Salesforce survey found that 79% of agents see a direct link between their work and business performance, and 77% feel that their role is more strategic than it was just two years ago. Now, customers are looking to contact center agents to manage more complex inquiries, navigate market shifts under the new administration and provide certainty amidst new upticks in COVID-19 cases.

Businesses have a unique opportunity to differentiate themselves with a tech stack that not only automates routine processes, but more importantly, empowers and enables agents to uplevel their service. Consider a customer calling their bank about fraudulent activity on a credit card—it’s likely they will be transferred to a live agent to handle this complex, high-security process. Technology can now provide live agents with insights and cues before the caller is even passed over to them, so that they can prepare to meet immediate needs and move through the card replacement process quickly.

I believe that the acceleration of tech adoption in 2020 has actually ushered in an entirely new role for agents—one in which businesses must strike the ideal balance between agents and technology to provide customers with a level of support they may not even know they need.

Emotion detection is a key competitive differentiator.

Emotion detection has slowly gained traction in conversational AI, as businesses sought to mimic human conversation to provide more realistic automated interactions. The practice has been a hot topic in the world of AI for quite some time now, but we have yet to see the technology fully come to fruition. I believe CX has reached an inflection point, where emotion recognition will no longer just be a rising trend, but a necessary piece of the customer paradigm.

It’s no secret that emotions have run high amid the pandemic, as customers reach out to businesses about unforeseen changes and disruptions to everyday life, from Wifi lags while working from home to securing refunds for a planned trip to Europe. What this past year showed us is that emotion detection is a key asset for getting on a pulse on how customers feel at the time of the inquiry, informing how an agent should handle a given situation, and providing insight into brand loyalty and the likelihood of customer churn—enabling faster and more efficient service. Moving forward, businesses must prioritize communications grounded in empathy to maintain a competitive advantage.

Privacy has joined speed and convenience as CX must-haves.

To this point, the CX narrative has primarily been centered around efficiency and convenience. Nearly 80% of American consumers identify speed, convenience and knowledgeable help as the most important elements of a positive customer experience. There’s no doubt that these elements will remain crucial, but this year, privacy will also fall into the equation.

Concerns around privacy have been on the rise for years, but the pandemic introduced a new sense of urgency. Take the insurance industry, for example. Policyholders call customer service lines to process claims, renew their policy, work out a payment plan and more. Imagine you were placed on the line with an agent and could hear their spouse talking in the background, as you share your social security number or account information. This experience does not inspire trust in the company, nor would you feel comfortable sharing highly sensitive information without fear that it would get leaked.

Consumers are turning to digital channels to manage sensitive transactions more than ever before, while agents are processing personal data from their own homes. Implementing measures to capture sensitive information securely, whether in the contact center or remotely, will be paramount to maintaining customer trust in the year ahead.

If 2020 is any example, there’s no way to foresee what’s in store for customer experience in the year ahead. But I believe CX professionals can get ahead of the curve by prioritizing agent augmentation, emotion detection and privacy to address the gaps and practices that surfaced over the last year and ensure a more stable future for agents and customers alike.

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