Despite worldwide lockdowns and varied attempts at a return to regular life, the pandemic shows no signs of letting up. Though there is hope on the horizon that a vaccine will be available soon, this crisis has undeniably changed life and work for everyone as we once knew it. And one of those changes is how we work.
In their May 2020 “Global Work-from-Home Experience Study,” Global Workplace Analytics surveyed 2,865 white-collar workers over a six-week period. The survey represents organizations from <100 to over 25,000 employees at all levels, across the global (though mostly U.S.) workforce. The survey found that 88% have been working at home on a regular basis at least one day per week during the pandemic, versus only 31% prior.
Clearly, the circumstances forced this abrupt increase. But the levels of productivity, engagement, and connectivity–once thought lower for work-from-home staff–have removed the stigma associated with not being present in an office. How well work has gone outside the traditional business setting has not gone unnoticed by companies, with almost three out of four CFOs planning to move 5% or more of on-site workers to remote.
Customer service has often been thought of as a highly collaborative part of business, something delivered by people clustered in office spaces. While the transition to work from home might not have been easy for all companies, most are making it work. With uncertainties remaining about when COVID-19 will be conquered and if a return to office even makes sense long-term, companies should reexamine three places that will ensure long-term customer service success.
The various forms of customer self-service–knowledge bases, chatbots, online communities, and automated solutions among the most common–have been options most companies have employed for years. Many had already invested in one or more of these digital service channels in some manner prior to the pandemic and were better prepared to weather the storm. Early on, Gartner made the recommendation to “implement and promote digital and self-service channels” if companies were lagging or considering if projects should move forward.
As many companies look to the future and they develop pandemic-born best practices, one thing is clear: a doubling-down on self-service will pay off. Not only does it provide customers with service options at a time and place convenient to them while saving costs, it’s also the first line of defense in providing resilient, scalable customer service.
Customers want answers as quickly as possible, and that means time can be the enemy of customer service. Digital transformation–and specifically, workflow–helps ensure efficiency in customer service’s work, be it publishing a newly-written and much-needed knowledge base article or bringing a widespread billing error to the finance department’s attention. In such scenarios, progress towards the solution can be tracked, delays are minimized, and lessons can be learned for future improvements.
More importantly in remote and future work-from-home scenarios, digital transformation and workflow mean that regardless of where a customer service agent (or any other employee is, for that matter), work can continue. It is not delayed as a result of manual processes or disconnected systems. It’s amazing to think that as little as two years ago the pace of digital transformation had slowed. Today, as a result of the pandemic, companies have instead put digital transformation projects into high gear, and like self-service, they are seeing the benefits it will continue to deliver when these remarkable times have passed.
Onboarding and learning
Despite the advantages technologies like self-service and workflow offer, people remain the heart and soul of customer service. It therefore makes sense that though the U.S. has been officially declared in a recession, a search for “customer service” on any job website paints a slightly different picture. Locally and nationally, firms are hiring for customer service roles of all types. Assuming some of these businesses are requiring some or all staff to work from home, they must have some means of onboarding new employees.
The onboarding process begins once an applicant has accepted a job offer and is now a “new hire.” The many steps involved include completing required employment forms, providing credentials to networks and applications, equipment assignment, orientation, and some form of basic job training. There might even be some policies to learn thrown in.
When these tasks aren’t occurring in an office, things become a bit more complicated. The good news is onboarding is a common use case that is a priority to be addressed by digital transformation. In a world of more and more remote workers, some additional tweaks become necessary (such as shipping a laptop to a home address), but the basics are there to start from.
The need for distance education is not limited to new staff. Learning systems must be able to support existing remote employees. This helps keep them current on new products, services, soft skills, etc.
The next step
Will customer service agents and other employees return to offices completely at some point in the future? Or has this pandemic proven work from home to be a “great success?”
Every company must grapple with this question on their own. If this period has taught us anything, it’s that the capacity exists for many roles such as those in customer service to continue working regardless of location and circumstances. Some companies may have had a rough transition, but they made it work. Now, regardless of companies’ next steps–navigating a return to the office, continuing with remote work, or a hybrid of the two–it’s clear the systems and processes exist to support them in some form. With continued refinement, those systems and processes will ensure resilient customer service operations should work from home continue for a period or become the norm.