The stress and uncertainty of 2020 events have forced a heavy, transformative hand on the customer-service industry. Customer-service teams were asked to do more with less, while customers had more questions than ever. Strapped for time and resources, customer-service organizations had no choice but to adapt, transform at lightspeed, re-evaluate how they got their work done and re-imagine what a successful interaction looked like. After all, 90% of customer-service organizations report that customer service is more important than ever in these times of crisis.
The fact is, 2020 has changed customer service as we know it, bringing about long-lasting impacts on brands and customers alike. Here are the changes and challenges we predict will stick around into 2021 and beyond.
Digital transformation is here to stay
Although the initial shift to working remotely posed many challenges for CX organizations, many businesses have put processes and technology in place to deliver efficient and effective support in a remote environment. According to PWC, 82% of office workers would prefer to continue working remotely, at least part of the time, even after COVID-19 has subsided. And a whopping 73% of executives say working remotely has been a success.
We predict these shifting attitudes are here to stay, and provide many added benefits to organizations. Workers have more flexibility in their schedule and businesses can potentially garner cost-savings by downsizing office space and cutting back on in-office perks. So while some organizations have implemented temporary fixes to get through this quick shift to digital-first, a long-term technology solution to enable smart remote work is now imperative.
Changing consumer attitudes means more digital commerce
With most businesses closing their storefronts (at least temporarily) during the global pandemic, consumers were forced to shift their shopping online. The demographic that has historically been least likely to shop online and order for delivery, were also the most at-risk — those over age 65. Many older consumers were shopping online for the first time, and along with their shopping came a slew of questions directed at customer service.
While it is inevitable that commerce will partially shift back to brick-and-mortar once things go back to “normal,” there is now a massive new pool of consumers who are comfortable shopping online, and the volume of e-commerce and digital inquiries is expected to continue. Consumers who perhaps would walk into a store to ask a question, or call a customer-service number for assistance, now may find it more convenient to click on a chat widget or read an FAQ article while they browse your site online. In fact, according to recent consumer research, live chat continues to grow in popularity with consumers, now ranking as the second-most popular channel to get customer service problems solved. Incorporating digital-first support strategies into the overall online customer experience will make a huge difference when it comes to brand equity and loyalty for 2021 and beyond.
Prepare for speed and efficiency
An unfortunate result of forced closures meant that organizations needed to be scrappier than ever, even as the volume of customer inquiries surged. In addition, according to our recent survey, nearly three-quarters of consumers said they expected their problem to be solved immediately upon contacting customer service.
While it is true that some organizations have seen digital inquiries somewhat normalize after a spike earlier in the year, the pandemic has revealed significant gaps in CX strategies. What seemed like a nonurgent need — adopting new technology to increase efficiency — is now staring CX organizations directly in the face and preventing them from being successful. Whether it’s a similar unthinkable event that shakes the economy to its core, or simply a busy holiday shopping season overwhelming agents, organizations must be prepared to scale efficiently, at lightning speed.
Customers are more than just transactions
According to our COVID-19 research, CX teams reported that customers valued empathetic service above all other customer service attributes during the pandemic. Consumers want to be treated like valued customers, with real thoughts, emotions, feedback and values.
As AI and automation take on more of the busy work in the CX space, and more consumers shift to online vs. in-store shopping, customer-service agents will take on a much more important — and challenging — role. They will become the face of the company, reflecting its values and building lifelong relationships. Think of all of the DTC disruptor brands with cult-like followings— yes they have chic branding, but they’ve also built a community of advocates based on how they treat (and value) their customer base.
In 2021 and beyond, CX will be more important than ever
As customer service takes on an increasingly vital role, having the right technology and tools in place can go a long way in helping organizations and agents cope with long-term changes and challenges. Organizations should look for technology that allows for collaboration between remote team members, provides agents with the freedom to move between channels, and brings all the data about a customer into one place to help deliver a more efficient, personalized experience.
In addition, relying on AI and chatbots can save significant time for customers and agents and help arm agents with all the information they need to quickly and accurately service their customers.
In 2020, the influx in customer-service inquiries, the immensely challenging questions, the need to provide empathy and humanity during an incredibly stressful time, were all imperative. In 2021 and beyond, customer-service organizations will need to embrace these changes not only to deliver on customer demand, but also to help drive revenue in the process.