The Pandemic Has Elevated Customer Service to a Strategic Role

The pandemic has elevated the importance of customer service to nurture customers to better retain their loyalty and spend. It has also accelerated modernization strategies that were already underway and whose value will extend far beyond current circumstances. These include the deployment of new self-service modalities, digital touchpoints, data and analytics technology, and migration to cloud technologies.

You can emerge from this pandemic stronger and leaner. Forrester Research sees three areas on which customer service organizations must focus:

1. Digitization to provide frictionless service

Travel, hospitality, financial services, and government agencies saw spikes in call volume in the early days of the pandemic. Companies transitioned customers to digital channels from interactive voice response systems by layering on digital-first solutions for chat, messaging, and digital voice onto existing customer communication modalities without disrupting the underlying infrastructure.

Customers have quickly adopted digital channels, and they are here to stay. Companies like DISH and Columbia Sportswear now let customers interact with them right from Google Search and Google Maps. The rich features of Google Business Messages, like carousels, suggested replies, and photos, help deliver a superior customer experience by allowing customers to purchase, schedule, and troubleshoot without switching channels.

2. Modern desktops to support agents

Customers prefer self-service interactions for order management, identification, verification, and simple customer service inquiries. Customers use voice channel for the harder inquiries, like disputes or escalations. This trend has been exacerbated during the pandemic, with contact centers flooded with new types of calls from devastated customers looking for support and hoping that companies would do the right thing for them.

Agents not only need to focus on emotionally connecting with customers, but also troubleshooting the harder issues. To do so successfully, they need to fully understand the customer, their value, their journeys, and their prior interactions. Agents need to be guided through resolutions, proactively surfaced with the right knowledge and data when they need it and assisted with chatbots. They also need collaboration tools right on their desktops so they can work with other agents to help customers out.&

3. More resilient operations to adapt to changing circumstances

The pandemic catalyzed new ways of working, new talent, and better risk insight and planning. In the early days of the pandemic, outsourcers collectively moved hundred of thousands of agents home overnight. As customer interactions spiked, they struggled to comply with security and privacy policies and with the tactical management of remote agents.

To become more resilient, with more sustainable operations, customer service operations must tap into new labor models, like using store personnel for customer service. They must use cloud technologies to support agents wherever they are working, and they have to become more data-driven to better support supervisors and managers in delivering a high quality of service.

Kate Leggett is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, serving application development and delivery professionals.