Fixing the Gaps in the CX Supply Chain

Globally, we're seeing a shortage of products that's gone far beyond the early days of frenzied COVID-inspired toilet paper anxiety. From microchips to medical materials to manufacturing and consumer goods, the knock-on effect has caused product shortages in everything from cars to computers to personal protective equipment. The source of the problem is relatively straightforward: whether itss a shut down in production, a shortage of drivers, or regulatory regimes getting in the way, the product supply chain can suffer.

Yet as critical as product production is, the CX economy is equally as significant and presents a fragile supply chain in itself. Since the beginning of the pandemic, maintaining customer service, whether with remote or hybrid customer service operations, has been a headache that has yet to be overcome in many instances. 

When customer service employees cannot work, or cannot work optimally due to the fallout of mass disruption, both companies and customers suffer. It's time to look at the landscape and fix the gaps. 

There are plenty of alternative models of service that have begun to challenge in-house call center norms and the outsourced customer service ecosystem. Many of these are managing to fill the CX supply chain gaps very well because they are using the right mix of humans and technology to bypass the gaps and serve customers in the channels of their choice. 

Big multinationals are acquiring customer service apps and CX startups in droves, and they are doing it to bolster their customer service power from within so that customers can get a seamless CX without having to leave their preferred channels. 

Case in point: in November 2020, Facebook acquired Kustomer to power the way it provides customer service to businesses on its own platform. Why navigate away from Facebook if you can get customer service from your preferred companies in the Facebook interface itself? 

That same month, Snapchat parent company Snap acquired, which builds AI-based voice assistants for customer support services. A month later, Salesforce acquired Slack in a $27.7B megadeal that would provide Salesforce's customers with a centralized, collaborative place to work. 

With this many acquisitions among this many tech giants, it is clear that there is a big trend toward serving customers in the channels of their choice and making use of savvy human + AI technologies to do it. 

Brand Advocates Fill the Gaps

While technology has no doubt played a huge role in the evolution of customer service since before the pandemic and beyond, most CX-centric companies know that keeping humans in the loop is essential, CX supply chain gap or not. 

After all, these companies know that if you want to create brand differentiation through customer experience this is done best by people, not robots. People can be enhanced or empowered by AI, but not fully replaced. The emotional connection that customers will remember is what drives ultimate brand loyalty.

With the challenges presented by the pandemic, companies have had to think differently about how to keep humans in the loop in customer service and to address the problem of gaps in the CX supply chain. 

The pandemic saw a big rise in the use of brand advocates as customer service representatives, many of whom began to work on a gig basis for companies of which theydd been longtime customers. As McKinsey noted in a recent report, whether relying mainly on in-house or external talent, gig-style staffing models (GigCX) could close the gaps in the CX supply chain and give companies the flexibility they need amid today's increasingly volatile markets.

It makes sense from a personalized point of view as well. Think about it: From whom would you rather get your customer service? A person who has been a customer for many years, a customer service employee with great CX training but no experience of the product, or a chatbot? More and more, customers' top priority in receiving customer service is empathy and product knowledge and the ability to talk with experience with the customer base. 

That ability to connect people who are not only experts in something but passionate fans of it is a real consumer brand benefit and one that creatively solves the CX supply chain challenge as well. Many companies are also using the model to empower people with different backgrounds or work styles to join the customer service process, which is helping not just to diversify the CX supply chain, but to augment it. 

Better Technology to Meet Remote Needs

Companies are also investing in better technology, such as asynchronous messaging, that better addresses CX needs and the remote needs generated by the pandemic. However, meeting remote needs isn't always as easy as adopting one new stand-alone or stop-gap technology. Many companies were seriously challenged by remote working, unable to introduce the infrastructure required to provide gap-free customer service. 

For some of these companies, the return to brick and mortar was a welcome relief and the only way to fix the gaps in the CX supply chain. For others, hiring challenges, as we exit COVID, have extended the frustration as companies experience worker shortages in some locations.   

For progressive companies, the pandemic has been an opportunity to build organizations with the operational agility to adjust to rapid change and to try new models to ensure seamless customer service. Flexibility is key to organizational resilience, and we're set to continue to see more acquisitions and more creative solutions not just to fix, but to optimize, the CX supply chain. 

Megan Neale is co-founder and chief operating officer of Limitless.