While at times 2020 can feel like a real-life “Black Mirror” episode, it did force many CX teams to transform at lightspeed, re-evaluating how they got their work done and what a successful customer service interaction looked like. According to research conducted by Kustomer in April 2020, 79% of customer service organizations reported that COVID-19 had impacted them significantly.
But 90% of those organizations also believe that customer service is more important than ever in these times of crisis. Many organizations are struggling to understand when they’ll go back to “business as usual”. And the fact of the matter is, they likely never will. The new way of working that 2020 forced upon CX teams will have lingering effects, and consumers are now used to doing business in a whole new way. We’ve outlined the changes and challenges we predict will stick around into 2021 and beyond, and how organizations should prepare to cope with them long-term.
Digital Transformation Is Here to Stay
Practically overnight CX organizations were forced to work entirely remotely. Some agents didn’t even have laptop computers to work from home with, others had slow internet making it nearly impossible to handle inquiries in laggy legacy systems. According to Kustomer research during COVID-19, 39% of CX professionals reported difficulty working remotely, and 23% reported that they did not have the correct tools in place to successfully work in a remote environment.
More than five months later, many organizations have put processes in place and applied technology bandaids to make remote work function. And the good news is, it’s entirely possible 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.
These shifting attitudes are here to stay, and provide many added benefits to organizations. Workers have more flexibility in their schedule and save time commuting, 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.
Customers Want You to Show Them They’re Valued
During times of crisis, customer needs change. 2020 has never made that more apparent. Some organizations chose to shift their success metrics away from average handle time, as customers demanded (and valued) longer interactions. Zappos even opened a customer service line that people could call to chat about literally anything … even if it was completely unrelated to shoes. According to our COVID-19 research, CX teams reported that customers valued empathetic service above all other customer service attributes during the pandemic.
This shift in consumer expectations may have boiled over in these strange, isolating times, but customer expectations have long been shifting in that direction. Customers aren’t satisfied with being treated as ticket #12558369, that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible without any real human emotion or interaction. They want to be treated like a valued customer, 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. We could all take a page out of their book.
CX Will Be More Important Than Ever
It’s clear that the “Superhero of 2020” award should go to remote customer service teams. The influx in customer service inquiries, the immensely challenging questions, the need to provide empathy and humanity during an incredibly stressful time … all were imperative in a strange and stressful year. But good customer service can do more than just solve a customer’s problem. It can also proactively drive revenue.
Kustomer’s recent consumer research looked at data across generations, and one thing is clear: younger generations demand, and value, excellent service. Consumers aged 18-24 ranked customer service as the number one attribute when choosing where to do business (whereas the general population ranked it below price). Additionally, younger generations are more willing than older generations to pay a premium for good service (61% of consumers 34 and younger vs. 48% of consumers 55+), and they are willing to pay more of a premium at that (20% of consumers 18-24 are willing to spend up to 15% more for exceptional service, vs. only 7% of consumers 55+).
This demographic data allows us to take a peek into the future. In the next five or ten years, these individuals will become heads of households, and customer service will determine where they spend their money, and how much they spend. It is imperative to prepare now for what is to come — and exceptional service is no longer optional.