by Brian Solis

Want to boost customer loyalty in this era of uncertainty? Start with your service teams

Dec 11, 2020
Digital TransformationEnterprise ApplicationsHRIS

The right technology investments are more critical than ever in helping agents deliver exceptional customer service.

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Credit: ipopba / Getty Images

It’s not surprising that customer service has such a strong influence on loyalty and brand perception. It is the most vulnerable of moments as customers are in need of help. Global pandemic aside, consumers expect brands to be reachable on any platform at any time and equipped to address any potential problem that one might have. As a result, the accessibility of brands has raised the bar for expectations around service quality. Good customer service is expected, bad service experiences can push customers away, and exceptional engagement can foster advocacy and loyalty.

When you factor in the effects that the pandemic has on service teams, things get a bit more complicated. Customer service leaders and agents are now working remotely, distributed across regions — sometimes across the world. As a result of this shift, we’ve seen incredible strides in digital transformation within the service center. We have also witnessed unprecedented disruption as well.

Throughout it all, one thing is constant. Customers will not settle for subpar experiences. So how can service leaders manage their teams in a way that helps scale through disruption alongside growing demand, while minimizing the negative effects of service team displacement? How can service representatives deliver great experiences in these times?

The key is employee engagement.

Understanding the human element

Workforce management has always been about efficiency and ensuring teams are as productive as possible. That mentality needs to change. Not to say that productivity isn’t important – it is still the end-goal of any workforce management solution. But productivity, as a whole, is not as “black and white” as it used to be.

Aside from the workflow inefficiencies that come with a distributed service center, there’s an element of human emotion that needs to be addressed. Service agents are more than just employees. They’re people — each with their own unique circumstances at home, families to support, and worries about the uncertainty that comes with a volatile global pandemic. Leaders need to think about agent wellness and agent success, beyond simple agent enablement. In order to do that, team needs must be addressed with empathy and understanding — not unlike how agents themselves are expected to approach each customer interaction.

By prioritizing employee wellness, leaders create something greater than a well-oiled machine or optimized tech stack. They can foster an environment where service agents want to do their jobs; an environment where teams are equipped to meet the increasingly complex problems that customers are facing with sincerity and sophistication – while also maintaining that crucial layer of operational efficiency. Yes, fast service is great for one-off transactions, but quality service is what drives long-term customer loyalty.

So exactly how can you create such an environment where service agents feel engaged and empowered in each customer interaction? The answer is actually quite simple. Technology remains a key driver in a service team’s ability to manage these priorities – but the types of technological investment that business leaders are making are what serve as the key differentiators here.

Innovation with agent and employee engagement in mind

Historically, service centers operated as cost centers — where technology allowed companies to scale customer support, while ultimately getting further away and disconnected from the customer. Customer interactions became more automated, and speed and efficiency was prioritized over all else. Now, as customer service channels have become the front lines of consumer-to-brand communication, technological investment is helping these agents get closer to the customer and fill more strategic roles than ever before (in fact, according to a State of Service report from Salesforce, a majority of agents say their role is more strategic than two years ago). 

Beyond the ability to reach customers at any digital touchpoint (voice, chat, SMS, video, etc.), there are technological integrations on the back end that help agents focus on what matters the most – delivering exceptional service experiences. With modern workforce management innovation, service leaders are equipped with tools that help them better understand their service teams’ capacity, skillsets, schedules and more – all on one connected platform. Workforce management solutions of the past relied upon separate, disconnected solutions to address different workforce needs. By having all these capabilities on one platform, service leaders can more accurately forecast and plan – ensuring that service agents with the appropriate skillsets are available and on-task when needed.

This increased visibility helps optimize operational efficiency, but AI and automation are what really help drive service team engagement. Believe it or not, in many instances service leaders are still working off spreadsheets. On the other end, agents are still expected to manually input and seek out data before, during and after customer interactions. These inefficiencies not only hinder a service team’s ability to appropriately scale alongside demand surges, they also keep service agents from delivering empathy and understanding in each customer interaction. AI and automation can help remove a significant portion of mundane, manual tasks from service agents and leadership alike – freeing up time for agents to truly engage with the customer in the moment.

A new breed of cloud-based workforce engagement management solutions will help leaders prioritize that crucial level of engagement for their service teams. As customers and service teams evolve, we’ll continue to see more technological capabilities come to fruition and address these evolving needs.

By investing in an engaged workforce, service leaders provide their agents with an opportunity to be more creative, present, and honestly, themselves. Operational efficiency is still very important, but workforce engagement management will give teams newfound space for engagement.

What’s key now is to design new standards for excellence in service maximizing the extra time for agents to deliver exponential value. The teams that invest in the development of their agents’ interpersonal skills and encourage creativity will find that both the agents and the end-customers will be happier in the long-term. Agents will feel empowered and engaged with new growth opportunities, while customers will feel like they are being truly listened to. They won’t think that a customer service agent is operating from a script or hurrying to finish the call or chat, but instead will be able to recognize the humanity of the person on the other side. That human connection is what builds a life-long customer, and that layer of engagement for the agent is what makes the job worthwhile.