From the Calamity of COVID-19 to the Start of a New Model for Customer Service


A picture of someone pushing covid aside

Martin Hill-Wilson of Brainfood Consulting shares his view on the future of customer service.

The Story So Far

COVID-19 sent everyone scuttling back home as fast as an incoming tsunami causes mass evacuation. Organizations, customers and employees found themselves displaced from any familiar lifestyle.

Now forced to cope with the logistical, cognitive and emotive impact of lockdown.

However, the resilience of the human spirit is such that opportunity knocks whenever the status quo is disrupted. Especially when shared as a common experience and amplified over social and conferencing platforms. We learn fast when we need to.

Adaptation quickly follows.

New mindsets germinate and become active overnight. Strategic agendas are torn down and reprioritized. Purposeful energy is released to get things done without backseat interference.

There is little time for politicking. I’ve personally found it heartening to see how a common adversary can still evoke a combined response and collaborative spirit.

As a result, in terms of readiness to operate as digital-first organizations, more has been achieved in these last few months than any comparable pre-COVID period.

The momentum this continues to generate is propelling customer service into an accelerated period of change.

Where this eventually takes the industry is still being influenced by the knock-on effects of the pandemic.

  • Latest official figures show Eurozone economies contracted 12% in the second quarter of 2020. Sectors most affected by social distancing remain under the greatest threat. In these instances, recession-triggered budget cuts imply an urgent search for lower ‘cost to serve’ strategies. How this translates into headcount changes as furlough is withdrawn will be known before the year is out.
  • Consumer habits formed during lockdown have translated into a more complex contact mix. Significant growth in text channels is being reported as well as new use cases for video engagement. Self-service and proactive messaging are also being rapidly scaled to remove the pressure on live assistance and pave the way for lower cost-to-serve journeys. One consequence is that omnichannel orchestration becomes essential to keep things simple.
  • Meanwhile, the positive benefits of working from home are being actively voiced by customer service teams as something they want to see become part of a permanent capability. The ongoing uncertainty of how to tame COVID means homeworking remains core to business continuity.

Added together, a new hybrid model for customer service is in the process of being formed. This has significant implications for operational management in terms of culture and best practice.

So too with the associated infrastructure. This needs to offer a secure and scalable ecosystem of data, workflow and communication, wherever the delivery of service takes place.

Finally, the drive to reduce cost cannot become one that drags down the quality of customer experience in the process. Anxious times produce anxious states of mind.

Psychology tells us this translates into reduced tolerance, cooperation, and ability to understand. Any of which can become fault lines that fracture customer loyalty, trust and openness to forgive mistakes.

A thumbnail photo of Martin Hill Wilson

Martin Hill-Wilson

As a result, there is a growing urgency to upskill teams in emotive interaction and use service design to double down on the sources of petty aggravation in the most common journeys that flow through the contact centre.

The mission to refocus around relevant, empathetic customer experiences delivered at significantly lower cost is the new catalyst that will fundamentally change the way customer service is planned and delivered.

It is the start of a new operating model. Something often claimed over the years. But now likely to take shape rapidly.

For more from Martin on the future of customer service, follow the link to read his report: CX Realities 2020 – The story of COVID-19 and how customer service responded

To find out more about Sabio, visit their website.

Published On: 11th Aug 2020 - Last modified: 12th Aug 2020
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