Senior Managing Director, Global Lead – Customer, Sales & Service Accenture
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Tornado service uncertainty

Three ways to make customer service strategies more resilient to uncertainty


With customer service teams facing many uncertainties, there is a vital need to maintain resilient, responsive CX strategies. 

18th Sep 2020
Senior Managing Director, Global Lead – Customer, Sales & Service Accenture
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Today’s unpredictable climate has put significant pressures on brands, who have been tasked with maintaining an unparalleled customer service all whilst many employees work from home.

A large proportion of businesses have navigated this change with aplomb, with digital technologies playing a pivotal role in maintaining a seamless customer experience, whether it’s re-evaluating how contact centres are leveraged for different communication streams, or exploring how digital channels can autonomously triage and support the increase in contact centre volume.

But the pressures customer service teams are facing are far from over yet. With lockdown having eased, and economies tentatively recovering despite the threat of further lockdowns, the biggest question they’re asking now is, ‘what next’? They’ve a lot to consider, whether it’s which of customers’ newly acquired behaviours can be expected to stay for the long term, or which of these newly developed customer service strategies should be refined – and how – to ensure this standout customer experience holds out post-crisis.

Whilst customer service teams are facing many uncertainties right now, one thing they can be sure of is that the need to maintain resilient, responsive customer service strategies is critical. With this in mind, here are three key considerations – as outlined in Accenture’s New Era of Customer Engagement report – for businesses looking to adapt and future-proof their customer service for the long-term.

1. Expect the unexpected - and prepare for it

COVID-19 has upended the rule book for customer engagement. Digital channel usage has spiked, and expectations of what constitutes ‘basic’ digital capabilities have shifted permanently. Brands have more than risen to the occasion, whether they’re offering virtual appointments, live streaming masterclasses or implementing AI-driven chatbots for increased customer service enquiries. But the ways in which consumer behaviours will change as the pandemic unfolds, as well as how brands can adapt with them, is impossible to say.

Businesses must therefore expect the unexpected when it comes to customer behaviour, which will require a fundamental shift from customer transactions to relationship-based interactions. This will require humanising the digital engagement of the customer experience, earning the trust of customers by reinforcing the value the brand brings to their lives and to society, and building their confidence by demonstrating the ways in which it has put customer and employee safety first.

An automotive dealership, for example, could implement a virtual showroom that demonstrates how the manufacturing and test drive process is conducted in accordance to distancing regulations. Regardless of whether a consumer is in market for a new vehicle, the steps the dealer made to engage with them in a digital yet human way will create brand trust that weathers future shifts in customer behaviour. It’s about cultivating long-term customer relationships rather than focusing on immediate transactions – the brands that do this well will outmanoeuvre any uncertainties the future holds.

2. Future-proof your customer workforce

Before COVID-19, making an entire customer service team operate from home was entirely uncharted territory, with many fearful of the impact it would have on the customer experience. In order to create continuity for customers, customer operating model lines were distorted – whether it was bringing customer facing staff to call centres, or using voice platforms to service customers. In most cases, it worked – in fact, it worked much better than ever expected, but there’s work yet to be done.

With customer engagement set to continue its heavy reliance on digital, social and virtual assistant technology, customer service teams must now focus on ensuring that the human workforce can be flexed and expanded to the requirements of these digital capabilities. Say goodbye to the traditional boundaries which we have seen between front and back office staff – the workforce will require new competencies and there will be an expectation that workers can seamlessly move across channels, from retail, to the field, to the call centre, to the back office.

In order to meet these needs, it’s essential that companies reimagine how these fluid roles will work in practice, implement robust digital training and upskilling measures, and leverage analytics to optimise hiring of individuals with digitally resilient skill sets. Success metrics will also need to be re-evaluated, moving away from transactional measurement and towards value-driven customer interactions, as the role of the customer service agent takes on a holistic view of the customer’s entire digital journey.

3. Adopt a platform-driven and data-driven approach

To ensure the resilience of a customer service strategy, the technologies that underpin it must be resilient, too. Adopting a platform mindset, and effectively decoupling this digital platform from legacy technologies, is critical to gaining that resilience, enabling businesses to launch new customer experiences, new apps and new propositions at pace. With customer expectations ever changing, and competitors quickly adapting to meet them, the agile way of working that only a platform-driven mindset can bring will be key to surviving business disruption. 

To achieve resilience, a data-driven approach must also be adapted. However, internal data is not sufficient to inform and predict customer and employee needs – both internal and external data sets must be analysed in real time if businesses are to accurately assess requirements and take decisive action.

For example, analysing customer preferences for contact channels can enable customer service teams to identify opportunities to integrate AI tools that handle low-complexity communications, which in turn enables businesses to reconfigure where employees efforts are spent and the skill sets required. This data driven approach will not only ensure customer satisfaction, but also allow businesses to maximise revenue.

All aspects of business are feeling the challenges dealt by COVID-19, but customer service teams have more than proven their ability to match them. When it comes to outmanoeuvring the uncertainties of the future, customer service teams must now ensure that their responsive and resilient ways of working continue. It’s about building human relationships with customers, reimagining the roles and deployment of the workforce, all whilst implementing a data-driven platform strategy. These are trying times, but the businesses that take these unprecedented opportunities to innovate and reinvent their customer service strategies will be future proofed for the long run.

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