Agility for business — championing customer expectations in 2021

For many companies, 2020 has been like navigating uncharted waters. Businesses have faced rapidly changing customer and employee expectations precipitated by recent events, which have accelerated several key customer service trends.

Key amongst the trends that are on their way to becoming reality is digitalisation, which businesses will have to treat as mainstream. They must be prepared to deal with accelerating digital engagements, and have the ability to interact with customers across any channel they choose. They will also have to reevaluate their overall tech infrastructure, and leverage advanced analytics and artificial intelligence to gain real-time digital insights into shifting customer needs to better respond to them. With the trend of working from home showing no sign of abating, organisations must also empower customer service teams with the flexibility to meet customer expectations from anywhere and at any time while ensuring their wellbeing.

In short, organisations must digitally transform to incorporate extreme customer experience (CX) agility into the fabric of their business to drive success in the face of uncertainty. In 2021, this agility will have to be incorporated in three key areas.

1. Digital channels as the primary point of contact

If digital channels had previously been regarded as being predominantly used by younger generations, preferences seen in the past few months have put this assumption to rest. Recent social distancing measures have contributed to the wider adoption of digital channels such as chatbots and social media messaging across all generations, rather than just millennials and Generation Z.

Facing what will be a long-lasting shift in consumption patterns, businesses’ CX teams will need to develop a more agile approach to a customer experience that ensures an omnichannel service. When interacting with customers, they must be equipped with a solution that allows seamless integration of voice and digital channels, and that supports multiple digital service options, self-help and chatbots. This solution will need to rest on a strong, stable and flexible cloud foundation – not only to allow new digital channels to be easily and rapidly added as they become popular but also to enable real-time response to change and drive differentiation through faster innovation.

The reliance on digital channels has never been higher – and will continue growing in 2021. It’s therefore vital that businesses ensure they can keep pace with customer expectations through innovation and interact with them on their preferred channels. This will be key to retaining customers long-term.

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2. Manage remote workforces

2020 has shown that remote working isn’t just possible for many traditionally office-based industries such as customer service, but also sometimes preferable. It has given many employees a better way to structure their workday and work/life balance while ensuring they stay protected. In 2021, flexible working models will continue to become more prominent.

Businesses and their customer experience teams will therefore need to dynamically manage employees and anticipate different working scenarios — remote work, in the office, off-shore, on-shore, in-house or outsourced — and enable them to deliver service across multiple channels. This means managers must be equipped with the tools to address an agile workforce divergence. The workforce must be effectively and efficiently managed as agents work across any channel and from any location.

Also, as digital tools continue to increase in prominence, a robotic workforce will need to be managed together with customer service employees as one integrated workforce. By embracing and adapting to these new working conditions, businesses will be better placed to maintain customer service levels whatever the circumstance.

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3. Real-time insights and visibility

As the extreme changes that have characterised 2020 show no sign of relenting, real-time insights and visibility driven by advanced analytics and AI will become key requirements for businesses in 2021.

Businesses will use the power of analytics and AI to make sense of real-time data, and learn the actions they should take to improve customer experience at the moment. In addition to being able to adapt to trends in real-time, this will empower managers to get a comprehensive picture of employee work status, as some employees decide to remain remote and increasingly ask for control over their schedules.

In the upcoming year, it will be more common for customer service employees to accommodate their work with other activities, leading to last-minute scheduling changes or shift requests. CX teams will therefore need to be equipped with solutions that empower managers to rapidly adapt based on real-time insights to ensure KPIs are met and customer service levels remain high – even with a dispersed workforce. Real-time visibility will be an absolute cornerstone for tomorrow’s businesses, as employees will no longer always be on-site to be managed.

It’s clear that 2020 has accelerated many business trends, establishing them as must-haves for the greater good of customers and employees alike. Digitalisation and real-time visibility will benefit customers as they interact with brands. At the same time, flexibility will empower contact centre employees as they retain more control over their workplace and schedules. Yesterday’s trends are now established realities that businesses must adapt to through extreme customer experience agility to stay competitive and boost brand loyalty in the months and years to come.

Written by John O’Hara, president EMEA at NICE Ltd.

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