A flexible workplace plus smart technology is perfect for improving customer service

What springs to mind when thinking about the workplace of the future? For many, it’s the image of robot workers and voice-activated assistants, and how they will create new ways of working for their human co-workers. Yet, not as much thought is given to how the customer experience will be altered and how organisations can ensure that customer service levels can be taken to new heights not seen previously, to a point where the workplace is geared more and more towards customer service in every way.

One way that technology has tangibly fuelled a dramatic change in our workplace is via the advent of flexible and remote working, including the so-called ‘gig economy’. While these new ways of working have brought with them an improved work-life balance for many, as well as improved staff creativity and productivity, they haven’t necessarily been accompanied by an improvement in customer service. According to Pegasystems recent Future of Work report, some people actually think that these ways of working could be detrimental to customer experience, with eight out of ten (81 percent) believing the growth of a freelance workforce and the resulting decline in a company’s permanent staff will make it harder to guarantee that the customer remains at the heart of their company culture. In tandem, 54% think a flexible freelance workforce will make it harder to build ongoing relationships with customers, and a significant minority (41%) believe it will become harder to improve the quality of customer service. This is rather ironic when considering the rise of the gig economy was originally created with the primary goal of making consumers’ lives easier.

>See also: The increasing impact of the digital workplace

Operating as a freelancer or on flexi-time can bring with it a significant lack of managerial support in terms of needing to respond to customers positively, and we should learn lessons about the drawbacks. Fortunately, technology will be key to making sure that every worker, whatever their employment status, however long their gig, is given clear, on-the-spot guidance on how to deliver an excellent customer experience. Pegasystems’ recent Future of Work report showed that freelancers overwhelmingly welcome the use of algorithms that generate guidance about the appropriate course of action (84%) and quality CRM systems (90%) in order to ensure the customer-centric approach is maintained among freelance staff. Personalisation is another area where freelancers would welcome technical support, with nine out of ten saying it will be important for companies to provide their remote staff with high-quality data analytics so that they can provide a level of personalisation on their first shift that a customer can’t distinguish from that of a long-term permanent staffer.

Furthermore, the use of AI and data analytics for real-time support and guidance means that employees who don’t work the traditional 9-5 pattern, will feel more connected and supported in their work, further improving motivation and productivity which will inevitably feed into customer service levels.

>See also: Technology is ready to define the future of the workplace

But the benefits of AI and data analytics doesn’t stop there. In the same way that dating apps match potential partners based on their personality and preferences, we will start to witness businesses using employee analytics to pair members of staff to a particular assignment on a task-by-task basis, based on their type and skill level, thus improving the employee effectiveness and customer service. Additionally, we could even see customer services representatives being matched to each individual customer based on the customer’s profile and requirements.

According to our research, these types of Uber-style platforms that automatically match available talent to market demand will be developed in the next five years, with half of our respondents expecting algorithmic matching of tasks to the most suitable freelance worker to become standard practice – jumping to 86% within ten years. Over the same time frame, nine out of ten think it will be standard practice to use online marketplaces that automatically match workers to jobs based on data about their skills, aptitude and attitude.

Technology has provided consumers with a platform to rate businesses and their customer-facing staff for their quality of service – TripAdvisor for example – and this will become prevalent throughout all customer-facing industries, whereby staff will be regularly evaluated on their performance. Not only will this spur on workers to give the highest level of service, this information will be useful from both an employer and customer perspective. For example, customer feedback will be used to continuously update a worker’s online profile, allowing would-be employers to quickly rate the suitability of potential workers (over nine out of ten of respondents to the Future of Work report agree with this statement). Indeed, 86% anticipate TripAdvisor-style ratings of customer-facing workers based on customer feedback will become standard practice within ten years. And it’s not just customers who will have input into a worker’s online profile: 90% of respondents expect feedback from peers and 88% feedback from managers to be continuously fed into online profiles.

>See also: The sharing economy: driving workplace change

But the mechanism of rating will also work in the other direction, and 83% of the survey’s respondents expect these TripAdvisor-style ratings of management based on employee feedback to be standard within ten years. This transparency could help to fuel employee empowerment and put pressure on businesses to offer attractive packages and employee wellbeing in order to entice the best talent to provide the high levels of customer service that we now expect. Those who are serious about attracting the best talent do not have long to implement best-in class technology solutions: almost two-thirds (64%) of our respondents predict that in just five years the quality of the technology platform will be more influential than the location of a company’s premises when it comes to attracting the best staff – and eight percent report this is already true in their sector.

The voice of the consumer has been amplified as a consequence of social media and review websites. As it grows ever louder, companies cannot afford to lose their best performers to rivals with higher rated technology solutions and management. Over the last few years the customer experience battlefield has grown in competitiveness so much that the slightest negative impact, whether that be a damaging review or similar, could be the difference between keeping and losing a customer or employee. Companies cannot afford to make this mistake.

By John Everhard, director at Pegasystems

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