Webinar Recap: Women Leading the Way — Customer Service Trends 2021

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Ultimate hosted a 2-hour webinar featuring top leaders in the customer service industry. This exciting digital event featured 7 inspiring female speakers who shared their perspectives on which customer service trends will dominate 2021, and how the industry is transforming with automation.

Hosting the power-packed webinar was Shep Hyken, top Customer Service and Experience Expert, who has authored over half a dozen books on customer service, including bestsellers.

If you missed the webinar — don’t worry. We have summarized all the key highlights and nuggets of wisdom our speakers have shared. Buckle up for an express ride through the top customer service trends of 2021!

The autonomous customer 2021: Cloudy with a chance of AI

Dr Nicola Millard, Principal Innovation Partner, British Telecom Group (BT), shared fascinating insights of how customer preferences and agent welfare evolved during the pandemic, based on BT’s 2020 survey, “The Autonomous Customer”. 5,000 consumers along with 300 agents were polled to understand how the world had changed in light of the pandemic.

Customer expectations haven’t drastically changed: Convenience still key

77% of consumers say they buy more from brands with excellent customer service, and want different channels to reach brands. An area of opportunity that Dr Millard points out is that 82% of consumers said they could not purchase online, choose a delivery slot, or pay for an order. Contact centers tend to have to pick up the pieces when the digital experience fails, so getting this journey right is crucial.

Omnichannel still rules

New channels don’t necessarily wipe out the old ones. Phone is still the top channel of choice for customers. What is key is how people use the different channels. From the research, a profile of 3 types of customers emerged: Visionaries (Those planning ahead, researching, and getting advice, usually online), Utilitarian (Those making a transaction and want it fast and easy through an app or self-service technology), and Customer in crisis (Those who need immediate access to a well trained employee over the phone).

In terms of new channels, chat is still where it’s at — but asynchronous chat still dominates. “Live chat”, where agents juggle several conversations at a time, tend to provide a poor experience. Augmentation the experience with chatbots can improve the customer experience — only if deployed correctly.

How agents are managing through the pandemic

A whopping 69% of agents said customers are asking questions which are difficult to answer and 39% of agents reported often taking calls from people who are “Very stressed” during this pandemic. Adding to this difficulty, 83% customers are usually distracted and multitasking when interacting with agents. Organizations should think about how to follow up after a customer interaction to ensure the customer understands the message.

Resilient and Sustainable CX

We live in a world of rapid change. How do we respond, with the world emerging unevenly from the pandemic? And how do we reshape ourselves and our organizations, in a post-pandemic world? These were exactly the questions that Shahrzad Samadzadeh, VP, UX & Product Design, Service Cloud, Salesforce, explored in her session on building resilient customer service teams.

Defining resilience

Shahrzad presented three definitions of resilience from a quick Google search:

1. Capacity to act in the face of adversity,

2. Adapting well in the face of adversity, and

3. Ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change.

She frames these three definitions as describing what customer service teams need before, during and after the pandemic. Organizations that are already building for resilience have the capacity to act when crisis hits, can adapt well in the midst of crisis, and finally, can recover and rebuild after the storm.

Drawing inspiration from natural systems

Drawing on the work of Ezio Manzini, Samadzadeh took inspiration from natural systems that are resilient. One such system are flocks of starlings. These birds are adept at reacting and maneuvering in large groups to weather changes, without losing sight of their course or without splitting up. Based on observing natural systems, we can understand what makes a system resilient versus fragile.

Fragile systems = Hierarchical + Standardized + Closed

Resilient systems = Connected + Distributed + Open

Building resilience into customer service teams

Hierarchical systems of people following rigid, standardized procedures tend to fail. For instance, structuring a team strictly around tier 1 and tier 2 agents, skilled and lower-skilled people in very set roles — is a recipe for failure. How can customer service teams build resilience? By allowing people to be interconnected but self-sufficient (distributed), hiring for diverse skills and backgrounds (open), and enabling collaboration (connected). In a post-Covid world, resilient organizations can adapt, maneuver, and respond more quickly.

What Customers Want From Businesses in 2021

2020 brought with it a lot of fear, anxiety, loneliness, division, and stress. Is it any wonder that when we engage with businesses today, we want them to feel human? How can businesses engage better, in a more human way with their customers? Kate Hardcastle, the Founder of Insight with Passion, explores these questions.

It all starts with listening

It is human to want to be heard. What are customers today saying? For starters, people today are facing technology overload or “technostress”. They are also facing interruption overload and system feature overload. This has been creeping up all the while, but the global pandemic has brought that to a new level. Today’s customers want things to be easy. Consumers want to automate the laborious to have more time for pleasure, now that they’ve reconnected with their loved ones and with nature. Additionally, customers also want to see themselves reflected in the brands they speak to. Businesses need to reimagine the way they think about and engage with their customers.

Social responsibility is top of mind for customers

They want to see change in the behavior of organizations. They want more positivity, joy, and hope. And engaging with employees is key to ensure that across the organization, your customers are being heard, listened to, and validated.

How businesses can be more human

Prepare to create shape-shifting strategies to meet the evolving needs of customers. Enable consumers to use you as an anchor when they need reassurance. Support the need to mark time and create moments by being there for times of occasion and hope. Allow them to rediscover and feel safety through nostalgia, by evoking and an era that seemed more innocent. Finally, give consumers the opportunity to bring joy into their lives with play and entertainment.

From Repair Department to Premium Service Division

In this session, Sonja Hild, Director of Customer Service, BSH Home Appliances Netherlands shared how she transformed her organization from a short term EBIT-focused profit center to a long-term loyalty creator. The journey required incentivizing the right things, empowering frontliners, and communicating throughout the organization.

Incentivizing the right things from the top down

In service, as Sonja put it, management loves to steer with incentives. However, sometimes incentivizing the wrong things (for instance, fast handle times) can lead to negative outcomes (such as agents being abrupt with customers). Having many incentive metrics also causes teams to work in silos to improve their own numbers. The first step Sonja took was to abolish the fragmented system, and replace it with a single, collective success metric for the whole organization — NPS. She gathered the management team weekly to talk about the current score, and what they could do as an organization to improve things.

Bottom up empowerment

Getting the management aligned was the first step. Bottom up, the frontliners who make up 80-90% of the organization had to drive this change. To do this, BSH created a huge annual beach event called "Service Day", and used this event to ask the frontliners about what the organization could do better. Thousands of pieces of feedback were collected, and clustered into 12 projects. People could choose which project to sign up to, which meant they were working towards transformation out of their own passion. These projects led to an increase in NPS from 14 to 44, which is an extreme increase of 30 points. It also generated a value of several million Euros for the BSH brands.

Making the impact of service visible

Service often feels like the ugly duckling of the organization, as Sonja put it. They’re the ones who have to clean up and sort things out. Often, frontliners don’t feel very seen or appreciated. To address this, Sonja created “Get in touch day” a day for every team member who is not a frontliner to join the service team in the field for a day. This includes sitting beside them while they’re on the phone, and following them on customer house calls. This completely elevated the professionalism and level of pride in BSH’s service team, throughout the organization.

Futureproof Customer Service Eats Marketing for Breakfast

Creating value for customers today requires collaboration throughout your organization. Eveline Erkelens, Customer Experience Lead and Founder of Bright6, talks about prioritizing the needs of your employees, introducing agility in an organization, and the benefits it can bring.

Customer experience and employee experience go hand-in-hand

The voice of the customer can be met by: having a customer-centric attitude; doing things on the customers behalf; practicing one-time contact resolution; and investing in the customer’s history. However, it’s also important to prioritize employee experience — happy employees translate to better customer service. Despite technological advancements and innovation, many organizations still work in conventional methods. Many employees remain unhappy, burnt out and bored, resulting from feeling disconnected, unengaged, and unempowered.

Connect silos, don’t break them

Although customers use technology to address basic queries, they still prefer face-to-face interactions for more complex queries. Eveline observes that many organizations only devote a handful of staff to customer service. In fact, other teams within the organization often view customer service as something that only the customer service department handles.

Eveline decided to implement agile CX within Bright6 to better engage her organization as a whole. She took a range of steps including: understanding employees, setting goals and adapting, inspecting and researching data, encouraging dedication and interest, promoting openness, creating understanding, and demanding transparency.

Results of organizational transformation

These efforts transitioned Bright6 into multi-disciplinary teams emphasizing autonomy, mastery and connection. Multidisciplinary teams were established to improve multiple aspects of customer service beyond answering a phone call. Bright6 saw an increase in customer advocacy, referrals, customer retention, happier employees. Additionally, the organization became price-insensitive and shifted from a cost-based business to a value-adding enterprise.

Leaders in Service: The Route to Excellence

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated shifts to digital channels, which puts higher demands and expectations on customer service. With over 20 years of experience, Marianne Rutz, Operational Excellence Expert at Rutz Consulting believes high quality customer service and high profitability are intertwined, and shares her steps for delivering great customer service.

How customer service has changed in recent years

The pandemic has changed customer behaviors and shifted many services online, from basic necessities to doctor’s appointments. This deluge of online transactions strains customer service teams. Additionally, customers are facing more stress than ever. During the pandemic, Marianne observed that her agents could actually tell through the phone when a customer was facing financial difficulties, just based on their level of emotion and stress. In such situations, customers do not just want their issues resolved: they seek empathy.

Four steps to offer great customer service

Marianne offers four steps you can take today to change your customer service for the better.

1. Harvest low-hanging fruits: Sometimes, all it takes is a short daily conversation to move things along. This was exactly what worked for one of Marianne’s clients, who was trying to address issues while empowering frontline staff. By having managers schedule daily check-ins with frontliners, the client saw employee engagement rising by 45% within a month of implementation.

2. Eliminate issues: If something is broken, frontliners should be empowered to fix it as it arises.

3. Being smart in employing automation: Deploying automation is often seen as being expensive. However, many existing automated processes can be tweaked for greater effectiveness. For example, for a banking client, their IVR script was made more effective by reducing the number of options and making the experience simpler.

4. Delegate and carve out resources for yourself: Marianne suggests consistently blocking your last hour of the day to delegate a task for the next day. This empowers your staff to act while carving out time for yourself for more strategic considerations.

Three Consumer Currencies

Olga Guseva, CX Strategy and Bestselling Author, Integria Consultant shares her insights from her experience as a judge at international CX competitions and her daily work. She believes three currencies shape customer service today: value, time and attention. Businesses stand to benefit by evaluating their products, services or operations from these aspects.

The Currency of Value

Value is conventionally associated with a price. If a customer values a product or service more than its price, that’s a loyal customer. The more loyal customers you have, the more sustainable your business. With the arrival of the pandemic, customers have become even more price-sensitive and value matters more than ever.

The Currency of Time

The pandemic has forced most of us to work from home. For many, this has meant longer working hours, more multitasking, and less free time for the things we love doing. Speed and time is of the essence for customers. To illustrate, Olga shares an experience of working with a banking client. When the pandemic struck, customers had to endure long wait times as operators scrambled to manage volume amid transitioning to working from home. Even when the team was able to reduce the wait time back to pre-pandemic levels, consumers’ perception of wait times did not improve. This shows that customers now value a faster turnaround time than pre-Covid-19 times.

The Currency of Attention

The last currency, attention, was illustrated through an experience with retailers selling health products to the elderly. At the onset of the pandemic, customers postponed their appointments. When businesses resumed operations, these health retailers noticed that their servicing times had increased dramatically. Upon further investigation, the management discovered this was because elderly customers wanted to just talk to the salespeople — they had been sitting at home for many months, and just wanted a listening ear. Based on this insight, management decided to offer attention as an aspect of value delivery to customers, and justified the prolonged servicing time as key to customer retention.

In a nutshell...

A recurring theme of the event were human themes. What emerged throughout was the importance of being human: listening and being empathetic to customers' needs. In the wake of a global pandemic, customers want more time, convenience, and reduced friction — and along the way, moments of happiness and joy as well. Businesses can meet this need through rethinking their customer service. They can harness automation and technology not as the be-all and end-all, but as the enabler to drive more human interactions.

Get ahead of the customer support trends for 2022