Customer service strategy and management has witnessed a paradigm shift over the past two decades. When contact centers were first established, most companies treated them as a cost center. The primary strategic aim was to run them as efficiently as possible. This changed as businesses (and management) realized the importance of customer service and customer experience to winning and retaining customers leading to a greater focus and investment in processes and systems to improve service levels.
Measurement shifted from metrics such as average handling time and the number of calls handled per hour to more customer-focused measures such as CSAT and Net Promoter Score (NPS). The demands for businesses and IT to be quicker in responding to the ever-evolving customer environment fuelled by the advent of digitization, globalization, automation, and analytics. Moreover, the emergence of COVID-19 massively disrupted IT project plans accelerating the digitization journey of almost all organizations. This forced laggards who ignored remote working, cloud, apps and social media to immediately adapt or to risk oblivion.
As organizational capabilities change, so must IT capabilities—and sometimes it becomes necessary to reconfigure or completely replace organizational structures, processes, or systems in response to evolving marketplace realities. Simultaneously, a desire for control and stability still exists to address any lingering hesitation to embrace change in IT environments.
An increasingly common suggestion for how businesses can achieve all these things effectively is through IT agility.
What is IT Agility
In general, agility is a common business term that refers to how fast an organization responds to opportunities. It is recognized as the time in between an organization becoming aware of a potential business opportunity and acting on it.
The Need for Customer Service Agility
Now, the world is changing again, and strategy and leadership needs to change with it. We are now living in a fast-moving, more disrupted world. While the impact of COVID-19 is part of this, other factors also contribute to this instability:
- Customers are more fickle, have higher standards and are more able to easily switch to your closest competitors
- The shift to the gig economy, remote working and skills shortages are all impacting capacity, both in the customer service team and beyond.
- Disruptions to the interconnected supply chain, from extreme weather to fluctuations in supply, are becoming more common, leading to shortages and rising customer concerns.
All in all, there are fewer constants that businesses can rely on when planning their operations.
The Impact on Customer Service Strategy
All these factors mean that customer service is more important than ever and it must be more agile and flexible than before, with the ability to change quickly, scaling up and down to meet their varying needs.
Building this type of a customer service environment requires the management to reshape their strategy around four core pillars:
1. A Collaborative Culture
Customer journeys are horizontal, spanning multiple different departments. Customers don’t differentiate between these teams – they see one company and want consistent experience. That requires an open, collaborative culture that breaks departmental silos and bring teams together to work on solving customer problems.
2. Workforce Transformation
The old model of contact centre agents focused on answering routine, repetitive queries no longer fit the bill. With customers able to solve basic issues themselves through self-service and chatbots, agents need to be trained and empowered to handle high value interactions. This requires new skills, some of which will be brought in via gig economy workers to handle specific types of interactions within customer service. Management will need to incentivise the right behaviours throughout the team, including through technology.
3. More Flexible IT Infrastructure
Rigid processes simply cannot cope with today’s uncertainties. Instead, businesses require more agile processes, and empowered members of staff, focused on meeting changing customer needs. Likewise, the organization’s IT infrastructure should encourage and support cross-department (and external) collaboration, matching the customer journey rather than reinforcing silos.
4. Supportive Systems and Technology
The overnight switch to remote working highlighted the advantages of cloud-based technology in the contact centre and turbocharged the adoption of unified communications platforms such as Microsoft Teams. Organisations need an agile, scalable technology infrastructure that integrates with wider business systems such as CRM and logistics. Moreover, it should empower staff and enable customers to help themselves through self-service.
Ensuring that this strategy is implemented effectively relies on senior management. Customer service must be championed from the top of the organisation, with a real involvement and understanding from leaders. In short, it is no longer enough for CEOs to talk about the importance of customer service to the business, but then fail to deliver on the ground. That means always thinking like a customer. What do they want and need? Above all, how is this changing when it comes to service? How can you better support/empower your team to deliver this?
The first step towards agility is to understand that business as usual is a thing of the past. Changing times require a new strategy, built on agility. Implementing this enables transformative improvements in service, which feeds into greater customer loyalty and higher revenues. Consequently, it will start contributing to business success, now and in the future.