Shifting the customer experience from a cost center to a profit center

Customer service is experiencing a renaissance, and with the right imagination, intention, and technology, it can also become a business growth engine by driving satisfaction, sales, and loyalty.

The customer service industry has been evolving with every technological revolution for decades now, but the pandemic put a spotlight on the importance of also delivering exceptional service experiences. According to a recent report, 58% of customers say COVID-19 has raised their standards for customer service. The most empathetic organizations realized the opportunity for humanity in service, tasking service representatives with the responsibility of ensuring that customers were able to access products and services that helped their families during this ongoing health crises -- not to mention a time of economic uncertainty. Now that the world is turning a corner and starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, customers' expectations for personal, efficient, and integrated service will only continue to rise.

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Even before the pandemic, customer service was often considered the weakest link in the customer journey. Since 2020 though, thoughtful organizations humanized customer service, demonstrating an understanding of humanity to deliver the experiences that human beings needed in a time of shared crisis. Beyond the ability to meet a surging demand in service inquiries, customer service representatives needed to have soft skills like empathy and patience to provide an appropriate and effective level of service for customers -- oftentimes while dealing with stressful personal situations of their own.

Now headed into a Novel Economy, the customer service industry is yet again facing another moment in the spotlight. Before COVID-19 (BC), customer service was viewed as a cost center, where investments in technology were meant to automate and scale customer engagement. Whether we yet realize it or not, agents, chatbots, IVRs, and systems and policies, are the real faces of brands. And the pandemic has awakened customers to the reality that they don't have to settle when it comes to their business relationships.

During COVID-19, companies that invested in automation, AI, training, and agent empowerment learned that service is not a cost center at all. It's an investment in customer engagement that can deliver intentional, meaningful experiences, at scale, that lead to retention, and ultimately loyalty. Companies that see service not as a cost center, but instead as a profit center, will create a significant competitive advantage by investing in agent and customer experiences and platforms that enhance relationships.

Becoming the face of the brand

Today, consumers are interacting with service agents at several points and for a wide variety of reasons. In the past, marketing and sales teams were the first touchpoint of every customer interaction, but the script has since been flipped. Customer service is now the entry point for new and returning customers, alike. This is due in large part to the rapid adoption of automated touchpoints and chatbots greeting customers online during the discovery and also support processes. If customers have any questions that a chatbot can't answer, it is an agent who steps in to answer questions and offer support. Engaging a customer effectively when in need of resolution and in discovery mode are very different in terms of skills, training, and enablement. 

Technology, and service agents, are absolutely crucial to building and maintaining customer relationships in this Novel Economy.

This not only means delivering exceptional service reactively, but also proactively assisting customers, creating new touchpoints, and using smart technologies that bolster the bond between customer, virtual agent, and agent -- and even potentially provide new opportunities for in-the-moment sales leads.

All of this is truly great progress for the customer service industry, and things will only continue to trend in this direction. But while it's important to understand the customer and their needs, it's equally as important to understand the service agent and what will be needed to help them deliver the experiences that customers now expect.

Engagement is key

Providing service agents with the technology and tools needed to meet massive surges in demand is a must, and so is investing in your agents. I know this goes without saying, but, like customers, agents are people too. This means providing them with more than just technology -- access to in-depth training and re-skilling, empowerment to more creativity engage customers, capabilities that allow them to adjust their schedules around their personal lives, and real-time data to help successfully navigate service interactions. 

In fact, 91% of customers say a positive customer service experience makes them more likely to make another purchase. To put it simply, service keeps customers coming back and will drive more revenue than ever before.

The skills required of service agents have changed dramatically, and this has in turn shifted the narrative on customer service as a career path as well. As service agent responsibilities become increasingly broad and complex, there's a newly found respect for customer service as a profession. With that respect comes a need for service leaders to change the ways in which they manage their teams. Ultimately, agents need to feel engaged and trusted to successfully fill these new important roles. Without that level of care from service leaders, customer service teams will continue to operate as if they were cost centers -- and in a market where service is now expected to deliver exponential value, those businesses are destined for failure.

Setting up agents for success

Brands and customers rely on agents now more than ever. The experience that customers have during discovery or when in need of support, sets the stage for not only that one moment but also the entire relationship. Satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy become metrics of next-generation engagement. That said, leaders cannot expect service agents to engage with customers without feeling engaged themselves.

Going forward, brands will continue to lean on service teams more and more. If agents aren't engaged with customers during each interaction and instead are simply trying to keep their heads above water in a sea of demand, customers will leave each interaction unsatisfied and unlikely to return. By empowering service agents and customers, businesses are setting themselves up for success by investing in agent and customer relationships.