Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

COVID-19 has significantly accelerated service transformation

The COVID-19 pandemic led to breakneck speed shift to digital-first customer engagement and remote work, prompting service and support organizations to reconsider the future of their people, process, and technology.

For the fourth edition of its "State of Service" report, Salesforce Research surveyed over 7,000 global customer service professionals to determine changing service standards in the midst of crisis, what new strategies, tactics, and technologies service organizations are turning to in the new normal, how service organizations are navigating abrupt changes in their work environment, and finally the impact and trajectory of field service during a time of social distancing. Here is the executive summary of the report's findings: 

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  1. Teams Navigate New Standards of Engagement - As customer expectations shift, a new digital-first playbook is emerging. Eighty-one percent of decision makers say they're accelerating digital initiatives.

  2. Agent Agility is Key as Demand Surges - Resources are largely flat as case volume surges, prompting teams to rethink their tactics and tools. Seventy-four percent of decision makers say they're more reliant on data than before the pandemic.

  3. Service Extends to Sales, Marketing, and Beyond - Service teams are increasingly integrating their metrics, objectives, and technology with sales, marketing, and ecommerce colleagues. Seventy-nine percent of service professionals say it's impossible to provide great service without full customer context.

  4. Career Paths Come into Focus - Playing an increasingly visible and strategic business role, service agents are increasingly enthusiastic about their futures. Sixty-seven percent of agents see a clear career path -- up from 59% in 2018.

  5. Workforce Management Takes a New Shape - With social distancing necessary for the foreseeable future, service teams are building the future of work in real time. Only 42% of service professionals believe they'll work outside the home in 2021.

  6. Field Service Evolution Drives Revenue - Customers remain enthusiastic about service that comes to them, leaving field service investments largely intact. Seventy-five percent of decision makers say field service is key to their overall strategy. 

Crisis shifts services digital transformation into high gear

Every business is a digital business -- an important lesson in 2020. Seventy-seven percent of service agents say their company views them as customer advocates. Seventy-eight percent of agents say their company views them as brand ambassadors. Your culture is your brand. And your customer facing employees reveal your culture. Seventy-eight percent of decision makers say they've invested in new technology as a result of the pandemic.

Teams Navigate New Standards of Engagement

Seventy-one percent of consumers say that businesses that show empathy during the pandemic have earned their loyalty. And  83% of service professionals say they've changed policies to provide more flexibility to customers during the pandemic.

Customers still expect seamless and quick resolutions. Eighty-three percent of customers expect to interact with someone immediately when they contact a company, and 82% expect to solve complex problems by talking to one person. More than two out of three service professionals view quality as important as speed, yet delivering both is easier said than done. In fact, 63% of agents say it's difficult to balance speed and quality.

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Balancing quality and speed as success factors for service organizations 

Eighty-seven percent of service professionals say customers have increased their use of digital channels during the pandemic.  Customers expect their affinity for digital engagement to last beyond the peak of the pandemic, prompting service organizations to move up their timelines for digital transformation. And 81% of decision makers say they're accelerating digital initiatives. A glimpse into the future: Fifty-seven percent of service professionals believe voice assistants will become a key service channel.

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  As Customers Go Digital, So Do Contact Centers

Success measurements in services are also changing based on the impact of the pandemic. The report shows that 71% of service professionals say they've changed or reprioritized metrics due to the pandemic. Customer satisfaction remains the most essential service metric, but a relatively new success measure -- customer effort -- is now included among the most indispensable KPIs.

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Shifting success measurements reflect customer and business objectives 

Agent Agility is Key as Demand Surges

The increased demand for customer service isn't being met with increased resources as businesses take a hard look at their budgets amid economic uncertainty. In fact, as the majority of organizations experience a higher number of service and support cases, budgets and headcount are largely flat or down. The research shows that 75% of service professionals say managing case volume has become more challenging during the pandemic.

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Service resources are flat but the work load is increasing due to the pandemic 

Automation may help teams find relief from the increased demands of customer service amid crises. Automation is the key enabler of productivity, innovation and growth; and perhaps the most important element of digital transformation. Artificial intelligence (AI) is often the "how" of automation, working behind the scenes to raise insights and recommendations, populate information, or trigger processes. Since 2018, the share of service decision makers reporting AI use has risen by approximately one-third. The report found that 77% of agents say automating routine tasks allows them to focus on more complex work -- up from 69% in 2018. Nearly four in five service professionals say they've noticed an uptick in self-service during the pandemic, and nearly two-thirds credit it with easing case volume. Service organizations have increased their adoption of chatbots -- which are often powered by AI -- by nearly two-thirds since 2018.

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The power and benefits of automation in services 

Service Extends to Sales, Marketing, and Beyond

Seventy-six percent of customers expect consistent interactions across departments, but 53% say it generally feels like sales, service, and marketing don't share information. Over two-thirds of high performers report alignment across marketing and ecommerce, with even greater alignment (82%) with sales. And 88% of service teams share common goals and metrics with sales teams -- up from 81% in 2018.

The report shows that 79% of service professionals say it's impossible to provide great service without a complete view of customer interactions. Eighty-three percent of service organizations use the same CRM system as their marketing and sales colleagues.

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Customer service is not a department 

As service becomes increasingly digital and connected experiences more expected, partnerships with IT are critical. Eighty-eight percent of decision makers call IT a strategic partner. And 77% of agents say they have the tools and technology they need to do their jobs -- up from 69% in 2018.

Workforce Management Takes a New Shape

At the time of the survey, over half of service professionals around the world were working from home -- nearly three times as many who did so in 2019. What's more, the majority either expect to work remotely into 2021 or remain uncertain about their future work setting. 

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The future of work is likely to be hybrid for services in 2021

According to the report, service organizations are struggling with: 1. employee health monitoring, 2. remote employee training, 3. staff according to case volume and demand, 4. forecasting case volume and demand, and 5. remote new hire onboarding. The report found that 62% of service organizations have brought employees from other departments into service and support roles.

Career Paths Come Into Focus

In an economic crisis in which customer retention is paramount, the value of great customer service is becoming even clearer. Nearly four out of five agents appreciate the impact of their work on the business, and nearly as many see greater appreciation from management, as well. High performers are 81% more likely than underperformers to incentivize agents to upsell. The skills required of agents are becoming broader and more complex than those traditionally associated with the role. The report shows that 77% of agents say their role is more strategic than two years ago -- up from 71% in 2018. The report notes that 55% of agents say they need better training in order to do their jobs well. Service organizations must continue to invest in employee training as a key success factor. 

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The importance of soft and hard skill in services 

Field Service Evolution Drives Revenue

According to the report, the growth of field service has been a major trend in customer service for several years, but a public health crisis has threatened to derail the trajectory of a function reliant on in-person engagement. Research shows that 70% of consumers say they still prefer in-person service appointments over alternatives. Eighty percent of decision makers say field service is a key part of their overall strategy. The report also found that 75% of mobile workers say field operations are connected to core service at their organization. And 80% of mobile workers say their employer has taken the necessary steps to keep them safe during the pandemic. The pandemic has underscored the importance of providing service from anywhere.

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The pandemic has introduced new pressures for field service organizations 

The State of Services report is very comprehensive. This nearly 50-page research includes industry and demographic information and several use cases with companies that hare highlighted based on their high performing outcomes in services. To learn more about this 2020 research, you can visit here