The times they are a-changin’
World-wide changes have upended the best-laid plans and expert forecasts. Challenged by continuing uncertainty and perhaps uncharted territory, it has never been harder to predict what lies ahead in the world of consumer trends and customer service. Service leaders are facing the implications of the pandemic in a triple whammy of a changing employee work environment, evolving customer expectations, and the economic/operational impact of the coronavirus pandemic — in other words, staying safe, cutting costs, and keeping the customers satisfied.
Backed by insights and perspectives following a year of crisis, analyst firms will play a significant post-pandemic role in helping organizations to navigate the new reality. We may not have a crystal ball — but we can take a look at five key customer service trends that leading analyst firms agree on.
Customer service trends: Top predictions for 2021
Here are the top five predictions for customer service trends in 2021.
Prediction 1: Empathy will be a core element in CX
More empathetic support is a critical trajectory for customer service in 2021. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need to take into consideration the customers’ state of mind. According to Forrester, organizations should recognize the importance of understanding what customers need physically and emotionally, to provide more empathetic support and experience. Consumers are frustrated and anxious, facing COVID-19-related health, safety, and financial concerns that impact their needs and expectations.
Analysts foresee that customers will value and remain loyal to organizations that prioritize and deliver what they need most — sensitivity to the shifting emotions and concerns that influence decision-making and behavior. In fact, the IDC predicts that by 2023, enterprises that excel at delivering empathy and safety at scale will outperform those that don’t by 40 percent!
Prediction 2: Gig economy will transform the traditional customer service model
Analysts agree that the gig economy, meaning part-time or flexible employees and other external customer support agents — will disrupt traditional service into the foreseeable future. This trend is led by increasing remote work capabilities, people seeking new employment opportunities, and customers preferring alternate channels. A recent survey by Aberdeen of 307 contact center leaders revealed a significant surge in remote work capabilities — a whopping 52% as of June 2020, and that is expected to increase through 2021. People seeking additional income in remote work without long-term obligations will enable contact centers to leverage the ability of gig economy agents.
Gartner predicts that over the next five years, customer service will transition to mainly freelance or “flex” workers to handle requests. Strategic planning must consider the switch to multiple channels. A recent Gartner report predicts that by 2025, customers will pay a freelance expert to address 75% of their service needs. The key takeaway is the critical need to ensure the delivery of high-quality, effective service, and the need to track and measure performance of contact agents that represent the company’s product.
Prediction 3: Customer service will shift from ‘cost centers’ to ‘profit centers’
The future of customer service lies in a transition from ‘cost centers’ that resolve issues to profit centers that increase revenue by generating upsells. The focus will be on improving relationships with a proactive approach that enhances interaction and communication with customers. In Gartner’s analysis, proactive engagement with customers on digital platforms is a key strategy to increase loyalty and serves as an opportunity. According to Gartner research, by 2025, 40% of customer service organizations will become profit centers by implementing digital customer engagement. The report indicates that dissolving organizational silos and increasing collaboration will enable organizations to transition to profit centers with robust service offerings.
Forrester describes this trend as the shift from ‘cost centers’ to ‘experience centers.’ One example is the closure of brick-and-mortar locations, which has impacted the dynamics of providing support and interaction. Forrester foresees a shift to hybrid store/contact center roles, especially for retailers and banks, to maintain the level of customer service and experience previously provided by in-person support.
Prediction 4: Digital adoption will be a key strategy for customer interaction
The pandemic-related shift to digital, online channels — for shopping, financial services, healthcare and more — is here to stay, and looks to be the model for the future of customer service. Forrester predicts that in 2021, digital customer interactions will increase by 40%.
From Gartner’s perspective, the new normal requires organizations to transition to a “digital-first” strategy, enabling them to improve interactions with customers by building proactive engagements on messaging platforms. By 2025, 80% of service organizations will have abandoned native mobile apps in favor of messaging for a better experience. Transition to messaging platforms and integration with third-party apps is expected to further enhance customer experience.
Prediction 5: Contactless service will become a new normal for service organizations
COVID-19 has limited physical interactions, changing consumer demands and behavior patterns . This in turn has generated a shift to a contactless approach, an alternative method of providing service without person-to-person contact. That’s also not likely to change in 2021. According to a survey by IDC, over 36% of manufacturers said that their service or product installation will have a contactless service process. IDC further predicts that by 2021, 65% of organizations will have shifted to digital first through automated operations and contactless experiences. From the IDC perspective, prioritizing the safety of field technicians and customers should be a top goal of service organizations, as well as implementing the latest available technologies and capabilities for optimized service, including artificial intelligence and augmented reality.
COVID-19 health concerns continue to impact both customers and service organizations. The trend of contactless service also aligns with Forrester’s predictions for 2021 that consumers will continue to prefer digital interactions and customer service, to keep themselves safe.
Emerging customer service trends for 2021
There’s no argument that today, providing services that reflect the concerns of customers devastated by the pandemic is an integral element of strategies for business recovery, resilience, and growth. To that end, emerging trends will require transition to technologies that can facilitate a digital-first approach to customer engagement and enhanced remote service capabilities. A more proactive and knowledge-driven approach with a greater emphasis on understanding the customer journey and shifting customer needs will help to sustain loyalty in the future.
This article was first published on the TechSee blog.