Has Customer Service Post-Covid Gotten Worse?


November 9, 2023

Here’s an understatement: The Covid-19 pandemic changed a lot of things. One of them is customer service. From the start to the present, according to multiple surveys, it’s gotten a lot worse.

Lately, though, other studies show it’s starting to improve. And here’s the main reason why: It makes economic sense. “Research shows companies that shift to a more customer-first approach increase revenues by a factor of 3.5,” Forbes wrote. “But there’s also a growing sense that customer service can’t be done the old way in a world of changing consumer needs and technology like artificial intelligence, which has the potential to make dramatic improvements.”

As Somya Kapoor, CEO of TheLoops, an AI platform for customer experience, told the publication, “It’s a race to make customer interactions and experiences memorable and effortless, particularly when inflation has everyone reconsidering their purchases.”

Fortunately there’s plenty of existing and emerging tech to help out.

“Today, the most impactful technologies in service are ones that support reps to deliver low-effort, value-enhanced experiences in the live channel,” said Lauren Villeneuve, Sr. Director, Advisory in the Gartner Customer Service & Support practice. “These technologies are critical to continue to shift customers’ transactional issues to self-service so reps can focus on more complex issues.”

In a recent report, Gartner listed the “top five most valuable technologies in service” based on percentage of respondents. Among them are case management systems, internal collaboration tools, cloud-based contact center systems, knowledge management systems and customer analytics dashboards.

“Customer service and support leaders recognize that the future lies not in simply adding more channels, but in delivering a continuous multichannel experience supported by consistent knowledge content and smooth, nonrepetitive channel transitions,” Villeneuve said.

She added, “The technology landscape in service and support is constantly evolving – and we expect it will continue to do so, particularly with the recent advent of generative AI. For now, leaders are continuing to find value in the technologies which have traditionally supported service and are looking towards these technological advancements to further mature the function.”

Alongside case management systems and internal collaboration tools, cloud-based contact center systems made the top 3 of tech that was deemed to have the most value. That’s no surprise seeing as cloud contact centers are an increasingly popular way to streamline operations and customer communication. Everything — phone, email, text, social media — is in one place — no on-prem hardware necessary.

In a blog on its website, VoIP company NexTiva explains it this way:

“On-prem contact centers require employees to be physically present, demand constant maintenance, and require expensive (and quickly obsolete) hardware. On-site call centers revolve around phone conversations, which don’t address the modern customer experience. For these reasons and more, cloud-based contact center solutions are the right approach for high-growth companies.

“Cloud contact centers are entirely different. They offer accelerated setup, improved flexibility, and real-time analytics. In the end, this means lower operating costs, gains in customer experience and faster time to market.”

In a recent article for Biz Tech Magazine titled “The cloud has revolutionized how businesses run their contact centers,” tech writer Chris Hayhurst wrote, based on research by Deloitte, that the pandemic “accelerated a shift [toward cloud telephony] that was already underway. Prior to the pandemic, most companies were merely dipping their toes in to test the waters. Now, more than ever, they’re diving in head first.”

As Nextiva correctly (if self-servingly) notes, cloud contact centers (aka CCaaS — contact center as a service) offer an array of advantages over their on-prem cousins. Setup is far easier, sky’s the limit in terms of scalability, reliability is greatly improved, new features are constantly being added, extensive integrations are possible across digital channels and tools, up-front and monthly per-user costs are (generally) lower, there’s more flexibility for remote workers and customer engagement benefits from “seamless conversations across channels and departments.” (In other words, there’s no siloing.)

Maybe the biggest advantage of cloud contact centers, according to TechTarget.com, is that “they prepare organizations for the future, so they don’t fall behind competitors’ innovations. Cloud users are more apt to adopt AI-enabled capabilities: 49.8 percent use AI with cloud contact centers vs. 25 percent with on-premises contact centers.”

Of course, the most successful contact centers — cloud or not — still require skilled and motivated people to staff them. Because at its core, customer service remains, as one author-expert put it, “a human-to-human business.” So, while technology (in particular, AI) is a boon, it’s not a stand-alone remedy. And as more than one expert has predicted, it probably never will be. In fact, some say retaining contact center agents is more crucial than ever.

“I believe there are three elements of the ‘agent lifecycle’ that need to be addressed to reduce attrition and drive performance,” Zayd Enam, co-founder and CEO of Cresta wrote in Forbes last year. “Contact centers need tools that can (1) improve ramp time, (2) help agents perform better in their roles (impacting their EX and salaries) and (3) manage employee career progression.” We found that successful and satisfied agents are more willing to stay at their companies. This is one reason why AI-driven solutions that assist agents have increased in popularity.

“These four shifts mean the contact centers of the future will be very different. They will likely move to the cloud to drive efficiency. AI is augmenting the human intelligence of agents so they can perform well from anywhere and is driving insights for managers and organizations, becoming truly strategic to the customer experience.”

About Mindsight

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