From artificial intelligence to emotional intelligence, the latest edition of the State of Service report captures a year of pivotal change for customer service. But its findings also signal the priorities of service leaders who are building a brighter 2021.

 

For most of 2020, service professionals were fielding more complex cases from customers they’ve described as more anxious and harder to satisfy. Gradual trends towards digital channels and remote work became the norm almost overnight. Change came fast, especially for customer service.

So how did successful service teams adapt? And which priorities are most likely to help service organisations succeed in 2021? 

To find out, the fourth edition of the State of Service report explores more than 7,000 survey responses from service professionals globally. Findings reveal how customer service is evolving – and the four priorities that will help Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) leaders evolve their service strategies for the better.

1. Be the customer’s hero

 

Pre-pandemic, service professionals were already racing to meet rising customer expectations. Many of those expectations demand digital experiences, self service, speed and convenience. Those are still critical.

But 2020 underscored the importance of something a little more human: empathy. To take more empathetic approaches, agents need both flexibility and clarity from decision-makers. 

As a result, most ANZ service teams (86%) altered their policies to give customers greater flexibility during the pandemic. Globally, top-performing service teams supported this flexibility with clear guidelines, communication and training – agents from high-performing service teams were 1.9 times more likely to say they have clear guidance on how flexible they can be.

Still, with life happening fast for customers, agents don’t always have the tools to keep up. Only 32% of ANZ agents say they can access the information they need on a single screen, delaying resolution time. As more service organisations incorporate remote work into their long-term strategies, digital tools including cloud telephony or 360-degree views of customers can empower agents to better support customers when they need it most.

2. Dismantle silos but keep information tidy

 

Globally, most customers (76%) expect consistency when interacting with a business, but 54% say it feels like sales, service and marketing don’t share information. Organisational silos were already a challenge and, now, teams are more geographically scattered than ever.

The problem doesn’t seem to be location, though. While most ANZ agents (77%) say they can access data remotely, many are struggling to get a complete picture of customer interactions. Agents’ visibility of marketing interactions lags sales and ecommerce worldwide. The problem is bigger in ANZ, where only 48% of agents say they have a complete view of marketing interactions, compared to 65% in all countries.

Meanwhile, global respondents say high-performing teams coordinate between sales, ecommerce and marketing through shared metrics and tools. For example, across all countries, 83% of service organisations using CRM share the same system with marketing and sales functions. IT partnership is another factor – just 6% of global decision-makers say IT is uninvolved in their service technology choices. 

Promisingly, 77% of ANZ decision-makers say they’re investing in service technology. But consistent customer experiences rely on making these investment decisions collaboratively and ensuring they’re aligned with team structures. 

And with 68% of ANZ agents needing to toggle between multiple screens, it’s important for extra information to show up in user-friendly interfaces. Removing silos might not help if it leaves agents wading through confusing data.

3. Lean on machines

 

Service demand surged in 2020, but budgets didn’t. Globally, 54% of service professionals say case volume increased and 75% describe cases as more complex. Despite mostly flat budgets, agents were left with a larger number of more complex cases.

To adapt, ANZ service organisations got creative with resources. More than half brought in employees from other departments to manage caseload, while 90% shifted workflows and processes.

However, technology might be the more decisive avenue. Across the world, 32% of service decision-makers say they used automation or AI in 2020 and nearly two-thirds say customer self service helped ease pandemic caseloads. 

Automation and AI don’t just help manage unexpected demand or reduce manual work. They can enhance decision-making and use predictive flags or prompts for more proactive approaches to helping customers.

Chatbots, typically powered by AI, are one way service teams can resolve simpler cases faster without involving agents. ANZ service organisations somewhat lag other countries at 35% adoption compared to 40% worldwide, suggesting chatbots might be a quick win for ANZ decision-makers.

4. Find new ways to look after your people

 

Since the pandemic has left customers craving stronger support, it’s little surprise that ANZ service decision-makers see field service as a strategic asset. Eighty-two percent say it’s a key part of their overall strategy and 75% say it drives significant revenue, while 77% say they’re investing in service agent training.

But the report also reveals some gaps, mostly related to remote work. Worldwide, not even high-performing service organisations can say they’ve mastered remote training, onboarding or forecasting case volume. Despite high-performing service professionals responding more confidently than others, less than half say their organisations excel at managing these new realities.

Career development is an even bigger gap for ANZ service organisations. In all countries, 67% of service agents see a clear path for career growth at their jobs. Only 48% see a similar path in ANZ. 

From what we’ve learned in 2020, high-performing service organisations are likely to move with agility, equipped with the right tools, the right structures and just the right amount of heart. Bringing that to life, however, demands collaborative, strategic investments in people and technology. 

For full insights, check out the fourth edition of the State of Service report today

Hear from Trailblazers in customer service about how they are driving rapid digital transformation in their organisations – join the State of Service 2021 launch webinar on 10 February 2021 at 11am. Find out more and register.