Customer service professionals used to be treated as post-purchase problem solvers. Now, they’re closer to customer experience ambassadors, which means the function is becoming more and more strategic. In a recent webinar, Trailblazers Xero and Community Vision explain what those changes look like and what they’ve learned.
Following the 4th Edition State of Service Report, we knew the last 12 months had deepened businesses’ focus on customer experience and started to transform the role of service. But our recent webinar had leaders going beyond broad trends and into the details of their own business strategies, fielding audience questions and illustrating not only what they learned in 2020 but how they’re applying it in 2021.
The report gave us a preview into how service is changing. More than 7,000 survey responses from service professionals around the globe confirmed, for example, that 81% of decision makers are accelerating digital initiatives. A technological shift that was going to occur more gradually over several years has been accelerated by the pandemic and its effects on customer behaviours and expectations.
It’s important to talk about these broad changes, but we also wanted to hear business leaders explain this evolution in their own words and from their organisation’s unique perspective.
Trailblazers Nigel Piper, Executive General Manager Customer Experience at Xero and Yvonne Timson, Chief Operating Officer at Community Vision, told us what changing service operations look like in the real world. And our own Olive Huang, Vice President Product Strategy at Salesforce, offered additional insights into what the future holds for service.
Xero: A massive shift in behaviour
“Our customers have changed massively,” Nigel Piper said.
“They wanted much more information, more timely information, and in the context of a small business, it’s ‘How much cash have I got?’. ‘Can I make my payroll?’. ‘What’s the government stimulus?’. ‘Am I eligible for that?’.”
The hunger for knowledge went way beyond the usual bounds of product support as the Xero service team suddenly found itself in what felt more like a mentoring role. Within 24 hours of lockdowns in Australia and New Zealand, the team at Xero had set up a Business Continuity Hub to proactively deliver information and guidance. The Hub saw two million visitors per month.
Just over 12 months ago, Xero had put in place a Chief Customer Officer whose role was to bring all communications and information from sales, service and marketing together. That meant the customer experience is unified across an entire reporting line, rather than split into silos.
“That’s allowed us to really understand all attributes and aspects of our organisation, to focus on the customer and … really react quickly to the customer,” Piper said.
This whole-of-business function of service, this escape from the silo, is a trend he expects to see continuing and growing amongst businesses. It will become critical over the next 12 to 24 months, Piper said, and will be a key ingredient in every organisation’s success.
He also advised other service organisations to think about the customers who aren’t engaging with them. Of course, responding to customers with questions will always be an important aspect of customer experience, but how can service professionals reach the customers who are less likely to engage? Piper noted that organisations may need to think harder about reaching those customers with proactive content and guidance.
Community Vision: In the field
When you’re a care provider for people who have nobody else to care for them – many of whom happen to be some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19 – how does your field service team continue to carry out its role?
According to Yvonne Timson, the challenge has not been staff engagement, since the nature of the work means it attracts people who are already highly engaged in helping others. The challenge has instead been elsewhere, including a customer base that is increasingly fearful of doing things they’d normally do, and the continuity of care in an environment in which physical contact is heavily discouraged.
“We’ve had to work very quickly to ensure that these customers still receive a service, because … social isolation deteriorates health outcomes quite rapidly,” she said.
“We want to continue that contact. We want to continue the services to support those individuals. But it would just have to be in a different way. So, what COVID has been able to do is accelerate some of those [digital] plans, because our customers have been more open to receiving services in different ways.”
Processes of care have changed enormously over the past 12 months, Timson said.
One example is the prompting of customers to take the right medication at the right time. Previously, this involved a care worker visiting the customer’s household. Now, customers are given iPads and training in how to use them, then regular video calls are placed and recorded as medications are taken. The recording is part of the organisation meeting its quality standards.
Such agility has required a strong set of digital tools internally. Fortunately for Community Vision and its customers, over the last two years the organisation has been on a digital transformation journey.
Customers can directly access their own accounts to book and change appointments, and can see in real time when a care worker is on their way. Members of the field service team can organise and manage care plans with each customer, whether in the customer’s home or during a remote meeting.
It adds up to far improved service outcomes and a more active, engaged role for customers and service agents alike.
Pace of technological change will continue to increase
The speed of digital transformation ramped up at the beginning of the pandemic, says Olive Huang, and that pace will continue throughout 2021.
“The first aspect of what we have observed is about cost optimisation and value optimisation,” she said.
Businesses are looking to optimise cost and value by building in technologies that include automation. This boosts resilience and reduces human workload, she explained.
This will allow service teams more time to do what they’re best at, and to carry out roles that are increasingly involved in strategic goals across the business.
The customer service operational model will also continue to evolve, including the ongoing development of hub-and-spoke models that see some staff working in offices and others coming in only for training and meetings, then working remotely.
If one thing is for sure, it’s that 2021 will be the year of service. As leaders shift their focuses to dismantling silos and improving customer experience more holistically, service professionals will have an enormous role to play – all while managing changes in their own ways of working.
That’s the state of service in 2021.