Over the past few years in India, more and more service leaders have been looking to technology to solve their problems. The pandemic has kicked that trend into high gear. That’s because maintaining service resilience in this unique time has meant overcoming unique challenges.

In India, offering great service when employees have been forced to work at home hasn’t been easy. Sales leaders have had to make heroic efforts to get their teams to a point where there is continuity for their own businesses as well as those of their clients.

The first challenge was providing infrastructure to service teams. Most had been working in centralised contact centres. They relied on desktop computers and very few had laptops with the processing power required to run essential applications. When they were suddenly required to work from home, a wide infrastructure gap had to be bridged.

The next major challenge was connectivity, both in terms of internet and telephony. Phone systems had to be reconfigured to allow calls to be bounced through to personal lines of service agents. And once physical computer issues had been managed, non-voice channels also had to be routed through to the agents.

Finally, there were challenges around productivity, effectiveness and collaboration. Within a culture where many generations of a family often share the same home, how do service agents ensure they’re as productive as they are in the office? When they don’t have their manager or subject matter experts nearby, how do they ensure the quality of their work?

Not to mention the difficulty of trying to replicate the organic collaboration that goes on within an office, both within a team and between departments. Without it, how do employees improve, learn and develop? How do they innovate?

Throughout 2020, these problems, and many more, have been faced by service leaders and their teams in the Indian market. They’re not over for some. Many organisations are still working to realise optimal results. But there are known solutions.

First and foremost is the strategic use of technology to reduce service demand by enabling self-service. This technology creates connectivity wherever and whenever the agent happens to be working. It also means employees have the collaboration tools that streamline, organise and guarantee a healthy amount of communication between them and their colleagues.


Tough decisions for service leaders

Of course, working from home hasn’t been the only obstacle. The toughest decisions service leaders have been facing this year in India have had one of three themes.

First is contingency planning. Service operations were mostly not ready for this kind of situation. Businesses should be asking themselves what they have learned from this situation and how they can upgrade their business continuity plans. In other words, how do we handle such things in the future?

Some of the moves companies made on the fly have opened up opportunities. Shifting away from desktop computers and giving staff laptops, for example, immediately made future business continuity planning far simpler.

The new ways of working have also prompted a discussion around whether the full-time employee model is the best for the future of service. Experts say it might be better to have a certain percentage of service work done on a freelance basis. That way well-trained specialists can move between projects, clients and jobs, helping to fill gaps when they appear and smoothing out the ups and downs of demand.

The second type of tough decision service leaders have faced has to do with customer expectations, which are always increasing. Because of the current situation, many transactions are happening online. All transactions are increasing, but online transactions are dramatically increasing and there are not enough agents to serve them.

Solutions to meet customer expectations must be put in place quickly. There is no appetite in business right now for long deployments. And that brings us to our third challenge.

Everything has to be faster to market. New business models are coming up and new products are being launched. The entire market is changing and reinventing. In that situation, how does a service leader train their employees, their agents, and their staff in the field? How do they train people to use the new systems and to work with the new products and services? All of these challenges are coming up and sales leaders need to make decisions around how they’re going to solve them.


Global solutions for local problems

The solutions other regions have used to resolve their service challenges can sometimes fit the Indian experience, but only to some extent.

For example, shifting KPIs from hard scores (such as first-call resolution) to softer measures (such as personalisation and empathy) can have its place.

First-call resolution and average handling time aren’t going anywhere right now. However, it’s more and more obvious that traditional metrics will not be able to give businesses a complete picture. Those KPIs on their own will not be sufficient.

I’ve spoken with a service leader who said he’s not worried about a call taking a little longer, as long as he knows his agent is giving the customer a delightful experience, being empathetic and making a strong effort to resolve the problem. Because that’s just as important.

Importing solutions doesn’t always work, often due to the previously mentioned infrastructure problem. India has basic internet coverage, but there are still challenges working from home, particularly in tier two and three cities. Sometimes core telephony services are simply unavailable. Technological solutions do exist to solve this specific problem, but government regulations can get in the way of their deployment. This makes it more difficult to set up a dispersed service team for success in the first place.

On the other hand, a solution that works just as well in India as it does elsewhere is the optimisation of digital channels for self-service.

Let’s use an example. If a banking customer loses their card, rather than having to speak to a human agent, it is often better to have a simple, digital channel that allows them to order a new card.

On the employee side, rather than having service agents call someone for advice, it’s more efficient if they can access virtual implementation or virtual troubleshooting guides.

Most crucial is getting every employee in the business sharing a single view of every customer. When data is centralised, staff can work anywhere. In a pandemic environment this helps manage risk.


Making a business case

Another challenge service leaders in India have faced is purely financial. They are having to fight just as hard as their colleagues in other territories to protect their budgets.

Even though the success of service teams is a vital ingredient in the success of businesses, that fact can get lost when an organisation is fighting for its very existence.

Thankfully, in their endeavour to convince organisations to maintain funding, service leaders have a powerful advantage: solid data. Businesses in India that have invested in high-performing service teams are already moving far ahead of their competitors.

For example, despite the massive downturn in travel, online bus-ticketing platform redBus has utilised data from its powerful service technology to discover unique opportunities that other businesses weren’t able to see.

ClearTax, used by more than 2.5 million individuals and 60,000 accountants, has implemented a powerful self-service functionality that means its service team now has the time to proactively contact customers.

Finally, procurement and supply chain software provider GEP has managed to service its global clients comfortably, even after the pandemic meant case volumes suddenly rose 10 per cent – it was all thanks to its self-service options.


A brighter future

Some organisations in India are now approaching me to ask how he can help them double efficiency in contact centres over the next few years. The COVID-19 crisis has made it clear that recent business models are unsustainable, inefficient and outdated. The pandemic has opened service leaders’ eyes to the power and value of digital transformation.

It is a transformation. Self-service is not just about the creation of a few automations here and there. Success in this endeavour comes down to completely changing processes, changing technology, re-training and cross-skilling service teams, and more.

Service success now and into the future will be enabled by technology, through a series of fast-to-market solutions matched with longer-term strategic implementations. The combined effect will be increased self-service functionality, better customer experience, and centralised customer data. This will allow agents to work effectively and efficiently in a collaborative environment, anywhere and at any time.

It’s a future that would have arrived, eventually, but which has been fast-forwarded by the pandemic. So when we reach the other side of the health crisis, it’s the businesses that have put such technology in place that will have the competitive advantage.

Also read:

Salesforce State of Service Report

Salesforce The Service Leader's Guide to Resiliency