Let’s hop in a time machine and go back to 2019 before the whole “world shutting down” thing happened. There were so many activities we were able to do back then that we had no idea that those would soon come to a halt: packing into an arena for a sold-out concert, walking into a movie theatre with your favorite box of candy, sending your children to school every day. For a while, being able to find toilet paper in Target was a luxury. Yet there was some good that came from the bad. As a service leader, I’m most drawn to all of the creative new ways we have found to connect: in our jobs, in our personal lives, and as consumers with our favorite brands. This inspired me to time hop to 2025.
Now in 2021 with the COVID-19 vaccine in full swing, things are slowly starting to normalize. Yet it’s not the normal we once knew. The CDC says schools can safely reopen, but today’s learning environment is now entirely different. People can once again stroll the shops, but they’re now used to a myriad of new ways to engage with brands. 90 percent of executives polled by McKinsey say they believe the pandemic will fundamentally change the way they do business over the next five years. What does that mean for organizations reevaluating or redesigning their service department? Let’s zoom to 2025.
In the face of a global pandemic, many people have had no choice but to take service into their own hands. Reddit has become America’s unofficial unemployment hotline. People experiencing COVID symptoms are turning to Facebook groups for solutions. In 2020 we saw more than ever that customers want answers fast, and they’re okay seeking them on their own. It’s a clear confirmation that self-service automation will be crucial for the future of service. Teachers are now using automated triage solutions for answering questions in the classroom. Fully automated virtual queuing systems have become the norm for everything from curbside pickup to patient visits. It’s a sign of the times, and it certainly extends to the way we interact with brands.
CX innovators are building tools to automate every viable process to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and spending. If you’re having an issue with your dishwasher, the ease of automated technician scheduling just might incentivize you to pay extra to have someone come out. If you’re not yet sure, the manufacturer can send an automated notification to your phone with an informational video that shows you more. Front-end and back-end automation are needed to derive real-time, data-driven insights to service at the point of need in the way each customer wants to be serviced. This is what Gartner means when saying that the future of self-service is customer-led automation.
Gen Z (those currently between the ages of six and 24) now represent the largest share of purchasing power, and 38 percent are already in the workforce. Service organizations must ask themselves: what makes a valuable service experience for Gen Z, and how does this generation of people prefer to work? In a nutshell: digital-first everything. They are the first truly digital-native generation that wants consumption anytime, anywhere, as part of their identity. Their preferences are constantly moving and changing, requiring always on and available service across the enterprise. This is regardless of what they’re looking to purchase: clothing, streaming services, or a new car with the click of a button.
As employees, Gen Z’ers want the same things as everyone else: job security, stability, and growth opportunities. Research shows them to be more risk-averse than previous generations, yet they understand more than any previous generation that alternatives to the nine-to-five job exist as viable options. They want ownership of their decisions and creative freedom for how they get work done (for example, social-style tools for contact center agents). The bottom line is that Gen Z represents the future of work and customer experience (CX), which is largely digital-first. By 2025, it’s likely that $9 of every $10 will be spent on the digital experience versus phone/voice.
The pandemic drove us to find new ways to connect with a deeper sense of gratitude, and that has manifested into organizations providing deeper connected and personalized service experiences. This requires a cognizant shift from the idea of the traditional contact center agent to something more meaningful and impactful. This isn’t to say that service agents aren’t important. On the contrary, this shift is meant to recognize the vital and irreplaceable role they play in the enterprise.
CX innovators will evolve the concept of the “agent” to focus on more complex relationship building. They’ll be implementing AI-powered insights that prompt contextual responses and suggestions, digital assistants (virtual agents) that can intelligently assist with workflow, knowledge, and skills – and effective data management to provide that elusive golden record of customer data that ensures a home run with every interaction. The title of ‘contact center agent’ may still exist in 2025, but the role and responsibilities of the position will look entirely different.
In the course of the last year, we recognized the innovators and those resistant to the rapid change we were experiencing. Some had embraced the digital era prior to 2020, others were forced to embrace it in the course of last spring, and, unfortunately, many service centers remained stagnant. Today’s technology innovators are establishing a stronghold in service automation, building the market’s most comprehensive and deeply integrated digital service toolsets, developing tools designed for frictionless implementation and organizational ability, and much more.
By 2025, the one thing that will be constant is change. To be competitive in a market full of CX innovators, make sure your organization is one that is propelling that change and not resisting it.
Chris McGugan is SVP and GM at Oracle Service.
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