The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed the need for change in customer service organizations — changes in the ways we work, hire new talent, invest in new technology, and in the way we practice risk management.

We are all aware of the operational holes that were exposed when contact centers moved agents home in the early days of the pandemic. We found that agents didn’t have the right technology to allow them to work from home; supervisors didn’t have the right data to allow them to manage remote agents; and managers struggled to comply with privacy and security policies.

2020 was spent shoring up these process issues, strengthening cloud operations, and investing in digital and collaboration technologies. We must continue these investments in 2021 as highlighted in Forrester’s “The Three Customer Service Megatrends In 2021: Post-Pandemic Customer Service Excellence” report. Organizations that make their operations more resilient so that they can rapidly react to changing customer behavior will lead. Those that struggle to meet the demands of this altered economy will fall further — if not entirely — behind.

Here are three ways to become more resilient, with more sustainable operations:

  1. Adopt alternate labor models to deliver value-added experiences. Contact centers should explore using the skills of (1) digital natives, who excel at context switching between interactions to support digital channels; (2) lifestyle workers, who bring unique skills to the workplace and prefer gig economy or work-at-home models; and (3) brand advocates, who can have authentic conversations with customers in an attractive cost model. (4) For brands that have brick-and-mortar presences, reassign in-store or in-branch personnel to pre- and post-purchase support roles.
  2. Become data-driven to effectively deliver service. Contact centers track hundreds of measures, including cost, customer satisfaction, and compliance. Newer technologies like speech analytics help track the success of every interaction and identify coaching opportunities. Yet work-at-home models surfaced gaps in customer understanding and supervisor practices that relied more on walking the floors than on hard data. Become more disciplined in collecting data and using it to train models that optimize onboarding, retention, and customer enrichment. Also explore behavioral analytics to match callers’ psychographic profiles to the best-skilled agents to serve given personality types; speech analytics to route calls to supervisors when they sense customer frustration; and behavioral guidance to provide live, spoken feedback to agents.
  3. Embrace customer service technologies with quick time-to-value. McKinsey & Company reports a 24x increase in migration to cloud technologies, 27x increase in deployment of new service technologies, and 43x increase in deployment of collaboration technologies. Use technologies that are quick to stand up, can be easily configured, and can be extended via a large ecosystem of add-ons and partner solutions. Push vendors to offer try-before-you-buy models to prove ROI or explore consumption- and outcome-based pricing models.