There’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic altered the way we do business, and customer experience and support is no exception. Over the past year, most workers relocated to home offices and kitchen tables, consumers increased their online purchases, and virtual meetings and events became commonplace. COVID-19 catapulted digital transformation over a very short period.
True digital transformation is more than adopting digital tools though. It’s changing the way you fundamentally do business by “becoming a forward-thinking, adaptable, and customer-centric company.” According to Gartner, “The biggest barrier to customer service success is moving past the traditional reactive paradigm of the function. There is an acceleration within organizations to become more proactive as they increase their digital footprint and launch new channels.” However, in making this shift, organizations are facing many dilemmas. How they navigate these dilemmas will influence the transformation of customer service from 2021 forward.
Engaging more customer types at increased touchpoints
In the coming years, there will be different types of customers. Customer service leaders will have to ask, is our end user a person or a thing? The answer is probably both.
According to Gartner 2021 report, “In the Internet of Things (IoT), billions of connected devices will gain the ability to act as customers. Things will evolve from being programmatic executioners of simple tasks to become more intelligent, adaptable and able to choose from multiple options. Finally, they will become fully autonomous, able to decide and take actions independent of humans.” 
This evolution of providing customer service to both humans and connected things will also change customer service’s role in the customer life journey. Customers expect flawless customer service while demanding convenience. They assume companies will understand and anticipate their needs. By extending beyond the customer’s service journey and becoming a part of the customer’s life journey, customer service organizations “will set themselves up to proactively take a bigger share of wallet, grow revenue and create more customer loyalty.”
With the increase in connected devices, it’s becoming easier to create multiexperiences (MX) that deliver consistent and personalized customer touchpoints across the customer’s life journey. In Gartner 2021 report, it is predicted that “By 2024, organizations providing a “total experience” will outperform competitors by 25% in satisfaction metrics for both customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX).” 
Designing for a proactive, self-service customer journey
When designing a proactive customer service strategy, organizations should design around the customers’ needs. There should be a “valuable reason for the contact” and“continuous journeys that are responsive to continuous change.” “By 2025, proactive outbound interactions will overtake reactive inbound actions.” By providing proactive touchpoints throughout the customer’s journey, organizations can significantly reduce their customer service costs while increasing customer engagement and first-contact resolution.
Organizations must also understand that “[c]ustomer-issue-resolution-seeking behavior is changing.” Many customers use non-company-owned channels, such as YouTube, for issue resolution. Also, younger generations prefer self-service options to traditional customer service models.
Although the demand for self-service continues to rise, not all customer service issues are appropriate for self-service channels. It’s important to remember some still demand a live agent’s help.
In updating their customer service strategy, organizations will begin to pivot customer service from being a cost center to a profit center. The pandemic and the resulting increase in digital interactions forced customer service organizations to become “de facto leaders in digital customer engagement” and take “greater responsibility for the customer relationship and strategic goals such as loyalty and growth.” Because of this, customer service departments will blend service, sales, and marketing to build teams around customers’ needs and create a more dynamic customer experience.
Embracing the “new normal” of work
The question of whether to continue offering remote work and increased flexibility is undoubtedly at the top of every customer service leader’s list. The pandemic forced companies to adapt to a work-from-home model. This experience has exposed many of the benefits and opportunities of “work from anywhere,” such as decreased call center costs, increased operational resiliency, and the ability to hire from a greater talent pool.
Organizations will not only need to weigh the pros and cons of a permanent work from anywhere model, but they’ll also need to consider whether to incorporate flex or freelance workers. By embracing a more flexible work arrangement in either time or place, organizations can improve employee retention and satisfaction while creating operational efficiency and gains.
There’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of customer service and the workplace. The result is massive opportunities for customer service organizations to play a larger role in achieving business objectives and to even lead them.
Download your guide to Shaping the Contact Center’s Future in an Unpredictable World to continue learning about how customer service is changing and how your contact center can be prepared.
 Gartner, “2021 Strategic Roadmap for Customer Service and Support: 10 Dilemmas”, Brian Manusama, et al, 27 January 2021.