We spoke to Gareth Jones, Business Development Director at SYKES, to find out more about likely best practice in customer experience design, post-crisis.

As we start to recognise that this current crisis isn’t going to be resolved by a given date, businesses are realising that they must live with, cope with, and work in spite of, a very different situation for the foreseeable future. This has become part of business thinking, impacting how we structure customer engagement models.

Over the next few months, and beyond, it’s likely that a three-legged stool model of best practice for customer service will be adopted – businesses will need all three legs in order to achieve a stable customer interaction model.

In-centre operations

The first leg of the stool remains in-centre operations, which will continue to be a core component for many organisations. For some companies this will be a necessity, for example healthcare and financial service businesses with specific compliance requirements, or Tech Support desks that require access to lab systems and sample products.

So, in-centre teams will remain part of the model for the majority of companies. But, if Covid-19 isn’t going away any time soon, these will be seen as significantly more of a risk and prone to failure when new peaks or outbreaks occur.

Work-at-home

If the risk of a pure in-centre operation is acknowledged, and businesses can find safe, secure, and reliable ways to run customer service from home, then this will be retained as an ongoing part of the model for many. Maintaining an element of work-at-home will help protect the business, ensuring key capabilities are there to build on when there’s another interruption in the future. And this will mean that many businesses decide to keep a work-at-home component in their model. That’s certainly the feedback we’re getting from most SYKES clients that moved resources to Work At Home during this pandemic crisis.

Automation and Digitalisation

Of course, there are limits to the scalability of sending everyone home – technical, logistical, and legal constraints, as well as in terms of the way people live their lives. Many, for example, live in shared circumstances without space or connections to work securely.

Technology will play a really big role for brands that are worried about the quality of their customer service. Digital services, such as chatbots, process automation, and customer self-service portals, allow machines to carry some of the load, taking care of many of the simplest tasks, and freeing up people for more challenging cases.

To summarise, going forward, companies evidencing best practice will continue to use in-centre services, but these will be assisted by a stable, safe and secure work-at-home infrastructure, and supported by automation and digital services that run with AI in the background.

Even companies that previously couldn’t or didn’t want to adopt work-at-home may find that in-centre life is changed forever with safe working distances mandated. Once they’re able to return in-centre, maintaining a percentage of their team as home-based agents will be necessary to enable them to easily scale up if another outbreak occurs and avoid additional real estate costs that will become a fact of life.

Best practice will see automation supporting the front line to streamline what needs to be managed by human talent, and what can be taken care of through machine learning.

Businesses have experienced trauma, so must also be mindful of how they will stop any recurrence or similar outbreak from being catastrophic. The way to achieve this is to have part of customer service deployed as work-at-home, so the technical and process infrastructure, management know-how, and experienced agents and team leaders are already in place. This means it will be a matter of scaling up an existing operation, rather than starting from scratch in the event of another crisis.

To find out more about how SYKES can ensure your business offers the highest level of service in any circumstances, please get in touch.

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