With Customer Service Spiking, Investments Should Focus on Productivity

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Technologies that will give companies the most value are those that boost employee performance and productivity, Gartner found following an analysis of self-service and assisted customer service channels.

With any technology investment, the benefits are not immediate, so leaders should manage expectations accordingly, the report found.

And, along those same lines, the study also shows that technology’s value increases considerably the longer it is in use, according to Gartner. This increase is most notable in technologies that have been deployed for more than two years.

In fact, customer service leaders expect 80 percent of their technologies to return more value two years from now.

While it might not be surprising that technologies yield more value over time, the report says, this remains an important point to highlight, particularly as leaders come under intense pressure to demonstrate immediate returns from significant investments. This finding suggests leaders should exercise caution in managing their own and other leaders’ expectations. Higher returns do come, but they can take a couple of years.

While new and emerging technologies are typically accompanied by considerable buzz, the buzz can mask whether organizations are actually investing, according to Gartner. The research firm says that service leaders are not only vocally optimistic about technology but are backing up their optimism with action.

The importance of the right tech investments got even more emphasis following the coronavirus outbreak that caused many businesses to move their customer service operations to a work-from-home model for weeks, according to Lauren Villeneuve, Gartner’s director of advisory.

When the pandemic took hold, many companies had to step up their investments, according to Villeneuve. “They’re ripping the Band-Aid off the work-at-home environment. They’re providing people with the best laptops and, if needed, desktops.”

While some companies had previously only dabbled with letting some customer service agents and managers work from home, COVID-19 made such work a necessity for contact center workers in many parts of the country starting in March.

“Even when [the coronavirus threat] is over, the new normal will be working from home,” Villeneuve said. “It used to be small, limited work-from-home teams; now 100 percent in some areas are working from home.”

And while only top managers used to receive the newer equipment, now line staff is getting it as well. One of the top areas for investment is video collaboration tools so that all workers—especially those working remotely—can feel more connected, Villeneuve added.

Gartner also found that when agents feel that the systems or tools they use are actually enhancing their ability to handle customer issues and simplifying their day-to-day work, their productivity increases by nearly 20 percent, customer satisfaction increases up to 11 percent, and customer effort decreases by up to 9 percent.

The largest shifts toward deployment in the service technology landscape are in customer-facing channels and technologies that optimize channel operations, according to the Gartner survey. The research showed increased investment in web chat, chatbots/virtual customer assistants, and videoconferencing, as well as in technologies that optimize channels, such as search engine optimization, voice biometrics, or co-browsing/collaborative interfaces.

Self-service technology is also particularly important, Villeneuve said. With customer service communications spiking due to the pandemic and many retail stores closed, companies had to push customers more to the self-service channel. And customers realized that it could take longer to get help from live agents, so they were more willing to go the self-service route.

While there is certainly a need for improved self-service, Gartner is advising companies against investing in too many channels. From 2014 through 2018, the average service organization had increased its channel offerings from 3.7 to 5.4.

Rather than investing in more channels, companies are better served ensuring that the ones they have work as efficiently as possible, Villeneuve said.

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