What Customer Service Leaders Need To Do in an Uncertain Economy

Dan Gingiss

Customer Experience Coach

Read Time

5 minute read

The headlines seem to be blaring everywhere: a recession is coming, inflation is out of control, COVID-19 isn’t over, big tech is laying off tons of people, and people are leaving the workforce in droves through The Great Resignation or quiet quitting. Every day seems to bring more challenging news for businesses, despite customer expectations remaining at an all-time high. So what should customer service leaders do when the only thing that’s certain about today’s economy is… uncertainty?

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that preparation is critical and that customers (and employees) gravitate toward companies that have their backs during tough times.

And there is some good news — a recent poll by Gartner found that 21% of CFOs plan to increase customer service spending in the next year, with 72% vowing to maintain spending. Only 7% say they’ll decrease customer service spending. So the executive buy-in is there — the customer service department is a crucial part of the overall customer experience and well worth the monetary investment.

Contact center leaders know the game, though — find ways to cut costs without sacrificing service quality. Here are four things leaders must focus on in 2023 to succeed.

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1. Building Long-Term Customer Loyalty

According to Harvard Business Review, reducing customer effort is the most important factor in building customer loyalty. Customers want their experience to be easy, convenient, and fast, so start by reviewing every step of the customer-company interaction to find opportunities to simplify.

Very few customers want to call customer service, so a critical moment presents itself when they do. After all, most calls are a result of a subpar experience or missed customer expectations. There is an opportunity to convert a brand detractor into a brand advocate just by solving the problem and making things right.

Identifying and fixing “known errors” or underlying root causes that generate customer complaints can both improve the customer experience and reduce customer service expenses. If you know the number of calls a particular issue generates and the average cost-per-call (Gartner suggests this can be as high as $14), you can easily make the financial argument for a fix.

Watching the brands that generate the most customer loyalty can provide useful insights for other companies. For example, Amazon posts six “Customer Service Tenets” in its call centers that include things like “relentlessly advocate for customers” and “anticipate customer needs and treat their time and attention as sacred.” It’s no wonder that Amazon has such a loyal customer base that keeps coming back for more.

2. Accelerating Adoption of Digital Channels and Investing in Self-Service

It’s time to stop talking about digital “transformation” and start talking about digital “evolution.” Your customers are already digital, so your business must be, too. But the digital landscape continues to evolve, so companies must be able to adapt and adjust alongside their customers.

Just this year, Twitter was sold, Meta (formerly Facebook) stock plummeted, and entire cryptocurrency ecosystems collapsed. Digital is evolving at lightning speed.

One thing that has become clear is that customers want to at least try to self-serve in a digital channel before making a phone call.

88% of customers expect brands to have an online self-service portal, and a similar number attempt to solve issues themselves before reaching out to a service representative; however, when surveyed, consumers felt most businesses’ self-service offerings leave something to be desired.

Self-service options provide a mutually beneficial solution to the customer and the company. For the customer, it saves time and effort (the key to loyalty). And since 90% of consumers expect an “immediate” response when they have a customer service question, according to HubSpot, speed definitely matters.

For the company, it saves tons of money. Remember that $14 cost-per-call figure from Gartner? That number drops to $0.09 for digital self-service, a savings of 99.4%. With that kind of savings, it shouldn’t be hard to garner the executive buy-in needed to invest in better self-service capabilities.

3. Improving Efficiency and Automating Processes

Discussing automation in the contact center invariably leads to artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots. Chatbots can answer routine or repetitive questions, allowing customer service agents to work on more difficult cases. They can also be used to guide the customer through a standard process, like ordering an item from an ecommerce site.

A big benefit of chatbots is that they can be built once and deployed across many platforms, including Facebook Messenger, Twitter, a website, Skype, WeChat, WhatsApp, Kik, Line, Viber, and more. When combined with machine learning, bots can “learn” over time, improving their performance and personalizing interactions.

But resist the urge to look at AI as a license to get rid of the customer service team. AI can actually be incredibly valuable when companies use it to help human agents do a better job servicing the customer. If the agent has any conceivable answer available to them immediately, they can spend more of their time doing what AI can’t do — being human. As today’s consumer still craves human interaction, the ideal customer service experience integrates the efficiency of automation with a human touch.

4. Focus on Employee Experience To Improve Customer Experience

It’s a simple equation: happy employees = happy customers. When employees enjoy their jobs and are empowered to solve problems, customers are the beneficiaries. And when customers are happy and loyal to the brand, it makes employees’ jobs that much easier.

Unfortunately, the inverse is true as well. It’s unfair to expect employees to provide remarkable customer experiences if they don’t know what a remarkable experience looks like. And since two-thirds of consumers cannot remember the last time any brand exceeded their expectations, chances are that a majority of customer service agents can’t, either.

The solution? Focus on employee experience. Start with looking at recruiting, hiring, and training processes. Then examine each contact center’s culture, work-from-home employees’ ability to feel connected to the brand, and employee surveys and feedback. It’s not surprising that the companies best known for excellent customer experience are also often named among the best places to work.

Uncertainty May Be the “New Normal”

With so much global financial and political instability, uncertainty may be here to stay. But uncertainty need not be paralyzing; the best companies will have a plan for withstanding any challenges that come their way. At the center of the plan: a relentless focus on customers — the single greatest asset of any company and the one thing without which there is no business at all. A close second: employees, who are charged with delivering the experiences that keep customers returning.

Dan Gingiss is an international keynote speaker and customer experience coach. He spent more than 20 years in Corporate America in leadership positions at companies like Discover, McDonald’s, and Humana.

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