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Does the answer to better customer service lie in smart technology and flexible workplace culture?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Gpointstudio / Shutterstock)

The news agenda is currently being flooded with stories about AI and how this technology is likely to have a dramatic impact on all aspects of our lives – including our working ones. We are frequently presented with the threat that robots will either take over our jobs or create new ways of working for their human co-workers. But these stories don’t give us the whole picture about how AI will change the future of work and little coverage is given to the how the customer experience will be transformed and how companies can guarantee that customer service levels will be elevated far above where they are now, to a place where prioritising customer experience is integral to day-to-day operations.

The arrival of flexible and remote working has noticeably transformed our places of work – the introduction of the so called ‘gig economy’ included. The benefits of these new ways of working are clear, with advantages such as a better work-life balance for many and greater staff creativity and productivity, however, an improvement in customer service has not followed suit. Based on findings from Pega’s recent Future of Work (opens in new tab) report, some respondents believe that these types of working could actually be damaging to the customer experience, with eight out of ten (81 percent) believing increased use of freelancers and the subsequent reduction in the number of permanent staff employed by a company will make it much more difficult to ensure that the customer remains the key focus for their company culture. At the same time, 54 percent think a flexible freelance workforce will make generating customer relationships that stand the test of time far more difficult, and just under half of those asked (41 percent) believe it will be even more challenging to enhance the quality of customer service. When considering that the gig economy was originally created to make consumers’ lives easier with convenience in mind, these statistics appear somewhat ironic.

There are drawbacks to operating as a freelancer or on flexi-time –  an absence of managerial support in terms of needing to reply to customers positively being a prime example. Fortunately, we now have the technology available to help make sure that every worker, whatever their employment status, however long their gig, is provided clear, appropriate instructions on how to deliver an outstanding customer experience. In fact, according to Pegasystems’ recent Future of Work (opens in new tab) report, freelancers overwhelmingly welcome the use of algorithms that produce direction about the best course of action (84 percent). It also found that freelancers advocate quality CRM systems (90 percent) in order to ensure the customer-centric approach is sustained among freelance staff. Another area where freelancers would appreciate technical support is personalisation. Nine out of ten said it will be imperative for organisations to provide their remote staff with high quality data analytics, so that on their first day on the job, they can offer a degree of personalisation so that a customer cannot differentiate from that of an individual who has been working at the company for some time. 

For those employees who don’t work traditional office hours, the integration of AI and data analytics for real-time support and guidance means that they will feel more supported and connected in their work. The boost that this will have on motivation and productivity will have an unavoidable impact on improving the level of customer service.

Another area where AI and data analytics will have a notable effect will be via businesses utilising employee analytics. Organisations will have the ability to pair members of staff to a particular assignment on a task-by-task basis, based on their type and degree of skill (in much the same way that dating apps match possible partners founded on their personality and criteria). This would result in an improvement in employee performance and customer service. One day, we may even begin to see customer service representatives being paired with each specific customer based on their requirements and user profile. 

Delving further into attitudes about these types of ‘Uber-style’ platforms that autonomously match available talent to market demand, our research showed that many people think these platforms will take hold over the next five years. Moreover, half of those asked anticipate algorithmic matching of responsibilities to the most appropriate freelance worker to become commonplace –  rising to 86 percent within the coming decade. Another trend predicted for the next ten years is that the use of online marketplaces that automatically match workers to jobs based on data about their skills, aptitude and attitude will be standard practice, with nine out of ten respondents agreeing so. 

TripAdvisor was one of the very first platforms to introduce a transparent rating system for the quality of service for hotels. Thousands of other organisations have realised the value of consumer platforms which provide individuals with a way to rate businesses and their customer-facing staff for their quality of service, and this type of system will become widespread throughout all customer-facing industries. By routinely assessing the performance of employees, the idea is that workers will be motivated to offer service levels that exceed expectations. Furthermore, by harvesting information from these appraisals both the customer and employer will benefit. For instance, over nine out of ten of respondents to the Future of Work report anticipate that every worker will have an individual online profile that will be continually updated to include customer feedback, permitting potential employers to rate the suitability of potential workers faster than ever before. Furthermore, 86 percent predict that TripAdvisor-style ratings of customer-facing workers based on customer feedback will become commonplace over the coming 10 year-period. Managers and peers, as well as customers, will be able to input their feedback into online profiles too (90 percent of respondents expect feedback from peers and 88 percent feedback from managers).  

That’s not to say that this system won’t work both ways, as 83 percent of the survey’s respondents believe these TripAdvisor-style ratings of management based on employee feedback will be routine within 10 years. With the advent of a truly transparent system clearly highlighting the top talent, businesses must work harder to secure the best candidates by fostering employee wellbeing and offering attractive packages. With increased understanding of their workforce, organisations could also use this new intelligence to better understand how to empower their staff. This will all culminate in helping businesses maintain a great reputation for outstanding customer service.

Interestingly, almost two-thirds (64 percent) of our respondents believe that in the next five years the quality of the technology platform will be more alluring than the location of a company’s premises when it comes to getting the best staff on board. Even more remarkably, 8 percent report this is already evident in their industry. Hence, those who are committed to enticing top talent must prioritise the implementation of best-in-class technology solutions, so they don’t get left behind.

Consumer sentiment is undergoing a revolution. The introduction of review websites and social media has helped magnify the voice of the consumer, and its growing influence cannot be ignored by businesses. Organisations must not take for granted their best performers otherwise they will be lost to competitors with better management teams and technology tools. The danger of a damaging customer complaint going viral across social media is very real and in this digital age companies cannot afford to slip up. Nevertheless, this threat has spurred businesses to overhaul their current practices and really work on making their customer experience better than ever before. 

John Everhard, Director at Pegasystems (opens in new tab) 

Image Credit: Gpointstudio / Shutterstock

John Everhard is Director at Pegasystems.