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Top Five Customer Service CXO Speaks Predictions For 2021

Suman Reddy, MD & Country Head, Pegasystems

A lot of things changed in 2020 – to say the least. When it comes to customer service, the pandemic impacted both the demand for service and how that service is delivered altogether. Service teams became highly distributed, no longer working within the walls of a contact center. And in many sectors, service volumes went through the roof. Some might say none of this could have been predicted. But here’s a look at several key predictions for customer service in 2021:

1. Most businesses will be fooled once, but not twice. When COVID-19 hit, most businesses were caught flat-footed, without the infrastructure to support the surge in customer queries. Organizations were forced to pivot quickly, and many doubled down on digital solutions such as intelligent virtual assistants and scalable Cloud technology in order to transition. Having learned the hard way, businesses will continue to invest in digital strategies and agile solutions in 2021 to better prepare them to take on any future disruptions or uncertainties.

2. Agent populations will largely remain distributed. In 2020, most office-based agents were compelled to quickly adjust to new distributed working arrangements. Today, much of this population remains remote. Many agents are now realizing they can perform the majority of their duties at relatively comparable levels to before, particularly those high-volume, straightforward queries that don’t require physical team collaboration. Businesses are eyeing the real cost savings that could be had by reducing (and in some cases, eliminating) the need for pricey office space in 2021 and beyond. To accommodate this new digital workforce, businesses will continue to invest in collaboration tools to keep teams aligned and connected - even when they aren’t sitting shoulder to shoulder.

3. A new category – autonomous service – will emerge. With Millennials and rising Gen-Zers increasing their buying power, true autonomous service - when live agents aren’t required to achieve resolutions - will become a reality. More and more, younger customers prefer to interact digitally with businesses instead of having actual conversations with a live person. To meet this demand, businesses will improve their offering by organizing their customer service efforts around customer journeys rather than channels.

They will focus on hyperautomation – the convergence of technologies like artificial intelligence, Intelligent Virtual Assistants, machine learning, and robotic process automation – to help volumes of customers resolve their issues faster and more easily, in many cases without a live agent. A Pega study due out in early 2021 found that 50% of global business leaders expect hyperautomation to impact their customer service operations over the next five years. In the near-term, new proactive and preemptive service strategies will start to emerge that autonomously sense customers in need, and automatically reach out to resolve their issue, often before the customer even knows there is one. Live customer service interactions won’t disappear in 2021, but they will begin to be reserved for more complex queries.

Service teams became highly distributed, no longer working within the walls of a contact center

4. Data privacy has been on the back burner but will heat up again. A year ago, businesses were scrambling to prepare for the data privacy tsunami expected as a result of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which followed in the footsteps of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and became law on Jan. 1, 2020. When COVID hit, data privacy took a backseat to the pandemic, and Americans were lulled into a false sense of complacency around this issue. But by the end of 2021, data privacy will become a priority again and organizations will need to be ready.

5. Extended reality (XR) could begin to open up new customer service possibilities. While new technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality continue to advance, they’re still not seriously viable customer service tools. According to Pega’s upcoming Tech Trends study, more than half (52%) of global business leaders think Extended Reality (XR) will be a competitive differentiator within the next five years, while more than a quarter (30%) believe it will become essential to customer engagement. Virtual reality is already being used in some remote business settings today. While XR, and its ability to simulate physical states of being, may not be ready for widespread short-term adoption in 2021. With a growing number of end-users working remotely and expecting a personalized experience, we’re sure to see more and more organizations heading down the XR route than ever before.

And a final semi-related ‘bonus’ prediction: People will finally, finally (oh, please) stop saying ‘the new normal’. Here’s to improved experience – for customers and service teams alike – in 2021.

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