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Customer service agents struggle with speed vs. quality

Thierry Nicault, Area Vice President, Middle East and North Africa, Salesforce.

Rising customer expectations, a shift to digital engagement, and an uncertain economic landscape are fundamentally shifting the role of customer service, and thus its strategies and tactics.

To take a closer look at why — and how — Salesforce conducted a double-blind survey of over 8,000 customer service professionals across 36 countries for the fifth edition of its State of Service report.

Here are just a few highlights from the report.

Automation and efficiency are prioritised amid economic uncertainty

Rising customer expectations for quick issue resolution continues to drive demand for efficiency within service organisations. In fact, 78% of service agents surveyed say it’s difficult to balance speed and quality — a jump from the 63% that agreed in 2020 and a reflection of the long waiting times that grew worse during the pandemic.

Today, the urgency for efficiency is also being driven by economic headwinds and fears of a recession, prompting service teams — and their peers in other departments — to consider how they can do more with less.

Following suit, 58% of service organisations now report using at least one instance of process or workflow automation.

Users cite time savings as the greatest benefit of automation, followed by connection with other departments, error reduction, and better focus on customers. Sixty-five percent of high performing service organisations — those with self-identified “excellent” customer satisfaction levels — use automation, compared to 41% of underperforming organisations — those with fair or poor customer satisfaction.

Forty-five percent of service organisations use artificial intelligence (AI) — a related technology that often powers automation — an increase of 88% since 2020, when 24% of organisations used AI. In the UAE, 54% of service organisations use AI, while 70% use automation.

In addition to empowering service agents with tools to improve their own productivity, service organisations are scaling efforts to help customers solve their own issues. A separate study found that 59% of customers prefer self-service tools for simple questions and issues, and customer service KPIs are evolving in response. In fact, 67% of customer service organisations now track case deflection — a dramatic increase from 56% in 2020 and 36% in 2018.

“This research reveals the significant shift in consumer behaviour and changing expectations of service”, said Thierry Nicault, Area Vice President, Middle East and North Africa, Salesforce. “Consumers in the UAE and around the world have increasingly high expectations and demand quick, seamless resolutions. It is vital that organisations have a 360 view of the customer interactions and embrace automation to meet customers’ needs, while also boosting efficiency. This is especially important at the current time, with global economic headwinds making it even more important for companies to maximise their investments”.

The shift to digital service channels accelerates

Dramatic increases in the adoption of digital channels for customer service seen early in the pandemic have proven to be a long-term trend, rather than a temporary fad. Although phone and email remain the most common channels, other options like social media, knowledge bases, and live chat are close to reaching parity while the precipitous decline of in-person service seen in 2020 has yet to recover.

Video support saw the biggest jump in popularity among all channels, with 43% more organisations offering it in 2022 versus in 2020. The use of online communities and discussion forums — in which customers can interact with their peers for advice — also saw a particularly large expansion over the past two years, as did mobile app adoption.

71% of organisations in the UAE use video support, compared to global average of 66%.

Employee experience initiatives help tackle retention challenges

Call it the ‘Great Resignation,’ the ‘Great Reshuffle,’ or any other term that’s defined the labour market’s recent upheaval — service organisations have not been immune. Survey respondents estimate on average that nearly one-fifth (19%) of their employees have left over the past year, with particularly high attrition rates in the media and entertainment, and energy and utilities industries. In the UAE, the figure was slightly lower than the global average, at 18%.

To stem losses of employees in a job market that, at least until recently, has been favourable to job seekers, many service organisations have added employee perks since the onset of the pandemic. Like in many other lines of work, flexible schedules have been particularly common (offered by 47% of service organisations), followed by wellness benefits (45%), and improved career development opportunities (44%).

Perhaps uncoincidentally, the share of service agents who say they have a clear path for career growth has increased dramatically to 85%, compared to 67% in 2020 and 59% in 2018.

Field service is rising in popularity across industries

Only 35% of survey respondents work in an office or store location full-time, a finding no doubt driven in large part by the trend towards working from anywhere. Yet the decoupling from the contact centre is due in no small part to the rise of field service — on-site service delivered to customers at their homes or places of business.

Long associated with industries like energy and utilities and communications, field service is increasingly popular with other sectors such as professional and business services (for purposes such as optimising route guidance between multiple customers), retail (for grocery and pharmacy delivery professionals), and even life sciences and biotechnology (for use cases such as those in medical device sales).

Enthusiasm for field services is high among service decision makers — with vast majorities citing it as critical to scaling their overall business and as responsible for significant returns on investment. This trend reflects the shift toward customer experiences (such as grocery delivery) in which customers have more interaction with technicians and other frontline service providers. These provide opportunities for increased upselling, cross-selling and customer satisfaction improvement enhancements.

Eighty-eight percent of organisations with field services have adopted field service management (FSM) software tailored to their frontline workers’ specific needs. Yet a disparity is evident among performance levels in FSM’s return on investment, with high performers far more likely than underperforming competitors to see major benefits such as optimisation of scheduling, productivity, and environmental sustainability of operations.

In the UAE, 81% of service decision makers say field service is critical to scaling the business, compared to 86% globally, while 88% of UAE service decision makers see major returns from field service investments compared to 84% globally.

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