The service landscape is ever-evolving and the marketplace never stands still.
I had the opportunity to discuss the future of service with several central Florida Chambers of Commerce last week. The key questions revolved around what businesses will need to do differently to drive consumer loyalty and sales growth in the evolving economy.
There are two things that everyone must embrace when it comes to great service as we come out of coronavirus.
The first is that while there will be many changes in the economy, there will be much that remains the same. So every business should dial in the basics before they look to re-imagine their service model.
It is important to remember that your customer journey, organizational commitments, steps of customer service, and service recovery models are still the cornerstones of your CX strategy - but they may need some massaging to remain relevant.
Great hospitality, that special blend of kindness and flexibility, will never go out of style.
The second is that service, leadership, and accountability are not "soft skills" that can be trained when convenient and ignored when budgets are tight. They are sales growth accelerators that build top line revenue. But now, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there have been some changes in the CX landscape that will forever influence the future of service. What changes did you make in your service model that will remain post-outbreak?
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We have likely cultivated new revenue channels and service models during the coronavirus outbreak that will remain. Identifying those and learning from them will help you determine the best ways to serve your guests and consumers.
Let's dig in a little more deeply.
There will be added emphasis on sanitation and safety - along with transparency when it comes to how you will continue to keep your customers and team safe. Safety has always been of key importance to consumers, but this outbreak has raised the stakes forever. Not only will businesses need to be clean, but demonstrate and prove that they are taking the appropriate steps to do so. When you see the grocery store attendants handing you a clean cart or the roving staff member at your gym disinfecting equipment, that is meant to bring you a sense of comfort. You will need to find a balance in your business that lets your customers know you are on top of their safety.
Technology has been playing a larger role in service every year, and this has supercharged that march forward with virtual support and AI assistance. If we are looking for silver linings within the current state, the acceleration of self service and virtual service cannot be denied. The lesson here is not what is happening now, but what will happen going forward. The fact that customers have embraced technology within the service environment gives us great opportunities for the future. Customers have embraced mobile ordering, curb side pick up, and self service in new and exciting ways. Another key communication channel has been video chat. Automated chats and AI have continued to evolve and add value, but the pandemic brought video conversations forward several years. Live agents and salespeople alike have found a more personalized touch by upping the ante on virtual communication. Don't be surprised if the addition of video - that we all have been joking about as "Zoom Fatigue" - remains a part of organizational communication. Many of these tenants were already well established in the marketplace, but their relevance has been accelerated. What will be next? The future of experience will be a savvy blend of live service, self service, and virtual service that continues to evolve.
Customers are expecting reduced restrictions to be relaxed going forward. Didn't you love it when airlines and hotels relaxed their cancellation policies? I sure did. I have long had a fundamental disagreement with the idea of the $200 change fees that many of the large legacies airlines impose when you change a flight. And if you have ever canceled a reservation at a Times Square hotel, you know that is an expensive proposition without 72 hours notice. Many organizations relaxed their restrictions and silly polices during the outbreak and consumers are going to push them to keep at least some of those changes in place.
This is the time for you to review your polices, rules, and penalties and see what you can do to ease them a bit. The marketplace is going to be less forgiving of ridiculous rules and penalties that seem like money grabs.
Empathy will fuel situational service. Customers ultimately appreciate service that feels personalized and "just for them." Customers will be looking for service that keeps their needs in mind and that takes into account how they are thinking and feeling as the economy continues its reopening journey. That means that your teams are going to have to be empathetic to customers' needs and receptive to their emotional cues. Customers help us serve them better everyday through their words, actions, and body language - we just have to be open to receiving and understanding these messages. Some are subtle and others are more overt, but the best customer service comes from staff members who are open and paying attention.
This kind of service is ultimately trainable, but you have have to invest in talent that has emotional intelligence and equip them to process and take action on the signals customers are sending.
But when you take the time to teach your team how to serve with empathy and customize service based on their perceptions, customers will feel a more genuine connection with your brand.
These steps are not all encompassing and will continue to evolve. The good news is that doubling down on the fundamentals and being open to change will be the most important attributes for successful brands.
That will allow for repeatably great service that fuels growth and the agility to make the necessary changes as the economy continues its transformation. And of course, it will keep your customers at the center of everything you do.
What changes did your organization make to rules or penalties during the pandemic? How can you keep as many of those changes as possible in place as the economy reopens?
Is your team ready to embrace situational service and have you trained them to recognize customer cues?
Are you leaning into customer service training - ensuring budget for training and keeping your customer service teams front and center?
BONUS: If you haven't appointed a CX executive in your organization to be your north star, now is the time.
Tony Johnson, CCXP
Customer Experience Speaker | Author |Trainer | Consultant
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Tony Johnson is an award winning speaker and author on the topics of sales growth, customer service, and leadership. Tony speaks to thousands annually and has also been featured on ABC News. He is available for motivational keynotes, leadership workshops, and employee service skills training.
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