Opinion

Is The CX Industry Leading Others To The New Normal?

Change is difficult. We all know that.

There is an entire field of psychology devoted to studying organisations and how change can be managed successfully.

As we know from our recent experience with the Covid-19 coronavirus, the quickest way to change is to have no alternative. When every company in the customer service industry sent their agents home it became the biggest ever test of the work at home agent model.

And it worked. Teleperformance had around 10,000 work from home agents at the start of this crisis and now they have over 200,000.

I haven’t heard of any data security disasters from any of the major BPOs so it can clearly be argued that using work at home agents is safe.

McKinsey has suggested that any company that wants to build customer experience resilience for 2021 will build a blended solution. This means splitting the customer service team across multiple contact centres, multiple countries, and always having some working from home.

The proportion will vary. Some clients may be happy to be serviced with 100% work from home agents and some will want to only include the work from home element as insurance against a future problem – perhaps Covid-20 will arrive soon after we get a vaccine for 19.

But one of the biggest news stories in the European media recently has been how the people in office-based jobs across all industries are continuing to work from home – even though governments are saying it’s safe to go to the office again. It’s as if these workers who spent years asking for an improved work/life balance are actually enjoying that they now have it.

The British government is almost begging people to return to the office, saying that the workers have a duty to support the businesses that rely on office workers. This week the sandwich chain Pret a Manger announced store closures and that they are firing a third of their employees. The British government has also hinted that those staying at home might even be damaging their own job security. It sounds like they are arguing for a return to presenteeism, where the most valued people are those putting in the hours – rather than focusing on the output.

It strikes me as odd to hear national leaders talking about a return to normal. We know that consumer behaviour has changed. All those people who discovered e-commerce because they were forced to order online during the lockdown are not going back to the shopping malls. I’ve used Amazon and other e-commerce sites since the 1990s, but even I found that I was ordering things online that I’d usually buy in person – and I know I’m not going back to searching stores for products I can order in seconds on my phone.

Nobody really knows where the chips are going to fall. President Trump is promising a vaccine for Covid-19 before the end of the year, but we all know that’s just an election pitch. If you read what the drug companies and scientists are saying then it’s clear that even if a vaccine is discovered this year then it might take 18 months to ramp up the production. Harvard University has advised that social distancing is going to be essential through 2021 and 2022 – are you planning how your business and customers will behave once they realise that masks and distancing are not just temporary?

It’s clear that entire cities will need to adapt and we have seen this in the past. After the great fire of London in 1666, Sir Christopher Wren designed new churches and supervised the construction of many new buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Observatory, and the Monument. London changed forever, but the city has seen wave after wave of change – the embankment changing the course of the Thames in the 19th century and the 1930s slum clearance are just a couple of examples.

From 1853 to 1870 Baron Haussmann tore down entire neighborhoods in Paris and constructed vast open boulevards – one in central Paris now has his name. New sewers and aqueducts were built and the entire map of Paris changed.

In 1890 there was so much horse dung on the streets of New York City that it was predicted that by 1920 people would be wading through streets knee-deep in dung. Of course, Henry Ford changed all that.

It’s worth noting that many of these changes to cities were initially driven by diseases such as cholera. Without the effective sewage systems that were only built in the 19th century it was hard to access clean drinking water. It was usually safer to only drink beer because the alcohol helped to sterilize the drink – it does sound nice to have a beer with breakfast though.

And now the cities we know and love will have to change again. The work from home experiment that was forced on every company because of the pandemic has demonstrated that most people can work safely from home and their productivity increases. Of course this isn’t true for everyone – those caring for kids or relatives or those in cramped accommodation need a separate workplace – but this leads us to the blended workplace solution already being designed by most customer service companies.

The big players – like Sykes and Teleperformance – will now be designing solutions that allow agents who want to work from home to just stay there – others who need a workplace will be able to use a contact centre. But maybe those contact centres are going to change and we will see a larger number of smaller centres scattered throughout cities, rather than the big aircraft hangers with thousands of seats that we are used to.

Companies like LiveXchange are suggesting that GigCX is the way to go. Discard the contact centre entirely and use cloud-based software to create a virtual contact centre that is staffed by agents all working from home. It’s an attractive idea because it finally answers the Black Friday problem – how do you scale up your team by 300% just for two weeks?

I spoke to the team at Transcom just before recording this podcast and they are now promoting an interesting middle way. They have agents that can be working at home or at the contact centre, but importantly they are trained to work for several different clients so they can receive customer calls or messages from many different accounts. This allows them to bill the client by each engagement, rather than for the person working an 8-hour shift. They are calling this their Flex Model and it’s an interesting idea because it offers the flexibility of gig workers, but keeps them in-house so training and quality can be tightly controlled.

There is no question that we are going to see a wave of innovation and digital transformation in CX over the coming year. The work from home experiment has proven more than just the possibility of hiring agents to work from home. It will lead to changing employment models – like gig cx – and a greater focus on domain knowledge. 5CA in the Netherlands has made a lot of noise about their focus on domain expertise – when they hire an agent to support gamers the first requirement is that the agent is a gamer – not how much customer service experience they have.

It looks like the CX community is ahead of many other industries. Why aren’t companies like Pret a Manger exploring new delivery models? They could be locating stores in the suburbs, offering home delivery, launching self-driving robots that tour neighborhoods offering coffee and snacks. Domino’s pizza has been exploring ideas like this for years – they had self-driving pizza robots 2 years ago.

Why are some industries just waiting for everything to get back to normal?

It’s never going to happen. Nobody can predict when this crisis will end or how it will change customers and companies, but one thing is clear – we are not going back to how customers behaved in 2019. The customer service companies are adapting and innovating because they already understand this. It’s time the rest of the economy caught up with the CX experts.

For more CX content from Mark Hillary search your podcast app for ‘CX Files’ or click here to access episodes online: https://cxfiles.libsyn.com/

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