2021 was an exceptionally challenging year for customer service. With supply chain challenges and labor shortages, nearly every industry was in jeopardy of sacrificing their customer service standards in order to try and keep up with customer inquiries.
One of the industries hit the hardest was the airline industry. When Southwest, Spirit and other major airlines were forced to cancel over 2,000 flights, customers around the world were experiencing unusually long call wait times, making it nearly impossible to talk to a customer service agent. According to the airlines and industry analysts, many of the issues had to do with labor shortages.
With a year of hardships come many learning moments for companies, making them rethink their customer service strategy. One of the common denominators in 2021 was the use of technology, whether through automation or personalized chat settings. While it takes a careful balance of implementation, technology can pave the way to new, beneficial customer service practices, many of which are coming to fruition.
Below is our take on the top trends in customer service for 2022:
Humans Will be Augmented, Not Replaced
As a possible solution to the airline debacle, Delta Airlines rolled out a new customer service feature to streamline inquiries. This new phone platform was meant to automatically equip agents with details about passengers’ travel to help efficiently address questions and concerns. However, it was quickly found that the automated messages rarely gave accurate responses to questions asked, and customers could not get through to an actual agent.
While technology including usage automation is widespread, it has not been the most effective solution in addressing customer inquiries. To improve it, customer service automation will need to be human first. In other words, automation should be used to augment humans, not replace them. In this way, repeatable tickets are quickly solved while priority tickets are saved for agents to personally handle. The human element of customer service is essential, and while technology can help compliment humans, it should not replace them. It’s all about finding the right balance.
Onshore Labor Meets Offshore Pricing
With the current labor shortages – especially those of customer service agents – customer service scaling can’t be solved by just trying to find cheaper labor. With ecommerce exploding in the pandemic era, retailers are seeing an ongoing spike in customer inquiries. Because of this, they need to find a way to make their labor better and faster. In other words, finding a way to do the work of five agents with just one.
Balanced with humans, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology can help companies compete with offshore labor prices by keeping agents U.S.-based and better paid. With AI, agents can rely on workflow automation to help them sort through customer tickets, identifying the most priority ones that need to be addressed. When given the adequate resources to succeed, agents will feel more valued and can be more efficient in their roles.
Agents Will Have More Leverage
Following the conversation of offshore pricing, it’s time to start rethinking the future of customer service careers. In order to create dramatically better paid customer service jobs, there needs to be a way for customer service agents to have more leverage. This can look like supervising automated contacts rather than solving tickets one by one.
For example, customer tickets can be divided into different categories depending on priority through AI. Returns, shipment inquiries or sizing questions may be put into a lower priority category, while any injuries (from using a product, for example), missing orders or other serious inquiries can be sorted as high priority.
Agents can quickly cut the manual task of sorting through customer tickets and efficiently handle top-priority tickets. Through this method, they can build stronger relationships with customers, and present higher quality outcomes in their work, increasing value to the agent position.
While servicing customers is certainly not a one-size-fits-all business model, consider the above key points to help drive growth and efficiency in your customer operations in 2022.
Liz Tsai is Founder and CEO of HiOperator