Earlier this month, Execs In The Know, in partnership with Arise, a leading provider of customer experience and business process outsourcing (BPO) services, hosted a small, online gathering of senior customer experience (CX) leaders for a poignant discussion on the industry’s near-universal shift to work-from-home (WFH), and its impact on the industry and the brand-customer relationship. The conversation ranged from how business conditions have evolved to the many challenges posed by the pandemic. Although the discussion was wide-ranging, it was guided by a number of very important questions. The answers to these questions provide an interesting jumping-off point for understanding the state of the industry and getting a glimpse into the current thinking of senior CX leaders.
How did our organizations and our people perform in 2020?
In 2020, the CX industry (let alone the world as a whole) faced societal and economic changes unlike anything seen before. From where we work to where we go, from how we shop to how we school our children, the global pandemic has meant dynamic and seismic change in the daily lives of everyone. But, as one participant (inspired by the words of his leadership) put it, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” For the most part, brands didn’t. In fact, several of the brands on the call made mention of how, in many instances, the pandemic acted as an accelerant in igniting many transformative initiatives. Necessity, ever the mother of all invention, was often the primary driver of these changes. Many of them had to do with the shift to WFH, while still others were propelled by changes in consumer behavior.
At the same time, many companies used the crisis as an opportunity to gain buy-in on bulking up and fast-tracking existing transformational initiatives, particularly digital ones. Once again, necessity has been a driving force. Surges in volume, labor market challenges, difficulty in recruiting, onboarding, and training new hires — all of these have played a role in the swift pivot to new and revamped self-service solutions. The end result is an industry-wide surge forward in the digitalization of the CX industry, even to the point of making omnichannel more commonplace.
Most leaders also agreed that their people, up and down the ladder, performed exceptionally well, especially given the difficulty and extent of the challenges faced. In fact, many of the discussion’s participants talked about initiatives and changes that would have taken months or years to complete, if not for being fueled by the demands of the pandemic. These changes were completed not only in record time but also under the unique personal and professional stresses brought on by the global health crisis.
How do we keep the successes going in 2021?
While there’s no simple answer to keeping the hard-fought successes of 2020 rolling in 2021, a few familiar themes emerged. Empathy was a word and concept that came up several times, particularly in the context of comprehending the situation in which many workers find themselves. Many of these frontline workers might not have opted for such work had they known their home would be their office. Many were caught ill-prepared in terms of having adequate space or resources to conduct their role at home. And while most of these initial challenges have been resolved, new challenges continue to emerge. Uncertainty about the future, an endless cycle of shutdowns and changing restrictions, feelings of isolation as the pandemic drags on — these and other concerns call for organizations to be much more tuned into the stressors faced by the industry’s agent population. Bringing empathy to this understanding is seen to be crucial in maintaining trust, momentum, morale within organizations — all critical to ongoing success.
Flexibility is also expected to be a key concept as the year wears on — specifically, flexibility with future workspace arrangements. Coming out of the pandemic, most workers are hopeful to have the option to either WFH or the office, depending on their own specific situation. Of course, certain types of engagement will necessitate some return to the office, but now that many workers have had experience with the advantages of WFH, it’s an arrangement some absolutely prefer, or at least prefer as a part of a flexible, hybrid approach.
Continuing C-suite support is also crucial to maintaining success in 2021. Unsurprisingly, executives provided an abundance of support and resources to help their teams conquer the initial challenges posed by the pandemic. But as we all move deeper into the year, the leaders on the call agreed that ongoing executive support would be essential in seeing through the initiatives launched in 2020, as well as those coming down the pike in 2021.
Special thanks to Arise’s Robert Padron and Charmaine Stafford for moderating this special Virtual Executive Roundtable, Be Essential: How WFH CX Transforms the Relationship Between the Brand and the Customer.
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Blog post, written by: Execs In The Know