Article

The key to customer service in 2021: daring to be more agile

E-commerce growth in the UK has reached record highs. Across all industries, businesses that invested in improving their adaptability with digital technology are coming out of the pandemic in significantly better shape than their competitors. What lessons can businesses learn?

By Andrew Lawson, SVP EMEA at Zendesk

Published August 2, 2021
Last updated September 16, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has left its mark on the global economy. Both companies and customers have been affected by lockdowns and social distancing. Restrictions placed on public life led a growing number of shoppers to order items and services online. Despite a challenging year for retail, the Office for National Statistics reports that e-commerce in the UK grew by 46 per cent in 2020 - the biggest increase since 2008. The UK has even seen an uplift in the use of personal finance apps and online banking. But this also means that more people have been exposed to completely different customer experiences (CX) in a short space of time. This is critical, because, in the customer’s eyes, a brand experience very rarely comes in shades of grey. The only thing that matters is whether the experience was positive or negative. After all, customer patience for the pandemic as an excuse for poor service has run out.

Covid-19: more agility crucial for viability

Many businesses were forced to ask teams to work from home during the lockdowns - and this includes customer support. Companies that were able to find flexible and customised solutions as quickly as possible reaped the rewards. According to the Zendesk 'Agility in Action' report, 43 per cent of British companies shifted service employees to work remotely, 51 per cent offered alternative working hours and 48 per cent were more accommodating to part-time arrangements. Across all industries, businesses that invested in agility and digital technology are in significantly better shape than their competitors. Many others were able to find pragmatic solutions to continue to be there for their customers – often with improvised measures.

Learning from the pandemic: customers want more

There’s an important lesson businesses can already draw from the pandemic. Namely, that disruptive and digitally adept companies dedicated to great CX have set the bar very high. This sets off a cycle: customers come to expect more and companies need to continually react to this challenge.

This ties in with the most recent Zendesk CX Trends 2021 Report, which found that 92 percent of company managers are giving CX higher priority than they did before the outbreak of the pandemic. What’s more, 57 per cent of medium-sized businesses in Europe and the UK are increasing their investments in CX. And for good reason: the companies that will thrive in each market are those that can offer customers a new experience that’s better than the previous one. This is where startups and young companies are often a step ahead.

Agility is about more than just IT

There are two major misconceptions when talking about the agility of a company. The first is that agility is about moving faster. Of course, agility can accelerate the development of new products and speed up projects. But agile methods go far beyond simply improving speed.

The second misconception is that agile methods are only useful in certain industries and departments - such as IT and software development who now adopt them as standards. But agility can and should pervade through all areas of the business and become ingrained in a company’s culture.

For the most successful agile organisations, clearly defined goals break the boundaries of siloed departments or hierarchical structures. Interdisciplinary teams organise themselves and work together to find solutions to problems and reach these goals. It’s the abilities and knowledge of the different team members that are the focus and embracing the value of cognitive diversity.

Agile organisations utilise various methods for project management; one well-known approach is the Scrum Model. Although it has its roots in IT, it’s incredibly useful when applied to tasks and problems in other areas. The key takeaway here is that agility isn’t about planning something for years and executing in one big step. Instead, it’s more about continuous self-improvement, learning from mistakes and adapting. As Geoffrey Moore says, it's about being "good enough, fast enough."

Add agility and improve your customer service

More traditional companies likely have further to go than startups, which are typically already using these approaches and are therefore more agile. Using actionable data, encouraging diverse, cross-functional teams, and listening to feedback from customers are all useful in customer support. Investing in agility should meet three priorities:

  1. Develop a better understanding of how customer preferences are changing to react quickly. Agile methods help teams work towards solutions in iterative steps. Real-time data and real-time feedback from customers always plays an important role here as they help to identify trends and ensure that the business is moving in the right direction.
  2. Build interdisciplinary teams, allow units to organise themselves and create a positive “no blame” culture, open to making mistakes. This provides the platform to try out new approaches and solutions, ultimately leading to the best possible support and solutions.
  3. Invest in flexible technology to be ready to adapt quickly, rather than transform slowly. Companies concerned about keeping pace with a competitive landscape that’s constantly evolving can turn to flexible platforms and APIs, which makes ongoing innovation and integration and scaling much easier.

The pandemic has forced all of us to embrace change and become more adaptable. Anyone looking to the future who wants to stand out from the competition needs to ask themselves: “How can I give my customers the best possible experience?” And, because the definition of an “incredible” CX is constantly changing in customers’ minds, agile working methods just might be the answer.

Agility in Action

Good customer service only happens with agility. But knowing how to shift takes the right know-how. Our training will get you started.