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By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service

As we enter what we hope are the final stages of the Covid-19 crisis, attention is turning to how things will look in our “new normal”. There has been much commentary and debate about which aspects of life under lockdown will – and should – be taken forward into the future. But there is one trend that was with us prior to Covid and is almost undoubtedly here to stay: the rising use of digital-enabled services.

Since the very start of the crisis, we have seen organisations across all sectors rapidly investing in new technologies to stay connected with customers. Tech has infiltrated nearly every aspect of the customer experience – from AI-enabled technology such as chatbots, automated messaging and video conferencing to help manage customer enquiries, all the way through to bespoke virtual or immersive experiences to keep customers connected and engaged. Going forward we will also see the increasing use of robotics to undertake a whole range of activities and a greater blend of human and tech interfaces.

Whilst many organisations are keen to welcome customers back to physical outlets as soon as possible (and, equally, many customers are eager to return) – it is hard to imagine that the rise in digital offerings over the past year will not continue. The reality is that customers have become accustomed to the convenience digital access to services provides – whether in ordering goods via click-and-collect or ordering food and drink directly to their table. The pandemic however has accelerated the need for organisations to consider technological innovations not simply as a way to cut costs, but as an intrinsic part of their customer experience offering.

Whilst there will always be a need for the “human touch” within the customer experience environment, particularly when dealing with complex or sensitive issues, there is no doubt that technology will play a central role in the ‘new normal’. However, along with the vast spectrum of potential benefits, the growing prevalence of technologies does present its own set of challenges – particularly around privacy, security and ethics. Increased use of digital services, and a rising amount of sensitive data held by organisations, inevitably provides further opportunity for cybercrime and data breaches. As we navigate the sensitive and volatile customer environment post-crisis, the potential damage to business reputation and trust presented by a digital attack could see long-term customers lost forever.

To unlock the full benefits of technology and data, organisations must ensure they are used responsibly; continuing to develop privacy protocols, invest in the right tools and ensure staff are effectively trained in using them. With many consumers still concerned about privacy and security online, organisations must also ensure these measures are effectively communicated to their customer base – providing messages of reassurance and ensuring appropriate transparency about the use of customer data at each stage of the process.

We have an opportunity to enter a new era of technology; one that is genuinely customer-centric and truly designed to improve the service experience. Those that embrace this and use it responsibly through a culture of honesty and transparency, will be best placed to reap its myriad of rewards.

Jo Causon

Jo joined The Institute as its CEO in 2009. She has driven membership growth by 150 percent and established the UK Customer Satisfaction Index as the country’s premier indicator of consumer satisfaction, providing organisations with an indicator of the return on their service strategy investment.

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