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Customer service in South Africa: how businesses are embracing agility to deliver memorable experiences

We need to be extremely agile, we need to be customer-focused, and we need to make it happen in an extraordinarily fast way

Steven Friedman, CIO of RAM Hand-to-Hand Couriers

Customer service reps have had an extraordinary year. While no role was left untouched by the global Covid-19 and economic crises, the service team often acts as the face and voice of your business and the first point of contact for customers. And case volumes from anxious and confused customers skyrocketed.

With such a sharp and unexpected increase in demand, the focus has been on maximising existing resources through employee agility and investments in new technology. In South Africa, 91% of respondents surveyed for our State of Service report said that processes and workflows have shifted for the service team since the pandemic, and 74% of global respondents reported that they’re more reliant on data than ever before.

While workforces pivoted to home working, making data accessible was a top priority, and luckily 80% of service agents in South Africa agree that they’ve got access to all the data they need to work remotely. The appetite for field services is still high, so highly available data and good workplace apps are critical to be able to meet the needs of today’s customer.

On the flipside, this increases the need for good training programmes to help agents get to grips with new technology and new processes. Read on to find out more insights from the 275 South African services professionals who responded to our global report.

Service agents need to be agile to adapt to new ways of working

In the early days of the pandemic, confused customers needed extra support at the worst possible time for many companies, who were busy mobilising the workforce and adapting their processes to keep the business running. 

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One way of handling this was to temporarily bring in colleagues from other teams to support the service team – and that’s what 64% of companies in South Africa did. But 78% of decision makers still needed to invest in new service technology to empower the team to give customers the level of service that they were accustomed to.

The right technology can be crucial for adapting to uncertainty quickly, as Steven Friedman, CIO of RAM Hand-to-Hand Couriers comments, “We need to be extremely agile, we need to be customer-focused, and we need to make it happen in an extraordinarily fast way. Salesforce provides the backbone of what it’s going to take to overcome those challenges and really improve who we are and what we stand for.”

In addition to expecting round the clock services, customers are placing a bigger focus on finding companies who align with their personal values and have earned their trust. During the pandemic, 71% of global consumers reported that brands who showed empathy during the crisis have earned their loyalty, and while embedding a culture of compassion across the workforce is important, it’s the service team who have the most emotive relationship with your customers – listening to their concerns and finding a solution for them.

Insurance provider, Mont Blanc, offer fully digital services to give customers fast access to transparent and reliable information when selecting a policy. They can also self-serve to request a quote, and have access to a 24-hour claims line. 

“Customers generally only contact us when they’re experiencing the stress of a loss, such as a car crash or damage to their home,” reveals CEO Nicola Iozzo. “To make life easier during this stressful time we’ve made it such that the claims process is as hassle free as possible, giving brokers access to everything they need to process the claim from a single dashboard so they can focus on being a reassuring and sympathetic voice to our customers.”

Agents expect opportunities for growth in their roles and a career path

Service agents are playing an increasingly strategic role within the business and often act as brand ambassadors with a stake in the overall success of the company. In fact, Friedman comments, “One of the big main differentiators in the marketplace today is around customer service,” and the company has since set itself the goal of never losing a customer by offering truly outstanding service.

The skills that agents need to have are also becoming broader and more complex. Given the right tools and support, many have embraced this challenge and flourished, and 77% reported that they can now see a clear path for career development.

Around 80% of South African decision makers are making significant investments in employee training, but soft skills are still rated more highly among global respondents than hard skills:

  • 76% think communication is very important, making it the highest rated skill
  • 71% said being able to listen is essential
  • 62% rated adaptability as very important
  • 57% reported that empathy is highly valued.

Time management, product knowledge, and digital skills were all highly rated too, and solutions such as Salesforce provide an excellent platform to support these skills. Darrell Sansom, Chief Customer and Innovation Officer at AXA understands the importance of soft skills and a good understanding of his customer’s challenges to improving customer satisfaction and personalising the experience: “To achieve a good rating, we need to deliver a personalized, omni-channel service. Small business owners are pushed for time; we need to make things as fast and easy for them as possible.”

Technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation, chat bots, and self-serve are all worthwhile investments to free up your service team to focus on giving customers more personal and valuable interactions, while helping to reduce resolution times.

The evolution of field service drives revenue

Over the past year, consumers have come to expect to be able to interact with companies digitally. But when it comes to field services, two-thirds of global respondents actively look for companies who can come to them, and organisations with strong field services are repeating the benefits.

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Field service is a key part of service strategies in South Africa for 88% of decision makers, with 84% citing that it drives a significant portion of revenue. Mobile workers have been categorised as key workers during the pandemic, but the onus is on businesses to keep them safe by instilling social distancing measures, better cleaning, and providing PPE. Only 60% of global respondents reported that their employer regularly performed wellness checks, which is an area that needs to improve to ensure high levels of employee satisfaction and lower staff turnover. 

Other areas identified for improvement include inventory and asset management, which only 30% of staff think their company excels at, access to information and knowledge articles, which again scores 30%, and communication and collaboration, which score 41% and 36% respectively. 

Field workers are especially dependent on digital tools. Look for solutions with specially designed capabilities that simplify workflows and give users access to everything they need on the go, including customer records, scheduling tools, maps, and knowledge articles. 

Investing in people is a trend that’s here to stay

The pandemic has undoubtedly been a catalyst for change for service teams, but it’s also been a great opportunity for companies to become more adaptable and learn how to maximise resources. By accelerating innovation, many organisations have established best practices that will help to improve customer satisfaction and empower their field service agents.

With the role of the agent becoming more strategic, reps are feeling more valued and optimistic about their career development, so it’s an excellent time to nurture your talent with training programmes to help them learn new skills – both soft skills and digital. 

But the one thing that has proven unshakable despite the pandemic is the firm belief by service teams in South Africa that customer satisfaction is the single most important metric, and behind every great customer interaction is an empowered and happy employee.

If you want to become a customer service superstar, check out the Service Cloud guided tour. Immerse yourself in this interactive tour of the latest agent tools, featuring self-serve capabilities and rich data insights.

This page was paid for by Salesforce. The editorial staff of CNBC Africa had no role in the creation of this page.