With the advent of automation and artificial intelligence in customer service, customers are increasingly choosing self-service options as a first point of contact with organizations. That means it’s a whole new era when it comes to customer service management skills that matter.
A 2019 Forrester report on “How To Modernize Digital Customer Self-Service” lays out the psychology behind this preference: two-thirds of US online adults say that the most important thing companies can do, in terms of customer service, is value their time. Nearly half will abandon an online purchase if they can’t get a question answered quickly, and that’s precisely what automated customer service excels at. Customers don’t need to wait in a queue for the next representative to be available; they simply type in a question and get an instant response.
Of course, not every customer service experience can or will be automated. In fact, it’s often the most challenging situations that cannot be resolved by automation alone, which is why every automated customer service solution must include an “escape hatch” out of the workflow when a situation requires human intervention.
Self-service technologies enable faster, more automated answers and transactions, but they must be balanced by a thoughtful human component to customer service. This fine balance is changing the nature of customer service work, along with the skills and experience customer service managers need to be successful.
To lead a transformed workforce where computers and humans are well integrated, today’s customer service management skills must include a few critical qualities and skills.
Exceptional Customer Service Leaders Today Require Technological Prowess
“Technology and skills are now the drivers of economic value; if you’re not keeping your skills up to date, your earning power, career, and future growth will stagnate.”
— Josh Bersin, Industry Analyst
As much as customer service remains a largely personal interaction, managers must be fluent in the technologies their companies use — and technology in general — in order to be able to properly supervise the automated processes in place. They’ll need to keep an eye on how bot interactions and automated workflows are performing relative to customer satisfaction. In particular, those with a strong engineering background and a very high comfort level with technology integration will be at an advantage in a management career.
This is a notable departure from traditional customer service paradigms, which valued human connection and communication over all else. Today, to lead a customer service organization requires a balance of skills — both technology savvy and critical “soft skills.”
Customer Service Management Skills Must Include A Renewed Focus on Soft Skills
In the past, managers handled a range of broad administrative tasks like overseeing capacity and backlog. But that’s changing as machines take over tasks which can be easily automated.
What machines are not good at: empathy. Always an essential skill in customer service, empathy is more important than ever because of the rise of customer expectations. When customers speak with a human rep, they expect intelligent answers informed by history. With AI working in the background, reps are privy to which transactions and activities have occurred up until this point, as well as what interactions customers have already had with customer service — whether human or bot.
This rising expectation for fast, personal, intimate customer service puts pressure on managers to train their team to deliver in the moment of the conversation. Technology gives customer service managers the baseline information they need to assess a customer’s current state, but soft skills allow them to work with their team to effectively resolve any questions or conflicts with grace.
As Wired put it, in this era of AI and bots, “new technology will open up richer worlds of human interaction as we develop new techniques for measuring and understanding our humanity….the specifically human traits of empathy, language comprehension and creative flexibility will all be at a premium.” Mastery of technology is only as useful as the ability to apply such “specifically human traits” to the information it imparts.
A Strong Ability to De-escalate Tense Situations Will Go A Long Way
Accenture predicts that AI will boost productivity by up to 40 percent in the next 15 years, partly by taking care of the more straightforward customer questions and issues. That leaves the tougher issues for the humans to handle when a customer, for instance, shouts: “I demand to speak to your manager!” Empathy and grace come into play most critically when customer service situations escalate.
The ability to diffuse tense situations is especially important in an era when frustrated customers have an instant outlet on social media. With the ease and accessibility that exists today when it comes to customers venting their frustration, brands can’t afford to risk a bad outcome. It’s on customer service managers to have the skills to de-escalate situations before they become PR dings. Customer service management skills that include both innate and learned de-escalation empower support teams to have a higher aptitude for resolving the tricky issues that machines can’t resolve.
Technology is innovating customer service beyond what we could have imagined even just a few years ago, but people will never be entirely replaced by AI and automation in a field where empathy and communication are priceless skills. The right customer service balance is to hire managers who possess the right skills, train them to accelerate those skills, and equip them with the best customer service platform available.