By Rob Hosking, Executive Director for Administrative and Customer Support, Robert Half

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically reshaped the landscape of customer service as businesses have come to rely on these teams as the first — and sometimes only — interface with the enterprise. In our new normal, company reputations can be won and lost in the call center and the help desk.

Customer service professionals have been thrust into the spotlight as front-line contributors responsible for building customer relationships and creating positive interactions. They shape public perceptions that influence brand impression, loyalty and overall profitability. Plus, skilled customer service professionals can uncover valuable insights into customer needs and preferences, ultimately improving the organization’s products, services and revenues.

New priorities for a new landscape

As businesses recognize the pivotal role customer service teams hold in shaping a company's profitability and success, the demand for skilled customer service professionals has surged. Roles like customer experience specialists and call center managers have become some of the hottest jobs in the market.

And for anyone worried about customer care being replaced by chatbots and other AI tools, I firmly believe humans bring an irreplaceable element of empathy, emotional intelligence and adaptability that AI currently struggles to replicate. Unless customer expectations for highly personalized service change, these roles will remain highly valuable.

New trends to leverage

Still, AI is an exceptionally powerful tool in the human hands of customer service teams. Chatbots and virtual assistants provide instant responses to common customer queries and issues. They can handle routine tasks, such as order status inquiries or FAQs, freeing up professionals to focus on more complex and personalized interactions.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) and speech recognition enable AI systems to understand and interpret customer inquiries more accurately, even when faced with colloquial and conversational language. And AI can analyze vast amounts of customer data to identify trends, pain points and areas for improvement, helping teams better understand their customers’ needs and expectations.

Organizations with high expectations for AI should, however, understand their responsibility to bring employees along: Rapid advancement of customer service technologies will require a program of continuous upskilling and reskilling of customer service teams to remain competitive and adaptable.

New rules for success 

Providing leading-edge customer service is a business advantage, and I’m happy to see businesses investing more in their teams these days, leveraging cutting-edge technologies and streamlining processes to enhance the overall customer experience.

But when seeking your next customer service stars, you may find the hiring process is becoming more challenging as workers have reevaluated their priorities post-pandemic. Many now seek more work-life balance and prefer remote or hybrid work arrangements. Companies offering flexible work options can build a competitive advantage in recruiting top talent without geographical barriers.

This requires companies to adapt their management strategies to accommodate more flexible work and enhance employee engagement, recognition and retention. Adjustable talent models may also mix permanent and contract talent to keep organizations agile in times of disruption.

In today's dynamic business environment, customer service teams play a pivotal role in driving customer satisfaction, loyalty and, ultimately, business success. By investing in advanced technologies, embracing flexible work options, prioritizing employee engagement and leveraging insights from established talent solutions providers,  businesses can build adaptable and future-ready customer service teams that excel in this ever-changing landscape.

Follow Rob Hosking on LinkedIn.