True or false: The service center is a great place to start – and propel – a sales career.  

In the past, that statement has been mostly false. Many service center representatives have worked under strict parameters, following prescriptive workflows for answering questions and completing transactions. They have been hired based on rigid job descriptions requiring specific competencies, such as how quickly they can identify elements on a screen or how efficiently they can complete calls. While top performers could advance to supervisory roles within the contact center organization, most would find themselves stuck in the customer service lane. 

In the not-so-distant future, I’m convinced that statement will be true. 

Why? During the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve witnessed blurring lines between retail store representatives, field service technicians and even airline gate agents. Everyone has temporarily shifted their focus to the call center – using chat and voice platforms to continue servicing customers.  

Traditional barriers have disintegrated, and customer operating model lines have been distorted. Given the dramatic changes, sales and service organizations have held their breaths and thrown out the rule book in the name of continuity for customers. They even did the unthinkable: shifting entire workforces to work from their homes.  

And guess what? For the most part, it’s worked – better than expected.  

Now that we’ve seen what’s possible, the foundation has been set for organizations to think holistically about their service centers – including talent and technologies.  

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Now that we've seen what's possible, the foundation has been set for organizations to think holistically about their service centers - including talent and technologies.

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As the current customer environment continues to accelerate and amplify the role of digital in customer engagement, it’s highlighting the need for fully digital end-to-end processes. That includes the need to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) as new members of the service center “team.”  

Contrary to some employees’ fears, when you welcome AI and ML into the fold, jobs aren’t eliminated. They’re transformed. In a new era of customer engagement, the service channel becomes a sales channel and quite literally the voice of the brand. With data-intensive transactions like claims, payments or service upgrades supported by machines, customer service reps can focus on building relationships.  

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The post-COVID world is also likely to extend the change in where service professionals work. Rather than returning to shared physical spaces, they are likely to keep working from home sometimes or all the time. At-home work brings risks to customer data security – yet another reason to deploy AI and ML to manage data-driven tasks “behind the scenes.” Just as important, organizations will need to trust these employees not only to do the work but also to follow guidelines and represent the brand independently; employees will need to trust that they will receive support and recognition even without consistent face time in a physical space.  

With this approach, the ability to work fast becomes less critical than the ability to exemplify a brand purpose and experience promise. And a person’s mindset and attitude become more valuable than a list of competencies. Skills can be taught, but authenticity, empathy and patience are much harder to instill.  

When service centers transform into sales centers, employees become relationship builders and brand makers – with careers of virtually unlimited potential. 

Organization can implement fluid talent models to achieve exceptional service to prepare for virtual work environments and blended workforce expectations in a New Era of Customer Engagement. 

Dawn Anderson

Senior Managing Director, Global Lead – Customer, Sales & Service

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