Companies and their staff like remote-hybrid work. The problem is their customers don’t!

63% of survey respondents saying their departments operate on a hybrid work model, it’s safe to say that remote and hybrid work is not going to disappear anytime soon.

63% of survey respondents said their departments operate on a hybrid work model. It’s safe to say that remote and hybrid work will not disappear anytime soon.

Blog by Nathalie Schooling

Customer satisfaction drops in the new world of work

Employees tend to favour a remote-hybrid working model because it’s flexible and reduces their daily commute. Many companies like it too because it boosts productivity and cuts costs.

But where’s the long-term benefit if, in the process, you’re creating unhappy clients who feel that the customer experience is now worse than in pre-Covid times?

New research that we’ve done reveals that remote workers in key customer-facing jobs such as sales are losing touch with their clients at a time when service expectations have never been higher. It’s a similar situation in call centres, where customers are left fuming by bad connectivity, dropped calls, high levels of background noise, and slow response times when interacting with work-from-home agents. Case in point, of the survey respondents, 50% noted issues with communication breakdowns and connectivity since working on a hybrid work model.

Our study, which was in-depth and targeted, involved a blend of verbatim telephonic interviews and electronic research with special emphasis on South Africa’s top financial services companies to include multinationals.

What was clear to us was that there are many barriers to delivering a good customer experience when staff are working remotely.


Client expectations have changed

Post-Covid, the world of work in South Africa has changed. But so too has the customer journey and client expectations. People now demand high levels of excellence, instant attention to their queries, and quick turnaround times when they have problems.

This is creating a disconnect and customer experience will continue to suffer if remote-hybrid work is not managed correctly – and the appropriate training, AI and automation tools aren’t put in place to streamline customer service processes.

With 63% of survey respondents saying their departments operate on a hybrid work model, it’s safe to say that remote and hybrid work is not going to disappear anytime soon. Neither is load shedding, which is clearly a catalyst for many of the problems being encountered.


Among the specific concerns raised by the survey respondents around CX and a hybrid-remote working environment, these came out tops:


Remote work is here to stay

I’m not saying we need to get rid of hybrid-remote work, it’s more about how management teams implement the right tools, technologies and procedures – as well as the appropriate leadership and management styles – to ensure employees are happy and the end-user customer experience doesn’t suffer.

We get it, everyone is in new territory here. Being a leader or manager has never been an easy job, even while workers were all still in the office. Leaders today must now juggle this new world of work with our uniquely South African challenges, and the reality that customers expect better service than ever before.

So, managers must know where to find the cracks that can come with remote and hybrid work. They need to ask the right questions and be able to put themselves in their customers’ shoes.


Can tech solve remote CX issues?

I must warn, however, that technology and AI are not the sole solutions. Rather, they need be implemented in tandem with human-based solutions such as planning, training, employee empathy and – most important of all – customer empathy.

All respondents in our survey mentioned that they are already using Microsoft Teams, Salesforce (cloud-based customer relationship management software) and tracking tools to track customer complaints. Yet they still reported seeing the customer experience decline in the remote-hybrid environment.

What does this tell us? Your end user needs come first. Processes cannot be based on organisational or employee convenience. Neither can they be based on lessons learned pre-Covid or pre-load shedding. They must be predicated on what is happening in South Africa, right now. That is the real world.


Increased productivity BUT at what cost?

Among the unexpected findings from the study is that 50% of respondents noted an increase in productivity among staff working remotely all, or some of, the time. A quarter (25%) found there was a decrease in productivity, and a further 25% said there was no change in productivity.

In some cases, however, higher productivity may be coming at a cost. As one respondent commented: “Our support staff have seen an increase in productivity, but to the detriment of burnout.”

Overall, 60% of respondents saw an increase in burnout and mental-wellness issues among staff working remotely all, or some of, the time.

These results raise the question: are anxiety, depression and burnout the new normal of our remote working environments?

As our respondents pointed out, in an office situation you are breaking between meetings, you are walking around, you are connecting with people. With remote work, it is not uncommon for staff to take their devices with them when they go to the kitchen to make tea, or even into the bathroom. They are always on!

If you relate this back to customer experience, people who are jaded and suffering with mental-wellness issues are not going to deliver excellent service to their clients.


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