The New Normal in Queue Management
In previous blog posts we've discussed the role of customer service centers during the pandemic, and their re-opening after. While most of the world is still somewhere in-between those two phases, let's take a moment to turn our eyes to the future: what will be the new normal for customer service, after the dust has settled?
In this post, we'll focus on one aspect of service center operation, which is queuing. Queues can consist of people, cases, messages, and anything else that requires attention and response – as long as the resources needed to respond are finite.
Historically, service queues consisted of people waiting in line at a physical location or waiting on the phone, either way hoping to interact with a human eventually. Over time, digital channels like email and chat were added, at first still designed for human response and later – incorporating automated answers, some devised more intelligently and some less.
Transitioning as many customer requests to self-service, bots, and other unmanned tools was already a strong trend before COVID-19, motivated primarily by organizations looking to cut costs and to untie the ancient link between reducing queue wait times and having to spend more on service reps and resources.
The global pandemic added two more elements to the mix:
- First, the need to reduce congestion in public spaces such as customer service locations;
- Secondly, more people, across a great diversity of social groups, getting used to interacting over Zoom and other video call platforms.
So how does this affect queueing? Does this mean no more queues? Well, not quite. We see a number of possible effects taking place, possibly becoming the new normal in service queue management.
- Businesses will offer customers a greater range of communication options. However, because different customers will have different preferences and adopt new channels at different rates, and as some customers will choose a channel at random, queueing will be truly omnichannel. Any system that cannot handle multiple channels, including the seamless transfer of customers between them, will not be able to support the upcoming business models.
- The need for efficiency, combined with the need to support remote service models, means having separate agents handle walk-in, calls, and other channels, will not make sense economically. Every agent, whether working in a branch, at a back-office location, or from home, will be responding to all types of communications (of course, with the exception that only branch staff will handle walk-ins). This has implications both from the IT / queue technology perspective, and from an HR perspective.
- Simple queue systems, a.k.a "take a number", would likely become less and less popular, due to their limited functionality. However, smarter customer-flow management systems are actually likely to be in even greater demand. Any physical location that will not be able to count arriving customers, offer remote waiting, and control how long people spend time in the facility, will find servicing customers very difficult, perhaps even prohibited.
In fact, even if we ignore omnichannel services for a moment, the need for branch/store queues is still expected to grow, much due to the above fact. This recent report forecasts an annual growth rate of about 5% to persist until 2027.
- Despite automation – and to a great extent, because of it – personalization will become a key element in customer service. As more customers will have to rely on remote communications, businesses will have to find ways to make these customers feel they are still visible to the brand and served according to their individual needs.
Queue management software will have to provide more ways to check-in to a queue; enable personalized wait-time messages; tell which customers are more, or less, happy to chat with bots, versus waiting for a human; and so on.
- Scheduling will become inseparable from queuing. We'll dedicate a separate blog post to "the new normal in scheduling", in the near future…
For customers, all this means they will be able to enjoy a greater variety of options to contact and communicate with service providers – and be given greater control over where they wish to be on the scale between impersonal efficiency and connecting with a human, albeit often digitally rather than face to face. It also means a potential for confusion and fragementation of service if the business does not put information systems in place that are up to the task.
Is your queuing system ready for these new challenges?