The possibilities of digital technologies are dazzling, but with them come challenges, not least in the realm of customer service.
The ISO Foresight Trend Report highlights global trends across multiple industries that will shape strategic decision making for a better future. Drawing upon these insights, ISO reflects on some of the potential areas for standardization work. In a series of feature articles, we unpack some of the critical global trends with top experts in their field.
The world is more connected than ever, with new people, systems, services and experiences just a few clicks away. Meanwhile, the shape of the Internet is changing as mobile and wireless technologies become the basic tools of communication and the number and variety of Internet-connected devices grow. By 2025, the number of devices connected to the Internet is forecast to reach 50 billion.
This ever-more connected world presents opportunities and challenges that will require forward-facing thinking to navigate. Not least with regard to the relationship between consumers and service providers. It’s no secret that how well you serve customers will define your company’s long-term success. In fact, excellent customer service leads to various benefits for a company, i.e. better customer loyalty, higher revenue and lower costs. But if you have to focus on the customer and become a service-oriented organization, it’s not merely enough to attain a passable grade. You have to strive for service excellence to reap its benefits.
ISO is leading the efforts in excellence in service. Experts from around the world are participating in the work of technical committee ISO/TC 312 to provide an internationally agreed-upon understanding of excellence in service and models for achieving it.
The world becomes digital
The rise of the Internet is no less than revolutionary – according to estimates, the influence of the Internet over the next 15 years will surpass the impacts of 50 years of industrial revolution. It is vital to keep pace with the new battles being fought in this changing landscape.
With increased connectivity comes increased vulnerability to cyber-attacks: from small-scale to state-backed attacks, with implications for the security of the critical infrastructure. The Internet becoming the main source of information has made the spread of disinformation a potent new danger, forcing regulators to balance freedom of expression against the need to counter harmful content. Increasingly, those who control Internet access have enormous power – and enormous responsibility not to misuse it. According to the World Economic Forum, at least 23 % of countries censor news or block certain websites entirely.
Meanwhile, providers in this increasingly digital world – even traditional service industries such as hospitality and insurance – have a growing collection of responsibilities to their customers. All providers will be expected to invest in cybersecurity measures, have data protection policies, and consider the accessibility of their digital offerings (apps for different mobile operating systems, for example).
5G, the next generation of mobile technologies, will connect not just people but things in a vast network where massive quantities of real-time data are exchanged almost instantaneously: the Internet of Things (IoT). This is expected to bring IoT applications like driverless cars into the mainstream. 5G could contribute up to USD 12.3 trillion to global economic output over the next decade.
5G has already arrived in countries including South Korea, the US, the UK and Germany. Significant investments will be required for developing countries to keep pace – by 2025, the share of 5G in total connections is expected to reach 59 % in South Korea, but just 8 % in Latin America and 3 % in sub-Saharan Africa. Without a change in direction, 5G and its benefits will remain out of reach for much of the world. To maintain service excellence, providers will need to bridge the divide between those consumers who have access to 5G and those who don’t.
Services are moving online, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with even habitually “in-person” industries like tourism and traditional retail industries moving to provide more digital offerings. This boosts accessibility, efficiency and affordability, but also creates new responsibilities, such as managing customer data responsibly and increasing the customer’s acceptance of new digital services.
As services go digital, businesses and other organizations will face fresh challenges from shifting customer expectations, such as the relatively recent expectation for all businesses to provide a seamless and outstanding customer experience across all contact channels. Every level of the “Service Excellence” Pyramid – which lays out how organizations can improve their services to exceed customer expectations – will be reshaped by digitalization. Organizations may find themselves having to go above and beyond to provide excellent customer service, such as creating apps and using technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, virtual assistants and blockchain.
The progression toward digital services presents fantastic opportunities for businesses in developing countries to compete internationally. This has already been identified by many governments keen to seize these opportunities – in Africa, countries are spending an average of 1 % of GDP on digital investments. Kenya, for instance, is recognized for its thriving mobile banking service industry.
roversy over the storage of user data by Internet companies and a need to build trust has rapidly made responsible handling of data a core service for a variety of organizations.
In the coming years, this will likely become an area ripe for standardization. The connected future is taking shape – and standards will be an important step in ensuring that it works for everyone. Those who stand to benefit are especially the customers, who will receive excellent service.
Prof. Dr Matthias Gouthier is Chair of ISO technical committee ISO/TC 312, Excellence in service.