Globalization was already sliding into “slowbalization” before 2020 came crashing down around us. Now, some of the world is beginning to recover from the pandemic’s dire economic effects while others are still deep in the trenches of fighting the virus. 

On the business front, the pandemic has brought a lot of issues into clearer focus.     

In the last five to 10 years, we’ve seen an acceleration of technology enabling globalized business. Communication has never been more frictionless due to advances in communication and translation technologies.

Yet many of these technology trends were just talking points for customer service organizations. Now, the instability of 2020 is forcing many to reconsider their relationships with technology and their strategies around resilience. 

In this post, you’ll learn best practices and strategic approaches I’ve gleaned from working with customer service experts and talking to some of the greatest minds in the field. These golden rules will help you meet the future of globalized customer service head-on. 

Build continental redundancy

Where’s your customer service team located? Odds are you have a customer success team at HQ and one or a few call centers, either in the country where most of your customers reside or in a low-cost area like India or the Philippines. Perhaps you use a BPO. That’s a good start. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that Murphy’s Law is real. Things can go wrong, and will, and there’s no predicting where or when.

And while bad things do happen, they tend not to happen all in the same place at the same time. COVID has been a perfect example of this, as waves have spread around the globe at different points in time, hitting Asia, then Europe, then the U.S. and Latin America in turn. First the virus, then the economic fall-out.

Continental redundancy is a powerful strategy to prepare for the unexpected on the customer service front. It means having call centers or—even better—a distributed team of customer service reps, all over the world. This way you can spin up new customer service centers whenever and wherever needed, without the need for real estate or full-time employees who speak each native language. 

Having a dual continent or multi-content customer service strategy is key to resilience. Multi-continent customer service teams have the agility to deliver high-quality customer experience without disruption, no matter what is happening.

Embrace the gig economy

Paula Kennedy Garcia is the VP of strategic projects and corporate strategy for Concentrix’s gig platform, Solv. She recently wrote about Gartner’s Hype Cycle for the gig economy and remote work. As Garcia puts it, the gig economy is among the “furthest evolved along the plateau of productivity.” Gartner also rates gig and remote work trends as “high benefit” and expects these areas to boom—not wane—in the years to come, even as the global pandemic recedes. 

You no longer need traditional call centers at all. In fact, sometimes it’s best to take a more creative approach. For example, Xbox’s customer service team includes gamers who answer customer questions on a gig basis. And why not have your biggest fans and natural experts handle at least some of your customer service queries? It’s win-win.

The gig economy sometimes gets a bad rap in the media, but when used ethically and strategically it can have benefits for businesses and customers alike. 

Turn language barriers into a superpower

“Act globally, think locally.” That’s how Vikas Bhambri at Kustomer put it in a recent LinkedIn Live Chat we did together. I couldn’t agree more. Once, the 6,500+ languages spoken around the world acted as barriers between people. Today, technology can flip a language barrier into a business advantage.

Language plays an important—if often overlooked—role in building customer relationships, as Bhambri points out. It’s hard to convey to a customer you care about them if you can’t communicate with them in their preferred language. (And, no, it’s not enough to have your website or app available in their local language.) When people engage with you via a customer service request on any platform, you must show empathy and willingness to engage in their language in a timely fashion. 

Especially today, as economic and health conditions have made many people’s lives harder, businesses who treat their customers with empathy and respect will win. 

WFH DNA FTW

Shopify opened shop, so to speak, in Ireland in the middle of 2015. Ireland was a somewhat unusual choice for a Silicon Valley-style company. Yet they chose the location, after careful consideration, because of the large pool of available talent. Shopify has since grown to a global team of 300, with zero offices. 

John Riordan, director of support at Shopify, is an outspoken advocate of work-from-home culture. He and the team at Shopify believe remote work is key to their success and the way of the future. 

As Riordan puts it, “I think work from home is going to be far more a part of work in the future than it is now.” Employees value the ability to live anywhere they want and work from anywhere just as much as compensation. Riordan says, “The technology is there…. It’s just a case of a mindset change.” Shopify has been able to hire a talented team, including many who live in small towns around the world. Their remote-work mentality both expands the pool of talent they can access and brings jobs to underserved areas. 

Not surprisingly, Shopify has thrived during COVID-19 in part due to this mindset. Other businesses, including BPOs like TaskUs, have already committed to WFH through the end of 2020 if not longer. Google has proactively said employees can WFH until July 2021. It’s likely many businesses will spend this time rethinking whether they truly need brick-and-mortar offices.

TL;DR: Just because your business didn’t start out with remote DNA doesn’t mean you can’t embrace and incorporate it now, and the benefits dramatically outweigh the downsides.

Cut ties with the past

Customer service and outsourcing can be spaces filled with stagnation. Once relationships are built, the status quo sets in, with all the inertia that implies.

This year’s events give companies a unique opportunity to rethink the status quo. It’s a chance to break toxic relationships and move on from partners who aren’t innovating fast enough. It’s an occasion to reposition your business and rethink your customer experience strategy. 

Do you want to be the stable player, or do you want to innovate and differentiate? I’d argue choosing the “old way” is a path to obsolescence. Choosing innovation is a path to embracing your customers and building relationships with them that will enable your business to succeed, even in a challenging economic climate. 

Treat your customers as you’d want to be treated; that’s the best golden rule.