Only 7 percent of chief financial officers plan to decrease customer service spending over the next 12 months, while 21 percent plan to increase it and 72 percent plan to maintain it at current levels despite economic pressures, Gartner found in a new study.
“In response to inflation, supply chain disruptions, and a tight labor market, CFOs will make trade-offs in spending that affect customer service and support (CSS) leaders,” said Sarah Dibble, a director in the Gartner Customer Service & Support practice. “The bright spot for CSS organizations is that their function is not a top priority for cost-cutting compared to real estate/facilities management, and finance, which are the most likely to face budget cuts in the next year.”
Nearly all CFOs prioritize and will continue to prioritize digital investments over categories such as sales or research and development, focusing particularly on technologies that enhance current revenue streams or new digital products and services. CSS leaders should therefore prioritize the technologies that meet these criteria to make the strongest case for investment to their CFOs.
CSS leaders must also make a strong case for digital investments that reduce costs, Gartner said, noting that digital self-service channels offer a tremendous cost savings opportunity for service organizations, costing just nine cents per contact compared to $14 per contact in assisted service, Another area that will not only reduce costs but also better help serve customers is conversational AI, which Gartner expects will reduce contact center agent labor costs by $80 billion by 2026.
CFOs will also look to ramp up investments in hiring and compensation but increase scrutiny on consultants, contractors, and facilities, the research found.
“Service leaders with large budget allocations in the latter of these categories should be prepared for increased scrutiny, as well as have contingency plans in place,” Dibble said. “There may come a time when a contact center in an expensive geography needs to be closed down, transitioned to remote work, or the frontline is unable to handle contact volume without contractors.”
Overall, CSS leaders should look to demonstrate ways that their function helps the company achieve its financial objectives by increasing customer loyalty, especially as they are faced with frustrated customers who are dealing with their own financial stresses, the firm suggests.
Gartner advises that other actions CSS leaders should take to mitigate the effects of the economic downturn include the following:
- Influencing the C-suite on cost reduction and avoidance;
- Migrating volume to digital and self-service;
- Improving, automating, or eliminating inefficient processes;
- Assessing outsourcing options and partnerships; and
- Contributing to the top-line by developing value enhancement strategies.