All Hail the Rise of the Boundary Worker
Wyatt Urmey 2700071WFF firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  boundary_worker custserv byod retail service socbiz customer_service
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Wyatt Urmey, Manager, IBM Collaboration Solutions
There is a major shift in customer service underway and it heralds a new type of worker –the “boundary worker.” Boundary workers sit right at the boundary of knowledge workers and service personnel – they are not quite knowledge workers, but they are an order of magnitude above today’s service people.
In the past, the pure service person was the one that walked up to you in a store and asked, “may I help you?” Today’s boundary worker uses technology on the spot to deliver value-added service. If they don’t know what aisle the coffee is on, they can find out from their tablet or cell phone. Moreover, they can tap into your personal store preferences and purchase history to make intelligent suggestions using analytics from your loyalty key fob or store card, thus very neatly bridging the gap between online and offline sales. The boundary worker will take us from “the coffee is on aisle six” to “the coffee is on aisle six, but I see here you like dark French roast, and we have that on sale this week on the end cap of aisle five.”
Further, the overall requirement for large retail spaces is shrinking in the U.S., as more is moving to digital. This trend makes boundary workers even more critical as they sit at the nexus of the in-store environment and the more vast resources of the company's total digital presence and collective knowledge. Social, mobile and cloud technology enable them to harness the expertise of the company on a mobile device right in front of the customer, where it matters. Sometimes retailers tell me that are concerned about the costs and logistics of providing mobile devices to each sales associate. However, the bring your own device (BYOD) movement is helping to quickly defray costs, as new hires can just download the store’s application on their personal cell phones. This trend will continue as smart phone ownership is greater than 70 percent among millenials (generation Y), and millenials are critical to retailers and the service industry as both employees and shoppers.
With those same technologies increasing customer expectations, there is simply no excuse for store personnel not having the answer at their fingertips. After all, the very purpose of service people is to help customers quickly navigate to a solution, and then use that goodwill to build trust and loyalty to increase total purchases during any given visit; that is, when we like our waiter and his wine selection, we might take his advice on ordering the chocolate lava cake, even though we didn’t want it and frankly shouldn’t be eating it just after the holidays.
But beyond the technology that makes the rise of the boundary worker inevitable, there is another important trend to consider. The current hiring model is expensive and inefficient, especially in the retail and food service industries. By managing every step in the hiring and employment journey using behavioral sciences, analytics, and surveying to find the right “fit” for customer service, companies can now more easily place people in jobs where they are ideally suited to help the company make more money. For example, AMC and Cabela's delivered real business gains from better hiring by starting with the clay rather than perfecting the mold. Service organizations are likely to continue on this path. According to our newest research, HR will focus more on enhancing the end-customer experience in their hiring, from 28 percent today to 38 percent over the next three-to-five years. As companies reduce their physical footprints and hire fewer people, it’s increasingly important that they put more emphasis on the quality of those few hires, and on making them super productive.
The implications for customer service are wide, stretching across traditional and digital operations in many industries, from banks to movie theaters to airports. For example, Narita airport has placed its service people directly in front of the customer, making them available to improve airport efficiency and traveler satisfaction.
So all hail the rise of the boundary worker. They will make our experience as customers the best we’ve seen in history, enabled as they are by technology and hired because they care.