There are no shortage of opinions today about what’s wrong with the global economy and how to fix it. Now in our fourth year of “recovery” after the global economic recession, politicians, economists, and monetary leaders worldwide continue to express cautious optimism about the future as quarterly GDP growth fluctuates between .05% and 2% across major Western economies. While one side celebrates wage increases and job creation, the other argues that unemployment figures hide the partially employed, and no shortage of rhetoric is spared on the cause of economic stagnation for political gain. And while a host of new and innovative companies are bringing disruptive new business models and products to global markets, there doesn’t appear to be anything but long bets for sustainable growth on the horizon. It feels like a collective retooling on global economic growth is taking place with no short-term fix in sight.

In this retooling, the “experts” would be wise to consider not going back to their old bag of tricks. As Millennial consumers reach bank lending-age maturity, they eschew the big ticket items that underpin the engine of economic growth in the past, like home and car ownership and the secondary economies driven by them. They live with family longer, rent apartments in urban centers, use public transportation, participate in the sharing economy, and reuse and recycle instead of buying new. And instead of showing off flashy big-ticket items, they value highly personalized and unique experiences which they purchase based on peer recommendations and promote on social media. And it’s not just Millennials. As Baby Boomers age, so does their taste for maintaining big homes and mortgages that keep them tied to one place. So they too migrate to urban centers where walkability index becomes a key purchase decision, participate in the new “going small” housing movement and seek out new experiences as they free themselves from their suburban homes and lawns. These movements present us an obvious and enormous, but currently unrecognized, business opportunity — making the creation and management of the customer experience the most important thing a company does. And that makes the service worker the most important employee.

Talk to any executive at a company operating in a competitive industry and they will tell you that customer experience is important. But when you trace the branding and advertising message into the actual experience, the disconnect becomes obvious. For the last quarter of a century, customer service departments have been cost optimized to the point of diminishing return, and people in contact centers are left to pick up the pieces of a broken brand promise. Quite often, those customer service agents are stripped of their personalities and problem-solving skills in order to adhere to a service protocol or standard that has been arbitrarily set without the context of the new experience economy imperative. Common practices include getting customers off of the phone or chat in order to meet a goal; having to reverify customers who have already been through multiple layers of identification; having to use call scripts and workflows that might conflict with what the customer is actually trying to do; sitting through quality-control sessions with supervisors that scrutinize every utterance of their interactions; and finally being judged on a satisfaction, effort, or promoter score assigned by a customer which they had little ability to directly influence. It’s no wonder that turnover in customer service departments is so high.

In the experience economy, the retooling of customer service becomes the first place to start in order to create a sustainable competitive advantage, attract the best customer service talent, and figure out how to actually deliver customer experience at a scale unlike ever before. There is no shortage of new and innovative technologies that will be central to those experiences, especially in a world where devices and customers are connected in powerful new ways. We’re working every day with customers on these new applications — and along the way are being reminded of something more fundamental than the technology: It’s the formula of how the service worker and technology come together that proves to be the right mix that customers of all ages are looking for — and are willing to pay a premium for. And it’s why the companies that bet big on the experience economy will not only win new customers, but tap into an economic-growth engine that many are talking about but very few are actually delivering.

In March, an Accenture study cited that companies lost $1.6 trillion last year alone due to customers switching providers because of poor customer service. Moreover, the study went on to reveal that customers prefer to deal with human beings instead of digital channels for customer service issues. This underscores the need to put people into the customer service equation again, but in new ways, such as:

  • Building connected experiences that empower service employees to be at their very best when a customer needs their expertise
  • Enabling service employees to apply unique insights and problem-solving skills with the best information available to them, every time
  • Letting service employees participate in a customer interaction that presents the value of a human interaction at the appropriate moment — not simply when something has gone wrong and a customer needs someone to gripe to
  • Unleashing service employees to provide the kind of help they want to provide but are inhibited by service protocols or company standards from doing

The best service agents, like anyone doing something they love, have a genuine caring nature and passion for helping people and will tell you that’s why they come to work and feel fulfilled. When a company taps into that potential, it unleashes the most powerful, authentic form of service that customers crave in an experience economy and brings a sense of pride, ownership, and empowerment to the service workers who deliver customer experiences every day.

Which means it’s time we raise up the service worker. This starts with thinking about the people that work in service as talent, not as an expendable cost by: applying equal pay across gender and also across service roles and positions; providing better working conditions and full-time employee benefits to service roles; making customer service as a dream job instead of an entry-point to something else; celebrating acts of great service when they happen; and making service the coolest job anyone could have in a company because the role is empowered to apply their skills and expertise to help customers. Retooling for the new experience economy starts now, and it starts with the service worker. Let’s put people back into customer service and usher in a new form of connected service that fuels quality job growth, sustainable competitive differentiation, and gives customers the kind of connected service they need in the experience economy of 2016.

Want more customer service best practices for creating an awesome agent experience? Check out the free interactive infographic.