If there’s one key takeaway from the current COVID-19 crisis, it’s that remote working capabilities are going to be both valuable and necessary in the future. With offices around the world closed to customer service agents, companies have had no choice but to switch to remote working if they want to remain open for business.
While many organisations are perfectly prepared for this eventuality and have all the software and expertise required to make an immediate switch to working from home, the dramatic surge in the use of potentially problematic apps like Zoom demonstrates that not everyone’s as prepared as they could be.
There’s also a suggestion that COVID-19 has proven that centralised office spaces aren’t worth the expense if we can all quite happily work from home.
So, the big question remains – will we ever return to the office?
The second big lesson that COVID-19 has not-so-subtly taught us is that those organisations who have already implemented key automation technologies are having an “easier” time of it than those that haven’t (CB Review). This is because automation technologies, particularly Chatbots and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, benefit businesses in three key ways.
- They manage customer expectations by providing accurate and up-to-date information on how long it is likely to be before an agent is available.
- They allow human agents to spend more time working on complex enquiries (or the complex parts of enquiries), resulting in a higher standard of customer service.
- They relieve pressure on agents by taking the high-volume, repeat enquiries out of their workflow and reducing call and contact volumes dramatically.
One of the new business realities that many companies are facing is an enormous surge in demand for their customer service channels at the same time that sales and revenue have dropped to almost zero.
What this means is that, when a crisis like this occurs over several weeks and months, your customer service department becomes the most important part of your organisation. Consequently, a great strain is placed on employees and the team.
While this does provide an opportunity for you to shine, it’s also true that teams that are poorly organised and supported will quickly collapse and crumble. Now is the time for customer service teams to demonstrate their worth and to justify and push for the resources they need to better survive future crises.
It’s all well and good having the latest customer service technology at your disposal, but if you’re unable to make quick and easy changes to the scripts and systems, you’re at a great disadvantage. For this reason, many organisations are currently focused on how responsive their customer service teams and technology partners are.
A defining characteristic of the current situation is the speed at which guidance is changing and information needs to be communicated. As we’re constantly developing our understanding of the virus and altering our response to it, customer demands and current best practices are altering at a rapid rate. If you’re unable to communicate necessary information at the speed required, your customers will suffer.
One of the most obvious instances in which greater responsiveness is helpful is IVR. The ability to alter IVR scripts and menus at a moment’s notice allows organisations to quickly adapt to new circumstances and to maximise the efficacy of their automated channels, providing improved service to customers in the process.
Though Chatbots have proven themselves a remarkably powerful customer service technology and are growing in popularity amongst businesses of all types and sizes, the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in them being deployed in increasingly inventive ways and on a much greater scale.
For instance, some businesses are using bots to provide on-site employees with a quick and easy health survey that helps identify workers who are showing symptoms of the virus. Other organisations are using Chatbots to provide tech support to work-at-home agents (Customer Think).
The current situation is also forcing customer service professionals to anticipate what information customers want and need. Though you’re probably a little tired of all those ‘this is how we’re responding’ emails from businesses around the globe, they’re being sent for a good reason. Customers expect information.
While it may not seem as though your business has anything particularly important or relevant to add to the information provided by far more qualified sources, such as accredited scientific bodies and some national governments, letting your customers know that you are taking steps can help build trust and enhance your reputation.
Finally, it’s important to consider the impact the pandemic is having on frontline customer service agents. Whether it’s concern over their economic future, an increase in the number of abusive and angry callers they field on the phone, far higher call volumes, the accompanying spike in stress levels, or worry for friends, family and those affected by the virus, there’s an awful lot of things currently making their lives more difficult. With employee experience more important than ever, make sure you’re supporting your team where they need it.
With this in mind, perhaps the biggest thing we can take away from this experience is the need to better support staff members. Not just as they attempt to work through a global crisis but in the future, when this is all over, too. There can be no doubt that the world, economy, customer service environment and our everyday lives are going to be fundamentally changed by COVID-19. Let’s ensure we come out the other side of it having learned something.