While it’s hard to know exactly when Covid-19 will become endemic, many organizations are planning for a post-pandemic reality. For those of us in customer-facing industries, that means thinking about how a potential recovery impacts the customer support workforce, as well as customers themselves. Many organizations will continue to rely on technology, such as AI, to weather the uncertainty of the next several months.
So far this year, recovery looks different to companies than it does to consumers. Most companies will likely remain remote or hybrid for the foreseeable future, with just 33% of companies returning to in-person work in February 2022. Recovery rates for other industries are closer to pre-pandemic levels, such as movie theaters (58%) and air travel (80%).
As we all know, these recovery rates can turn on a dime. Luckily, businesses have learned to be resilient in the face of constant change. They’ve leaned on technology to bolster their workforce, and provide the needed levels of support to their customers. Ongoing use of AI will become the standard, as both agents and customers alike have benefitted from it in the height of the pandemic. Here’s how AI and collaboration technology will continue to impact both the employee and customer experience (CX) during the pandemic recovery process.
Improving the agent experience
According to a study from Freshworks, 1 out of 3 business leaders in 2022 will prioritize digital platforms that help their service and sales teams work better. These leaders understand that agent empowerment drives customer delight. There are a lot of factors that impact the customer support agent experience, such as schedules, processes, training, and on-the-job technologies. Agents have seen many of their daily routines change under the force of the pandemic. Many have transitioned rapidly to work-from-home, and have had to adapt their home office technical setups to mimic what they had in-person.
More than ever before, AI is an enabler for these agents. It levels the playing field by providing them ways to extend their capabilities. Whether they’re using AI to answer customer questions in any language, relying on chatbots to get the conversation started, or using intelligent call routing to respond to queries in their wheelhouse – these technologies help agents be more productive and efficient. Happy agents lead to happy customers.
Specifically, tools should help agents:
- Cut repetitive tasks: Efficiency features like AI-based ticket classification and automatic routing of incoming customer contacts to the right agent can save agents up to 1.2 hours a day, according to Freshworks.
- Reduce workloads while improving CSAT: Every 100 extra monthly tickets per agent can lead to a 1% drop in CSAT scores. Tools that allow agents to effectively respond to more tickets (e.g. multilingual translation tools, self-service tools, and more) can help reduce this stress.
- Help with remote connectivity: Integrating with collaboration platforms and providing the resources agents need for proper internet connectivity is key, as remote work continues.
That’s why it’s extremely important to get the agent experience with technology right. Too many steps or incongruent processes will create frustration and make teams even more inefficient. However, positive technology experiences promote retention, giving agents effective tools to make their jobs run more smoothly.
Adapting to customer needs
In a remote world, it can be very difficult to provide a consistent CX. It’s harder to maintain a message that spans across all of your customers, and achieve the levels of personalization they need to feel connected to your brand. The same Freshworks study cited above showed that 80% of consumers are more likely to buy from companies that provide personalized experiences, and 38% of consumers expect agents to have context of their query. Personalization in 2022 might mean speaking to customers in their native language, or understanding their specific stage in the customer journey.
The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation at many companies, which means they’ve invested in ways to make their customers feel like an individual, rather than a number – even when they’re shopping online. Without the capability to see the customer in-person, CX teams adapted with conveniences such as curbside pickup, virtual concierge services and online personal shopping. These conveniences are here to stay, along with behind-the-scenes technologies like AI that decrease customer effort, lower first response times, and improve net promoter scores (NPS).
As 2022 winds on, expect the trend of cohesive digital and in-person experiences to continue. Customers want convenience and consistency regardless of the channel they’re using. That’s where all of these pandemic digital transformation efforts will pay dividends for years to come.
Providing talent flexibility
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the pandemic has opened up an opportunity for organizations to hire CX talent regardless of where they live. That flexibility has also been a major boon to employees’ well being, according to recent surveys. More than half of employees said that remote work has improved their mental health, 88% agreed that flexibility has improved their job satisfaction, and 75% cited improvements to their physical health.
Many don’t want that flexibility to end as the world pushes to transition back to in-person work. According to a study from Slack, 72% of workers who weren’t happy with their flexibility would likely seek out another opportunity. There’s no excuse for employers to ignore these demands. Advances in AI and collaboration technology can help teams achieve the same (or better) levels of productivity and efficiency as in-office work. For example, using AI alongside a globally distributed workforce can help CX teams respond to customers around-the-clock, regardless of the agent’s or customer’s native language.
It can be tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel with so much change impacting organizations for the past few years. However, flexible work technology and an improved, more personal CX are changes that will remain far after lockdowns and mask mandates have lifted. With every challenge, businesses find new ways to become more resilient and responsive to the customer’s needs. That gives me hope for the future, and encouragement to continue innovating as a technologist.