The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the world. As we wait for signs that the tide is turning, even well-prepared companies with business continuity plans are scrambling to change the way they do business and continue to serve customers. While customers’ service expectations may have tempered a bit in light of the situation, still many companies continue to face even more challenges, such as higher volumes of customer inquiries related to the outbreak and reduced staffing as a result of sick and quarantined employees. With these issues tied to the pandemic, their duration is also unknown.
Customer service relies on people to operate. The safety and wellbeing of employees has always been important, and is now paramount in today’s environment. Social distancing is critical to winning against the virus and further complicates the work environment. Companies that are able to continue operations must safeguard their employees while also continuing to serve their customers.
These are challenging times for any business, and particularly so in customer service. To tackle the volume of customer service requests and mitigate workforce uncertainties, there is an answer: automation. While many companies have already realized its value, others may still be early in their use. Specific to customer service, it can help to address today’s challenges in four ways.
Customer self-service exists in many forms: knowledge bases, online communities, automated tasks, and chatbots are the most common. Each of these can benefit from automation in some fashion; for example:
- Knowledge articles – customer feedback on inaccuracies or clarity issues in can trigger a review process with editors
- Online community – posts that have remained unanswered for a specified time period can generate a case for a customer service agent to respond to
- Automated tasks – tasks such as registering a product or resetting a website password can be automated through form submissions
- Chatbots – virtual agents follow scripted responses and can refer customers to knowledge articles and automated tasks
When an answer can’t be found in any of the self-service channels, customers should have the additional option to create a case themselves. Once created, it must find its way to an agent. This process can also be automated.
The first step is to identify the attributes of the case. Details like the type of problem are important, but other criteria such as the customer’s geographic location, if they receive priority service, receive aid from a particular team, and language might also be considerations as to how to assign the case. Using this information, automation can ensure the case is routed to the agent best-skilled and available to assist. By speedily performing the assignment to the most qualified agent, overall case volume is better managed and can be reduced that much faster.
Workflow is the core of automation. It can ensure the easy and reliable movement of case work between agents. Should an agent be unable to solve an issue or is unable to complete their work on it, the case (as well any others, if the agent is no longer available) can be easily reassigned.
Sometimes the solution to a customer’s problem lies in other departments. Billing issues must be addressed by finance, while product issues belong with engineering or manufacturing. Workflow can route these issues to the appropriate teams for review and disposition. Limited staffing is likely also present on these teams, and workflow’s rules and routing ensure issues aren’t forgotten and undue time isn’t lost, unlike when manual processes are used.
Time plays an even more important factor when service level agreements are involved. Though they might be relaxed due to the current climate, still a timely response is expected and appreciated.
Once again, workflow can automate the process to ensure forward progress occurs. Timers can be set as cases are created for customers based on their service level agreement. If progress is not being made on a case, it can be escalated as needed.
Filling the gaps
Automation is not new to business or customer service. Even prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, companies embraced it to increase work accuracy, velocity, and volume. These uncertain times mean businesses must be even more agile and creative across their business. Automation can help fill these gaps.