Getting vaccinations into arms remains problematic in the United States and around the world. The logistics of moving the vaccine from manufacturer to distribution has proven to be a tall hurdle. The good news is that solutions–especially for vaccine administration to citizens–are helping to deliver on that last mile.
Even with the hope of completing the monumental task of vaccinating the world’s population now in the sight, the effects of the pandemic will continue to linger and burden organizations past its conclusion. That’s because unlike most other disruptions companies prepare for–earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters–the pandemic has brought unique uncertainties. Localized phenomena occur over a brief period and are recovered from, whereas this global catastrophe has affected and changed entire industries and carries some long-term questions such when it will be safe for businesses to resume normal operations.
Nevertheless, from the pandemic’s onset to today, many organizations have figured it out–especially when it comes to keeping the lights on in customer service. With uncertain times still ahead, now is the time to bolster the means of delivering superior customer service in a resilient and flexible manner.
Customer self-service has become where most customers start their search for an answer. Self-service comes in many forms: knowledge bases, online communities, chatbots, and automated solutions are among the most common. Many organizations today offer one or more.
Just as it has been helpful in “regular” times, so too has self-service proven invaluable during uncertain times. Now is not the time to ease up or even remain flat with that investment, but rather to increase it. With knowledge bases, articles must be kept current, easily searched, and highlight the most popular. Greater online community engagement should be fostered with options like leaderboards and incentives to spur participation. Chatbots must be equipped to address the most common, high volume customer issues. Automation should be used to instantly address issues and to direct customer requests to the departments and specialists who can address them. Besides tightening up performance of existing self-service channels, evaluate if it makes sense to add more.
Lean into workflow
The pandemic has disrupted the traditional workplace. In customer service, fellow agents and supporting teams are no longer just a few steps away. While some organizations might have returned small teams of staff to the office, colleagues inside and outside customer service remain scattered. In addition, disruptions during the workday, such as caring for family members, remain common.
The solution to a customer’s problem often lies with departments outside customer service. Engineering or manufacturing must be made aware of and address product defects, finance must resolve billing issues, etc. With teams dispersed, this can significantly slow the resolution time of customer issues.
The answer is workflow. It delivers a reliable, repeatable process, moving work between customer service agents as well as the departments who assist them no matter where that employee is. It ensures customer cases aren’t lost or stalled by routing and detouring work to the agent or teams necessary and available. Plus, the current status of a customer issue is always available and accountability is maintained. Time- and location-based challenges are effectively addressed. And it can remain in place as organizations debate the partial or full return to the workplace.
Deliver proactive service
A key opportunity is to look for circumstances to flip customer service on its head. While most of the time customer service is delivered in a reactive mode, look for times to proactively notifying customers of service challenges or any wide-ranging issues that might affect them.
Customers don’t expect proactive service. It’s not common. It can surprise customers, resulting in a strong, positive impact on their perception of a company. Customers appreciate hearing information–even the negative–in advance. It means a problem might not impact them. It saves them time from trying to solve the issue themselves. It might encourage them to wait to hear from customer service for a resolution, which translates to reducing workload and excessive volumes (and correspondingly poor service levels) for customer service.
The most important comes last.
Fewer agents available might be leading to longer response times, low product availability may be constraining supply chain, etc.–an organization’s challenges can come in many forms. Despite these circumstances, customers’ expectations remain high.
Rather than potentially miss those expectations, reset them. If the organization is being challenged, be transparent. Place notifications on the customer service website. Record messages to play in telephone queues. Ensure live and automated chat and other messaging systems alert customers of the situation. By being very clear about the problems a company is facing, most customers will understand and are then less likely to complain or escalate.
History has proven time and again even the largest catastrophes can be navigated. At approximately one year in, it might not seem that way with COVID-19.
During this period, many organizations have endured by adopting and fine tuning the tools and techniques above. The pandemic’s end is close. Until that time, though, companies must continue to adapt, especially when it comes to customer service.