With our lives flipped upside down due to the pandemic, consumers—especially those with less disposable income due to economic shutdowns—are stretched thin.
Many calls to customer service today are prompted by financial or unemployment concerns, lack of access to critical utilities or services, or a need for immediate healthcare. In typical times, calls like these can be challenging, but with so many uncertainties, these interactions now have the potential to be even more tense, frustrating and emotional.
And according to their own feedback, customers experiencing the stress of the pandemic have a greater need to feel, and be, heard by customer support teams. How this need translates into customer service and support is not unachievable, given today’s technology and training resources.
The feedback came from contact center managers in a study on how COVID impacted and will continue to impact customer service expectations and contact center operations. It found increased consumer expectations for two key pandemic-fueled needs:
- Omnichannel access to support. Seventy percent of U.S. contact center managers are hearing that customers expect to communicate with customer service teams via more diverse digital mediums.
- Increased agent empathy. Sixty-nine percent of U.S. contact center manager respondents observed that customers want all interactions with customer service teams—including digital ones—to be infused with more emotional empathy.
It might seem difficult to meet both of these goals at the same time. After all, digital messages typically do not relay emotion as well as voice. But delivering empathetic omnichannel communications can indeed be done, facilitated by technology that aids agents in their understanding of customer needs and in their delivery of empathy over different channels.
Delivering on Both Omnichannel and Empathy
We already know that consumers feel more valued, and thus heard, when they can pick from voice, messaging and mobile options to engage with agents.
And, seamless, integrated, digital-first communications are able to offer the interaction flexibility they crave. So, adopting a tightly integrated, omnichannel customer interaction platform is key to bringing together the channels and contextual data needed to address different customer journeys.
Customers feel more valued, and thus heard, when they can pick from a rich selection of voice and messaging options to engage with contact center agents.
In addition, a deeper understanding of customer sentiment can create more empathetic interactions and improve both agent performance and customer satisfaction. Sentiment analysis, which can be automated and enacted on any channel, offers findings that leaders can use to build new—or adjust existing—training protocols to coach agents more extensively on how to create and nurture empathy. This, in turn, has the capacity to improve the sense of being heard, fostering a positive connection between customer and company.
Here is an example. A healthcare organization used a sentiment-analysis strategy to get to the root cause of poor reviews and worked with agents to successfully adjust language and expectation-setting during customer conversations.
They first used automated-speech analytics to determine the root cause of dissatisfaction. They found that agents unwittingly created a vicious cycle: employees wanted to help patients secure appointments, so they would say, “We don’t have any appointments for that date, but if you call back each day, we can see if there’s a cancellation. I’m sure we will be able to fit you in.”
While trying to help, this caused high levels of frustration with patients. In addition, patients would keep calling back, only to be disappointed each time a slot was not available. By retraining agents to use different language and suggesting options other than calling back, the company was able to quickly right-size interactions and decrease negative experiences and reviews.
Focusing on these two key areas–omnichannel access through modern technology and empathetic language through analysis and training – contact centers can better meet the needs of customers who are navigating this stressful and confusing time.