Digital workflows: the secret to keeping customer service viable during a pandemic

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Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash
Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

“When will things return to normal?”

A check of Google search trends shows it’s a common question these days. Not a surprise, given many U.S. states have been exercising social distancing, some form of shelter-in-place, and non-essential businesses have been ordered to stay closed since approximately mid-March.

While conservative estimates based on prior experience suggest several months to a COVID-19 vaccine, each day brings news of breakthroughs and hope for a solution much sooner. Meanwhile, states have cautiously laid out plans to reopen and resume business.

During this pause placed on business and personal lives, some companies not deemed essential were still able to continue operating across the board, including their customer service departments. A key enabler for that has been digital transformation–and, more specifically, digital workflows. It not only powers a better experience during normal times, but has also kept customer service viable when a global pandemic causes higher service volumes and lower staffing.

Powering self-service

Outside of these extraordinary times, customers frequently have grown accustomed to starting their search for answers online. Now, with more customer inquiries and fewer available agents, customer self-service is even more important to help to fill the gap. And for many of the self-service options customers are familiar with, digital workflows function behind the scenes to speed connecting customers to answers:

  • Knowledge articles – new solutions developed as a result of closed and solved cases can be quickly drafted, validated, and published
  • Online community – questions unanswered for a specified period can generate a case and route it to an agent
  • Automated solutions – common requests such as ordering a replacement credit card or resetting a website password can be directed to the department, process, or system that can fulfill it (bypassing customer service entirely)

Maintaining service level agreements

These challenging times may be forcing some companies to negotiate temporary changes to Service Level Agreements (SLAs), but for most they remain in force. For any company struggling with reduced sales, the last thing they need are the financial or other penalties incurred by failing to meet SLAs.

Digital workflow helps mitigate this. Cases and issues follow an assigned path to the correct individual or team (now working remotely) for resolution. When a deadline is looming, notifications can be sent or the case can be automatically reassigned.

Connecting teams

While the prior use cases are important, the real power of digital workflows lies in how they simplify solving complex customer issues and to reduce overall volume. Though customer service might be on the front lines for solving problems, customer issues are typically something that must be addressed by another department: billing errors, product quality concerns, and more. Furthermore, these issues sometimes have a root cause that, when addressed, will resolve the issue not just for current customers experiencing it, but also for customers yet to encounter it.

While most organizations rely on email for inter-departmental communications to address topics such as these, digital workflows are the superior solution for three primary reasons: avoiding roadblocks, maintaining visibility, and ensuring accountability.

Avoiding roadblocks

Despite sending an issue to one or many, email still gets delivered to an inbox, buried in other unread emails, to someone who may not immediately get to it due to other work–or in today’s work environment, caring for a loved one or taking time to homeschool their children.

Digital workflow offers the ability to create detours and alternate paths. If addressing the underlying cause of a customer billing issue would normally be assigned to a specialist in finance who is not responsive, rules would ensure the issue didn’t remain unresolved beyond a preset threshold and automatically route the task to alternate team members to solve.

Maintaining visibility

With roadblocks avoided, the next concern is status and progress. While email or collaboration platforms can be used to communicate where things stand, those same challenges of overflowing inboxes and unavailable staff hinder visibility.

With digital workflows, modern customer service platforms offer a means of tracking status. It’s possible to see the route, what tasks along the process have been completed and those that remain, and even the time elapsed from point-to-point (important to meeting SLAs). If resolving the billing issue involves multiple steps–problem validation, making a system change, testing the solution, and rolling it into production for example–the exact stage of the resolution is visible to all involved.

Ensuring accountability

Digital workflows enable customer service and other departments to work together to address customer issues in a consistent manner. Though it’s a defined, step-by-step process that attempts to avoid delays, they do occur.

That’s where accountability becomes important. Teams and individuals have designated roles to play in a given digital workflow. Visibility into task assignments as it runs ultimately ensures accountability that the process runs effectively and results in the proper outcome. In the case of the customer billing problem example, were team members across departments properly skilled to resolve this type of issue or is additional training needed?

Efficiencies can also be enhanced on an ongoing basis. Were there any bottlenecks in the billing system changes and resulting quality assurance process? Periodic audits can identify places where the pace slowed or stalled, improving future response.

The time is now

Microsoft credited recent financial results to “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months” by customers as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded. Outside the pandemic, ServiceNow estimates businesses will continue to invest approximately $7.4 trillion into digital transformation over the next three years.

COVID-19 was a signal: the time for debate about digital transformation has passed. That journey should begin or accelerate. Digital workflows must be powering customer service–and the entire business–to ensure operational resilience and long-term success.

Paul Selby
I am a product marketing consultant for Aventi Group. Aventi Group is the first product marketing agency solely dedicated to high-tech clients. We’re here to supplement your team and bring our expertise to bear on your top priorities, so you achieve high-quality results, fast.

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