In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, most businesses have had to pivot to a distributed customer service model practically overnight. While customer service teams are doing their best to work remotely, most do not have access to the same technology and resources they’re used to, making it harder to service their customers.
To make matters worse, organizations are experiencing dramatically higher customer call volumes and agents are trying to keep up. Wait times have escalated and the value of customer interactions has declined because of cancellations, payment deferrals, rate reduction requests, and generally lower consumer spending.
Nearly every business today needs to find ways to reduce the cost-to-serve their customers while sustaining high levels of employee engagement and customer satisfaction. After all, one’s true character is often revealed in bad times, not in good times – and customers will remember which brands came through when they needed help, and which couldn’t. But how can businesses keep up the pace under such circumstances?
By empowering remote teams with the tools needed to overcome challenges, streamline operations, and drive automation, companies can demonstrate a strong commitment to their employees.
Here are four key strategies customer service leaders should assess to build trust and loyalty with customers and employees to not only make it through this crisis but also to build for the future:
1. Be there when customers need you by extending 24/7 self-service capabilities and digital messaging support
With our days seemingly blending into one another, customers now reach out to businesses at all hours of the day, despite the anticipated long wait times. Companies need to adapt with 24/7 servicing options to help customers in their time of need.
Today, customer-specific queries such as “What is my current balance?” “Was my payment received?” “What is the status of my claim?” no longer need to be addressed by a live agent. To help triage the slew of customer queries, businesses can implement 24/7 contextual self-service and intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) that have the power to understand each customers’ individual journey and serve up personalized answers, the very same way a live agent would.
The same support may be applied to your backlog of customer emails. AI-powered email bots can automatically sort through each message and determine intent, classify, and assign cases to agents to speed up responses using natural language processing (NLP). This powerful tool can determine each customer’s unique situation and access relevant information, all without an agent. This again results in both faster resolution for customers and less volume for live agents.
And for those interactions that do require a live agent, service leaders are quickly expanding their support for digital messaging channels such as web chat, Facebook Messenger, Twitter DM, WhatsApp, and even Apple’s new Business Chat (iMessage) to engage customers in the channel of their choice – without needing to ‘speak’ to an agent. These digital messaging channels also enable concurrent interactions, giving your agents the ability to handle three times the volume at once.
2. Boost collaboration across service teams for quicker resolution
Typically, service agents can work together to solve tough customer issues. With today’s unforeseen circumstances, they are tackling challenging issues in unchartered territory.
Though the current work-from-home mandate makes asking the agent in the next cube or door a question impossible, it doesn’t mean agents have to go it alone. With digital collaboration tools that provide ways to instantly stream questions to subject matter experts, artificial intelligence to help fill in the blanks, automated coaching strategies, and the ability to create and disseminate internal knowledge articles, agents can get the support they need even when they’re physically apart.
3. Apply automation to help agents complete work and free up time
The more businesses can simplify their agents’ tasks and guide them remotely, the better. Robotic process automation (RPA) not only minimizes manual work, but it also improves accuracy, handles routine tasks, and speeds up processes so agents can focus on what they do best – connecting with customers and solving their problems with a personal touch.
In addition, case management accelerates time to resolution and reduces frustration for both customers and employees. Agents can use this intelligent automation for case continuity for an improved and more efficient experience overall. With case management that is designed using a channel-less approach, your customers can switch channels – from web to chatbot to phone – seamlessly and have their information automatically follow them so they don’t have to repeat themselves.
4. Transition to preemptive strategies that anticipate customer needs
There has never been a more important time for businesses to show customers that they care. Unemployment rates have reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. Customers are struggling to pay their bills. And many people are canceling their services – from telecommunications to insurance.
Since it costs more to recruit a new customer than it does to keep an existing one, customer retention is critical right now. Treating customers with empathy and working with them as individuals to find solutions – whether that means deferring payments, offering discounts, or retention incentives – is critical to maintaining a revenue stream. With real-time analytics and access to holistic customer data, agents can make relevant and compelling offers that reflect each customer’s specific lifetime value – not based on intuition, but instead on intelligent guidance across the database.
Additionally, preemptive strategies can flag unusual patterns in customer data to anticipate customer needs. Maybe a valued customer overdrew their account for the first time, triggering added fees and penalties. Rather than wait for the inevitable irate phone call demanding that those funds be returned, forward-thinking companies might proactively reach out via message or mobile app to let that customer know they have replaced the funds as a one-time favor and thank them for being a loyal customer. This proactive response not only avoids a negative interaction, but it also helps solidify the customer relationship.
While businesses are trying to navigate the challenges of today, it’s important to also lay a foundation for the future. Companies don’t want to patch up issues with solutions that can’t scale or will quickly become obsolete. They need a path that is future proof.
These four strategies can help companies tackle the obstacles inherent in today’s work-from-home world while setting them up for success down the road. Happy employees who are armed with the tools and resources they need to deliver are far better at servicing customers efficiently. And, now more than ever, building lifetime relationships with customers is the most valuable asset a business can have.