How Covid-19 Is Shaping the Future of Customer Support

In a few short months, Covid-19 has changed how businesses interact with their customers and forced them to reimagine Customer Experience. How a company handles itself during a crisis can have a significant impact on brand perception and loyalty.

The onset of the global pandemic has accelerated a trend that has been underway in Customer Support for several years – a “Shift Left” away from agent-assisted support towards self-service and technology-augmented solutions to customer issues.

    Online Self-help, IVR, /Videos
    Chatbots, Lower cost channels, Social Media
    Phone, Chat, Email, SMS

Companies that are heavily “physical agent” or “assisted support” reliant have had a hard time keeping pace with customers’ queries. This has resulted in long wait times and organizations having to shift operations to a work-from-home environment under sub-optimal conditions. On the other hand, companies that were ahead of the digital adoption curve have handled the demand more successfully, and have even managed to delight customers in difficult situations. Businesses that have invested over time in digital self-service capabilities are now reaping the benefits of their foresight. Even in the face of adversity, they are using the digital estate to show generosity, empathy, and honesty towards consumers while helping to resolve their queries.

Here Are 6 Effective Ways Companies Are Using Online Assets During Covid-19

1. Being Honest & Over-Communicating

Honesty is critical during any crisis, especially one of the magnitude of Covid-19. Transparency and candor go a long way in maintaining your brand’s image and retaining your customers’ respect. Here are a few examples:

  • An Energy company posted a notice online encouraging customers to message them on chat if they were unable to answer their questions within the self-help center. They informed customers that the average wait time for chat during business hours was 3 minutes, setting a clear expectation for responsiveness. The message also contained a link to the Help Center.
  • A Media streaming service proactively posted messages on their platform giving notice that their live chat agents were unavailable, and requested they use the provided self-serve tools found within their online help center.
  • Several Banks dedicated webpages to help their customers navigate various financial, regulatory, and other hurdles caused by the crisis on their own to reduce the volume of contacts to live support.

2. Accelerating & Personalizing Digital Self-Help

Now, more than ever, customers need digital, at-home, and low-touch customer experiences. The ability to meet your customers where they are will be the differentiator. Recently, eClerx compiled a list of critical questions posed by our client base. Not surprisingly, ‘How to personalize customer experiences’ is at the top of the list. Personalization has been a trending topic for the past few years; however, the conversation has shifted from “How to personalize?” to “How to personalize successfully?”

Within Customer Support, this means having visibility within the customer’s journey from unassisted to assisted channels and customizing their experience accordingly. Stitching together these journeys to give a seamless customer experience can be challenging, which is why, based on our experience helping multiple Fortune 500 companies to personalize their digital self-help, we recommend taking a phased approach:

  • Phase I: Building Out a Foundational Data Layer
  • Phase II: Enabling a Real-Time Decision Engine
  • Phase III: Personalization

3. Knowing What the Customers Want Most – Maximizing FAQ’s

Understanding what is driving contact volume and using that data to develop robust and effective FAQs can help preempt customer queries and give quick and easy access to answers. Deploying speech/text analytics solutions on call recordings and chat transcripts, for example, can help you quickly determine what information your customers are seeking and help you be proactive. This can be a particularly effective strategy when the nature of customer needs is changing, and resources are limited. Here are a few examples of this method in action:

  • A European telecom company identified customer pain areas quickly and created a whole new menu item on their help site to address those unique items.
  • One of the world’s most trusted credit card companies created a specific “Covid-19” section on their homepage.
  • A popular media streaming company used a dynamic algorithm to curate questions based on customer demand automatically.
  • A multinational computer manufacturer built a dedicated online guide on how to leverage technology to work remotely.

4. Automating Your Q&A Engine Using Chatbots

Before 2020, a scenario in which nearly all contact center workers were unavailable to support customers was inconceivable. Yet many companies found themselves in that very situation as lockdowns became the norm across the globe. While many organizations were left scrambling, some were able to offer customers support due to prior investments in automated engines that handle customer queries, known as Chatbots or Virtual Assistants. These tools lessened the immediate impact of the crisis and gave companies time to transition their workforces to work online from home at a more comfortable pace. For example, one EU-based streaming service leveraged the dual advantage of automated self-serve bots as well as a customer-led “Guuru” bot, which allowed customers to help other customers in need.

For years, eClerx has helped businesses worldwide identify the best Bot types to implement (hybrid/natural language), place bots at the right digital touchpoints, create issue resolution routes, and run bot test/learn/deploy programs. Our in-house Voice AI engines can extract call and chat data in real-time, help customer support organizations with their L&D programs, and improve NPS.

5. Harness the Power of Community and Social Media

Who better to serve as your advocates than your customer community? World-class companies have used digital platforms to spread awareness and resolve customer issues, such as in forums and through social media channels, long before the crisis forced them to. Like Apple, other leaders in the space have been effectively leveraging their online presence for years to foster active community-led support. For example, during the lockdown, a large EU-based media company used its community to spread awareness about paused subscription fees and available social customer support options. When used effectively, your customers can be one of your strongest assets. They can reinforce available options and help spread the word about the most efficient channel to facilitate a resolution for their peers.

6. Err on the Side of the Customer – Be Flexible and Generous

In difficult times, as uncertainty builds, people remember empathetic treatment; it is essential to extend goodwill to your customers where you are able. It may be costly in the short-term, but it will pay dividends in the long-term and help cement your customers’ loyalty to your brand. As the Covid-19 case count rose, and communities faced lockdowns, more and more people found themselves trying to work and educate their children from home, unemployment rates rose, and access to critical services were cut off. In response to these hardships, many companies stepped up to help their customers in unprecedented ways. Media companies provided free internet and other service discounts, streaming companies produced content to entertain families, banks provided loan assistance, and companies all over the world lined up to provided payment extensions to customers out of work.

Communicating early, often, and through multiple channels about what you are doing to help customers through their challenges can help your brand and prevent unnecessary, emotionally-charged contacts to your support centers.

What Lies Ahead

The recent pandemic has provided a valuable call to action for all organizations to invest in a more resilient strategy to support their customers. As the world slowly begins to return to a more normal pace, it is helpful to look at companies who have learned from this experience to take necessary steps, including:

  • Instituting remote working arrangements for contact center employees with robust, scalable, and secure technology
  • Building more automated journeys by closely tracking customer queries and pain areas when limited help is available
  • Optimizing customer routing mechanisms so that physical agents are used only when needed, which optimizes costs and maximizes human resources when scarce
  • Shifting to more customer-centric policies or more frontline discretionary authorities to assist customers when mitigating circumstances exist