In 2018 more than two-thirds of companies competed primarily on the basis of customer experience. With the COVID-19 crisis tightening people’s expenses, the competition for a customer has increased and switched to the dimensions of service.
Short on a budget, businesses would have to focus their customer experience efforts on retention. It may lead to a 30 percent increase in spending on loyalty and retention marketing, according to Forrester.
As a business owner, what are the shifts and trends you should be aware of while reevaluating and, possibly, restructuring your customer support strategy?
In this article, we'll cover:
Uncertainty Calls for Human Interaction
Calls were predicted to be dead a long time ago. Yet, here they are in 2020, overwhelming customer support lines due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19.
Since the introduction, emails and live chats have set their position among digital customer service channels. But looking for an immediate or complex solution, customers opt for live interaction instead of written communication. When it comes to urgent issues, 58 percent of customers prefer phones to other channels. The advantage of a real conversation is the ability to ask, explain, reason, or negotiate with the representative here and now.
38 percent of U.S. respondents stated that having the opportunity to speak to a live agent is a “make-or-break” factor to having a successful customer service interaction. More than 25 percent of respondents were disappointed when a company didn’t provide a human-to-human option of communication.
Living in times of constant uncertainty, businesses should keep in mind that people in a heightened emotional state prefer to grab the phone (56 percent) rather than use live chat (15 percent) or email (10 percent).
It’s especially true for businesses that deal with sensitive information, for example, fintech companies. Our data shows a spike in the duration of calls from customers of fintech companies. However, due to a lower number of new clients, the total number of calls actually decreased. The most common reason for calling was postponing regular payments. Even though this can be done online, people preferred to reach out via the phone and make sure their issues were resolved.
So if you had a plan to cut off your phone line and save on call centers, hold on. The calls are dead. Long live the calls!
Crisis and Distress Make Customers More Sensitive
McKinsey surveyed customer support calls in March, just after COVID-19 was announced a pandemic. They noticed that in just two weeks, an average company received twice as many calls scored as “difficult” — from typical 10 percent to more than 20 percent. Issues related to the pandemic also increased the level of anxiety in service calls.
As a result, empathy was named the Top 3 quality of customer services required by people during the pandemic, along with expertise and speed. 79 percent of people find empathy very important during customer interactions.
In 2021 customers will expect to receive a more humane and sympathetic service since the importance of human interaction was so emphasized in 2020. Businesses should realize that their customer service is becoming a new kind of therapy for people, especially in times of uncertainty and distress, and prepare for it.
Support for Your Customer Support
During the pandemic, the pressure on customer support dramatically increased. Financial hardship-related calls, among the most difficult for reps to handle, increased 2.5 times in the span of a week at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.
Working from home increased the number of mental health complaints, like burnouts, among the professionals, and your customer support team is not an exception. Now representatives find themselves without the usual infrastructure, peer support, or supervision they used to have in the office. It affects the quality of service they provide: after COVID-19 erupted, a massive uptake in calls when both customers and reps say “I can’t understand you” was noticed. Some companies marked an increase in hold times by 34 percent and escalations up the chain of command to more than 68 percent.
While being emotional punching bags for customers, being obligated to emphasize and being stuck at home themselves, representatives were dashing between two fires and are now in great need of support themselves. On the other hand, a lot of them can’t work remotely due to the security standards of companies working with sensitive information. They still have to commute to the office, exposing themselves to health risks.
As a business, you should provide your remote teams with sufficient soft- and hardware, and your on-site staff with a safe workplace and alternative commute options. Revise and enhance training programs on how to deal with difficult clients. Provide more options for emotional reload: introduce virtual “water cooler conversations”, mental health days, safe outdoor meet-ups when possible.
It’s also important to train managers to detect the first signs of burnouts or other mental issues among employees and be able to address them.
If You Don’t Have AI-Tools, You Are Already Late
While your customers are craving conversations with real people, and your consultants are drowning in loads of routine tasks, you can unload your customer support strain by introducing AI-tools.
It will not only bring relief to your team but will improve your customer service indicators: companies that invest in AI tools see an improvement in their metrics by as much as 10 percent in every key area. According to Zendesk, high performing companies are twice more likely to use AI tools compared to underperforming ones.
While refined AI-technologies are still pricey and make sense mostly for enterprise companies, simple chatbots are already affordable and cost-effective. Even if a person demands to connect with a live agent after interacting with a chatbot, a company ends up paying about 33 percent less for outbound calls than inbound calls.
Hence, if you are not thinking about introducing AI to your customer service, you are late because 56% of organizations already do.
Outsourcing Is the New Old Black
PwC includes customer service outsourcing into their post-COVID-19 consumer strategy recommendations. According to its report, companies will highly value flexibility in order to safeguard their margin in the future. It will affect outsourcing and external staffing models. Since successful outsource providers integrate new technologies, have experience and a well-defined structure, they will provide more efficient and comprehensive customer service at a lower cost.
One of the fears of outsourcing customer support was the inability to exhort control. Trusting your customers to a remote team with a significant time difference and virtual communication seemed terrifying. But now, when remote work proved to be productive, it seems doable.
With more companies switching to a remote-first or hybrid model of work, businesses are reevaluating the advantages of outsourced services.
Following this trend, the contact center outsourcing market is expected to grow by $13.7 billion through 2024, progressing at a compound annual growth rate of 3 percent during that time. Since there is no better time to save money like during the global economic crisis, it may be time to consider outsourcing.
COVID-19 had a terrifying effect on the global economy and people’s lives. A silver line is that it accelerated the digitalization of services and busted the myths about remote work and virtual communications. Like in any other crisis, it’s an opportunity for businesses to reorganize their models and emerge from it stronger and more effective. Those who are able to do so will be the winners of 2021.