Customer Service Leaders Need To Quickly Improve Organization’s Digital and Self Service Capabilities to Sail Through Covid-19
For the past two weeks, over a dozen Gartner clients have reached out to me in inquiries, seeking guidance in customer service strategies to sail through Covid-19 crisis. As countries ramp up their efforts to battle Covid-19, shutting down non-essential services, locking down towns, and stopping air travels, the disruption of the pandemic to society is enormous. Companies and public sector organizations are trying all they can to keep the customer service and support channels working. Many of them experience large volume of incoming requests, while their contact centers, onshore and offshore, are shut. Enabling work at home agents become the first priority, which I discussed in my last blog post. Some of them are considering shutting down phone based support to non-essential services and replace them digital channels. Others plan to quickly adjust their communication strategy to deliver proactive outreach. These are all good strategies.
Here is a small list of good practices that I have seen:
- Develop a strategy on how to deliver information and updates to your customers, employees and partners proactively. Situation changes on a daily sometimes hourly basis. A good plan on use of channels and types of media is important. Make sure messages are clear, fact based, warm and doesn’t create confusion and panic.
- As fast as you can, transit your contact centers to browser based or cloud contact center to allow better elasticity in capacity and allow contact center agents and supervisors to work at home. Shift capacities to countries and locations that are less impacted by the virus if you can. Almost all large cloud based contact center (CCaaS) vendors today have plans in place to offer short-term free licenses. Free license is a great gesture. What’s more important is the speed of the transition. How long does it take to get it up and running, and are there guidance on implementations? Who is supporting them to transit to cloud solutions? Are partners prepared? Answer these questions before choosing a CCaaS solution so you are prepared for the knock-down effect on efforts and the changes.
- Set priorities in requests and communicate these priorities to customers, employees and partners clearly. Offload the non-essential and non-urgent request volume to digital channels such as email and asynchronized messaging to ensure continuity of service. Clearly communicate the expected response time so you could set customer expectations. Digital customer service channels can be enabled relatively quickly and also suited for work at home agents. (Customers won’t hear the giggling kids and dogs in the background).
- Deploy automations technologies – IVR, chatbot, and process automation/guidance to as the first line of response to reduce call waiting time. Enable a team of experts – in house or from partners who can help you to quickly change the automation path and scenarios before the call volume hits the contact center agents. Analyze call data to see what customers are still calling and why and how this is trending over time.
- Offer new virtual mechanisms that reduce in-person contact, such as advisory, lessons, meetings or health visits. As fast as you can, increase online self service capabilities for transactional requests. Same as CCaaS, use cloud solutions where you can to gain elasticity. Stress and load test your online transactional system so it could cope with the impact.
- Last but not least, motivate your employees and your partners. Carry out regular check-in with them. Provide coaching, share behind the scene stories with outside world. Create sense of belonging and maintain morale. Maintain a fast feedback channel to listen to voice of employees.
My observation – organizations that have higher maturity in their digital and self service, have a better cushion to embrace the impact from the increased request volume and the reduction of their contact center capacity. This pandemic is going to have a long term impact in customer’s perceptions and expectation on digital and self service, and will continue to drive organizations into more mature digital customer service operations. Gartner client can read these researches to help their long term planning (Market Guide for Digital Customer Service and Support Technologies; Delivering Relevant Content and Knowledge to Customers Is Key to Great Customer Service). I’ll also write further about post crisis actions in Gartner researches. But for now – to all the customer service teams – thank you for keeping the lights on.
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