How the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Reshaping Customer Service

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally reshaped how customers interact with businesses. Just a few weeks ago, online communication was a popular choice for consumers — now it is the primary option.

There’s no doubt that the pandemic and resulting restrictions on public gatherings has forced a shift in consumer behavior. Contact centers around the world report they are experiencing an unprecedented surge in customer contacts. Officials with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce say businesses should be prepared for a permanent shift in consumer behavior.

Although the old “crisis creates opportunity” bromide may seem a little hollow right now, it nevertheless applies in this situation. Businesses should use this time to evaluate and improve their contact center operations so they can effectively respond to current and future consumer behaviors.

Introduce AI and Automation

Modern contact center platforms enable strong customer connections, even under tough conditions, by facilitating omnichannel interactions and comprehensive reporting. These customer experience technologies will enable even better interactions with increased integration of artificial intelligence and automation.

Even before the pandemic, AI and automation were becoming important additions to contact center operations. Now, however, they are becoming essential. The use of automated virtual agents and intelligent assistants — otherwise known as “bots” — contribute to intuitive self-service functions, predictive routing and 360-degree customer journey analytics.

Bots use machine learning and natural language processing to guide customers through self-service processes by evaluating user inputs and then presenting unique solutions. A study by the MIT Sloan School of Management found that these cognitive bots can answer customer calls within five seconds on a 24×7 basis, achieve first-call resolution 90 percent of the time and efficiently transfer more complex issues to live employees — with fewer than half of the customers having any idea they were interacting with a machine!

Sentiment analysis is another form of AI with great potential for contact center operations. It uses natural language processing, text analysis, computational linguistics, and other AI disciplines to identify and quantify consumer opinions. Organizations can monitor and evaluate not only what customers are saying but also the tone of their voice, which helps provide insight into the customer experience.

Look to the Cloud

With most staff working from home, this might not be an ideal time to try to adopt a new, advanced contact center platform. However, many cloud-based solutions that support home-based agents can be adopted quickly and easily.

Contact Center-as-a-Service (CCaaS) solutions run completely in the cloud, giving remote agents the tools they need to help customers. Prebuilt integrations and open APIs make it easy for agents to share customer or product information across different communication channels. This facilitates consultations with advisors, supervisors or other subject-matter experts to efficiently resolve customer issues.

Of course, the human element will always be central to the customer experience. At a time when everyone is experiencing heightened anxiety, it is important to train agents how to speak with customers who are angry, frustrated and frightened. Scripts can be helpful, but agents should treat them as guidelines and talking points rather than rigid speeches that must be followed word for word.

Although normal business routines are in a state of flux, companies can’t afford to lose their focus on the customer experience. Cloud-based solutions, increased automation, streamlined processes and other customer experience technologies can all help you ensure that your customer relationships outlast the current crisis.