I know, when companies everywhere are struggling to keep their heads above water in view of the global coronavirus pandemic, it is challenging to discuss Customer Experience. The C-Suite has their hands full dealing with business continuity plans, ensuring their employees’ and customers’ safety, enabling remote workers, and doing the financial planning that will help them ride this out.
But Customer Experience is not only a fair-weather friend. Done right, it serves you really well when times are rough. Companies with superior customer experience are the ones that are more likely to navigate these choppy waters and come out on the other side with their foundation intact, so they can start building again.
Interestingly, with retail and office locations closed in most parts of various countries globally, the most visible part of the customer experience for a majority of customers will be how companies interact with them remotely — over traditional (phone, email) as well as newerdigital(chat, social media, apps, voice assistants) channels. A well established omnichannel strategy will pay dividends in these troubled times.
I’m sure you’ve all noticed a flurry of online activity, and your inbox is probably full of messages from CEOs of pretty much every company you’ve ever done business with — your bank, stockbroker, car dealer, doctor’s office, restaurant, retail, airline, hotel, etc. — the list goes on. This effort is certainly not in vain — customers do recognize the outreach and appreciate an attempt to assure them that these companies have their best interests in mind even as they face this unpredictable adversity. However, when these messages become one-and-done and follow a cookie-cutter template with little personalization, the value is somewhat diminished. Like any good outreach effort, we need to ensure the following:
- Personalization: While an emergency broadcast is perfectly understandable, subsequent messaging needs to be personalized/localized to the extent possible. Your customers in different locations, different products/services, different demographics have different concerns — personalization is even more important when they are distressed and anxious. It also goes a long way in ensuring the issues bothering customers are addressed, and you don’t end up increasing incoming calls from customers because your outreach was ineffective in addressing specific concerns.
- Follow up: From the announcement of the first disruption in service until the final resumption of normal operations, at every stage, we need to keep the customers informed. It is essential to maintain a steady cadence, but with meaningful updates.
- Asynchronous and load-balanced feedback: While these communications help assure the customers and allay their fears, we should also anticipate a spike in customer calls/contacts. A well thought out strategy that load balances the incoming by using multiple channels — website, messaging, email, voicemail, and communicated in advance as part of this outreach can help avoid frustration and bad experiences later. Asynchronous feedback channels are particularly helpful as it is difficult to manage unforeseen spike in call volumes even in the best of times, and in this situation where your customer service employees are themselves impacted, managing these spikes is critical.
Other best practices for maintaining good customer experience during this critical period:
- Move your Contact Center to the Cloud: If you haven’t done it already, this should be a wake-up call. A CCaaS
(Cloud Center as a Service) solution is your insurance policy and a business continuity plan built-in during emergencies. And the cloud is quick to set up — your existing enterprise contact center provider like Cisco can enable a move to cloud and enable remote agents in a matter of days.
- Enable Remote Customer Service Agents: While having a Cloud Contact Center essentially comes with an advantage in enabling remote/home agents, the same can also be configured on many leading on-prem solutions like those from Cisco, Avaya, Genesys, Mitel, and others.
- Keep the customer service agents informed: Increase the amount of time you devote to training agents on an ongoing basis. Information changes rapidly on a daily and even hourly basis during such an emergency- you need to ensure the agents are up to date so they can provide the right information to the customers.
- Expand your Customer Service team by drafting in experts from other functions: Emergency shutdowns like those necessitated by this pandemic will put a strain on your contact center staff, but you will also have resources freed up in other functions — like F&A, HR, Marketing, Sales, and others. Pull them into customer service — they will do far better than any external staff as these folks already know the company’s product and services, its processes, and personnel. Take the case of Adobe Systems, which uses crowdsourcing to handle queries on its online support forum. As an incentive, users who answer questions quickly, frequently, and accurately are offered free cloud subscriptions to the company’s products.
The above is by no means a comprehensive list — it is an attempt to get a dialog started with other Customer Experience practitioners and willingness to share notes with fellow professionals addressing CX in their companies during these trying times. I welcome comments and recommendations from fellow CX practitioners.