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Don’t get us wrong, it was definitely a tragedy. But we do believe that some good came out of it, especially for customer experience. Businesses faced problems they never had before, but the solutions that they came up with are bound to help customers even after the pandemic ends.
The customer experience issues that arose during the pandemic
For most customers, 1 minute is far too much hold time. But, especially towards the start of the pandemic, quite a few companies ended up forcing customers to wait on hold for hours, not minutes. That’s just a terrible experience for any customer to have to go through.
Companies had just switched to working with distributed and remote teams. At the start of the pandemic, everything was changing and everyone had questions. Support queries were flowing in and companies were drowning in them. They just did not have the infrastructure or the preparation to deal with this influx of support requests, causing their customers to suffer the agony of waiting in a never-ending hold queue.
As we mentioned earlier, the world pretty much turned upside down. Customers were asking unanticipated questions and agents had no idea what to do about them - should they be sticking to the existing company policy or should they make exceptions in light of the situation… and even if they did make exceptions, how many could they make? With the number of requests coming in, accommodating customer requests would make it feel like being flexible was becoming the rule and following policies would feel like the exception.
Stuck in this situation without clarity on how to act, agents were left with no choice but to escalate or redirect the conversation. In fact, when the situation was studied, it was found that the escalations in contact centers rose by 68% in April 2020.
Let’s take a very obvious example, a gym. Everyone wanted to cancel their membership during the pandemic (or at least during the first wave). These gyms had to make a choice that seemed to put them in a losing situation no matter what they picked.
But this was not a problem limited to gyms. Airlines, hotels, and the entire hospitality industry were facing the same problem.
Some gyms offered membership extensions and some airlines and hotels decided to let customers fly or stay with them at another time in the future. But quite a large number of businesses just made it as hard as possible for customers to get a refund on their memberships, tickets, and reservations.
The result? Customers were fuming and would went about it to anyone they’d come across.
The biggest customer experience changes that came with the pandemic
Companies realized that they couldn’t afford to waste their customers’ time and force them to wait until an agent is free. They understood that customers should be able to find answers on their own, especially if they are answers to particularly easy questions.
Chatbots were adopted at a faster pace to help customers find all the answers that they need with minimal effort. Companies also spent time and energy building out comprehensive knowledge bases so that customers could even get answers to complex product-centric questions.
A lot of companies took this further and loaded the documents from their knowledge base onto their chatbots (a process made much easier and quicker using our DocuSense technology).
Only the most complex queries that the chatbots couldn’t solve were transferred to live chat agents. And the good part was that these queries were routed directly to the agent who was in the best position to resolve the query, thus minimizing redirects, escalations, and hold times.
With the shift to remote and hybrid support teams, digital transformation was not a choice anymore. Organizations were forced into adopting new technologies to increase efficiency and serving their customers in a better manner.
Customers started demanding great digital experiences and this trend shows no signs of stopping. In April 2020, customers could consider forgiving you for not delivering these amazing digital experiences, but not anymore.
At this point, smooth, streamlined digital customer experiences are a non-negotiable requirement. They won’t excuse you for slipping up or failing to implement an effective digital transformation plan.
Customers are already under a lot of stress right now. Your job is to make their life easier. That means that you need to be reachable across all the channels they prefer using and you should maintain context as they hop across channels. Don’t ever force your customers to repeat themselves.
That’s why we introduced conversation stitching in our OneView inbox. Your live chat agents will always have context from past conversations, helping them assist your customers in a manner that is more efficient and less frustrating.
You could say that this is a by-product of digital transformation. By adopting new technologies, businesses figured out that they could use the vast amount of data that they gathered to personalize their customer experience. Their marketing messages, sales pitches, and customer support interactions all started getting personalized.
They started using artificial intelligence to deliver experiences that are actually relevant to the customer, which caused the customers to react and engage positively.
Companies started proactively reaching out to their customers to check in on them, understand their problems and see how they can help them. Most customers who feel frustrated won’t bother having a conversation with you, they’ll just leave. Now you’re in the dark and you don’t know what issues caused them to leave you.
Being proactive enables you to avoid this situation by addressing issues when they arise, not after your customers have dealt with them and gotten frustrated to the point where they found it necessary to reach out to you or just churn.
But companies started going beyond asking them how the product is working for them. They actually started reaching out to customers to ask them how they were feeling, thus allowing them to cultivate stronger relationships with their customers.
Customer needs started changing at the fastest pace ever during the pandemic. And how’d companies react? 57% of C-suite executives invested in powerful data and analytics tools. An additional 21% invested in AI and machine learning systems to help them make sense of the data gathered and thus understand customer needs and behavior in a much better manner.
This is going to be extremely beneficial for companies as well as customers in the post-COVID word as well. In fact, McKinsey and Co. say that relying on customer data and analytics is going to be a hallmark of customer service.
Everyone has gone through a lot during this time. Companies have recognized this and started focusing on developing their sales and support teams’ soft skills. There’s a strong focus on emotional intelligence and active listening. Front line staff is also being trained to pay attention to the customer’s emotional state while interacting with them.
Even their chatbots employ sentiment analysis so that they don’t frustrate customers by responding in a manner that isn’t appropriate for the customers’ emotional state.
For example, if a customer is at their wit’s end and is struggling to deal with a problem, you don’t want your support representative to sound extremely happy and chipper. Rather, your agent should sound empathetic and understanding.
There have been a lot of unexpected requests popping up during the pandemic and there are only so many that can be escalated. Escalating every one of them just doesn’t make sense because then there’s no point in hiring agents. The other issue is that escalations take time, and customers aren’t too keen on sparing that time.
This caused organizations to become more flexible and start accommodating customer requests as long as they were reasonable. It even caused the companies to empower their agents to make decisions without seeking permission and gave the agents opportunities to prove themselves capable of making decisions that would benefit the company and the customers.
How the pandemic allowed companies to win their customers’ hearts
The pandemic gave businesses the opportunity to show their customers that they’re human and they know what their customers are going through. It gave them the opportunity to display empathy in a variety of ways. There were gyms that proactively offered free membership extensions without customers requesting them. You’d see companies reassuring customers about their safety policies. Burger King even started attaching sachets of sanitizer along with their takeaway orders.
Even banks were offering some level of relief to customers who had taken out loans by allowing them to delay payments for a while without incurring any interest.
For companies that didn’t indulge in acts like these, maybe the customers would understand the situation and forgive them. But if your company did things like this, your customers would appreciate the act and love your brand for doing it.
These acts of empathy could make your customers loyal for life because they know that you care about them and have their backs.
With the lockdowns in place there were an enormous amount of logistical issues. Products weren’t getting delivered on time and customers were more anxious than ever. A lot of them were wondering whether their products were even shipped or whether they got scammed, especially when they placed orders at any store smaller than Amazon.
To add to that, there was also the fear of contracting the virus if they used products like spectacles as soon as they were delivered.
Online retailers responded with transparency. For example, a major eyewear retailer pushed out videos on the build process for the spectacles, showing customers that the entire process was automated and no hands touched their spectacles before they reached them.
To eliminate the anxiety that comes with late deliveries, they made their order tracking systems more detailed, allowing customers to know exactly where their order has reached and by when they should expect to get the order. The goal was to be transparent about the fact that there were significant logistical issues that were delaying the delivery but the company was doing everything in their power to get their order to them as soon as humanly possible.
Some went ahead and made life even easier for their customers, allowing them to track their orders directly over WhatsApp by using an intelligent chatbot. This reduced customer effort by not forcing customers to visit their website or download their app, they could just track their orders directly over the app that they were opening 23 times a day.
The one change you need to make (if you haven’t already)
Don’t let yourself come across as the big evil corporation that doesn’t care about anything other than its profits. Show that you’re human and you care about your customers.
The best way to create powerful customer experiences and earn loyalty is to simply show your customers that you care.
Do whatever you can to make life easier and less stressful for your customers. Show them that you’re in this with them. This can be as big as offering membership extensions (especially if there is another wave and another lockdown) or as small as just reaching out to them and asking how they’re doing
Just show them that you’re human and you care!