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Strategies for exceptional customer service during unprecedented times

Jeff Nicholson, Log in to subscribe to the Blog

Organizations are facing real customer service challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a number of challenges for businesses providing customer service across every industry. Many are struggling just to maintain operational stability due to employee illness, work-at-home directives, and enterprise networking connectivity. Remote and distributed workforces, especially, are finding they need to troubleshoot gaps in business-as-usual processes. Most urgently for customer contact centers, these challenges are manifesting in long wait times. We’re hearing that, in some instances, customers are on hold as much as 50 times longer than usual. This is creating hugely frustrating experiences for both customers and employees, who may already be on edge because health, financial, or family concerns.

The most critical needs for customer service teams right now are managing a newly distributed (and disrupted) workforce and responding in the right way to customers’ needs in a time of crisis. But where should customer service leaders start? Here, we review some of the top strategies to consider during this time.

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Resetting your customer service strategy in a time of disruption

Struggling to keep up with increased customer service inquiries? Download our whitepaper to learn how to triage volume while driving down cost-to-serve, optimize customer value, and improve agent efficiency.

Resetting your customer service strategy in times of disruption

Right now, customers around the world are anxious about any number of issues, like having enough money to pay rent or other bills, cancelled travel plans, or loss of investment and retirement income. Demonstrating and working from a place of shared understanding will go a long way in helping both the customer and the service agent respond to and resolve inquiries and issues.

For example, build shifts in tone or changes in policies or procedures that demonstrate empathy into business operations. Create a “single source of truth” with defined business rules and customer journeys to provide guidance and language for customer service agents on current policies, procedures, and responses. This makes it easier for agents to respond to customer issues and helps maintain consistency in customer interactions.

And in terms of empathy, the same goes for your agents. Agents are on the “front line” and are enduring long days, trying to calm customers that have often endured longer-than-average wait times just to be heard. They are likely working with a limited set of tools and dealing with disconnected systems and broken processes in their new work-from-home (WFH) reality. There are ways that you can quickly close many of these gaps with the right technology strategy in place.

Drive high service levels while managing cost and volume

Here are the top four ways you can show empathy for your customers and agents, while simultaneously managing costs by quickly modernizing your service strategy:

  • Leverage digital channels to take on more volume with your existing headcount
    Call volumes are high right now and we anticipate they will remain high over the next few months. To alleviate this new volume, businesses will need to quickly “widen the pipe” without adding headcount. As a result, service leaders are now ramping up their support for digital messaging channels, such as web chat, mobile chat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, SMS, and Apple Messages for Business – channels where agents can handle multiple customers concurrently. These channels help you better accommodate that influx of volume while simultaneously driving down the cost to serve.

    Discover how Digital Federal Credit Union uses chat, email, robotics, and knowledge management to drive efficiency across the organization and deliver frictionless experiences to its members.

  • Reduce the volume of contacts with self-service, chatbots, and IVAs
    Businesses can quickly reduce wait/response times while dealing with greater contact volume by using chat bots and intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) to field initial customer service inquiries. Different from the chatbots of the past, the modern generation can handle more than simple inquiries, such as business hours, contact info, or basic account info. The new generation applies Natural Language Processing (NLP) and sentiment analysis to read and analyze customers’ words, then peer deep into customer-specific data to understand their individual customer journey – for example, to recognize an individual has just filed a claim. With this context, the IVA can provide specific information about a customer’s claim status and even offer up dynamic knowledge content to the individual – avoiding the need to route to a human agent. Bots and IVAs are helpful in reducing strain on live agent channels because they can run concurrently (i.e., many instances at the same time) and, importantly, are available to serve your customers 24x7.

  • Accelerate email response times while cutting costs with NLP-powered email bots
    Right now, many businesses are dealing with a deluge of customer emails “by hand,” with service employees manually triaging each communication, interpreting the issue at hand, and then routing off to others in the organization for eventual processing. Not only is this incredibly expensive, any of these emails may be time-sensitive in nature, leaving customers waiting days for their note to even be reviewed.

    Now, businesses are quickly converting this manual process to an automated process using an email bot powered by NLP. Here, email robots automatically open each email, understand the context, and even assign work to cases. With greater than 75% success rates for automating these processes, email bots are hugely impactful at accelerating resolution for customers while also offering the added benefit of dramatically slashing costs.

    See how National Bank of Australia uses email bots to triage more than 30,000 inbound emails and route customers to the most efficient channel.

  • Use the power of case management and microjourneys to reduce contact duration across distributed teams
    These foundational technologies have never been more important because they help front-line teams get work done efficiently with minimal human effort. Make sure your remote workers are connected to your enterprise system so that all of their customer interaction data is captured, tracked, and leveraged for case management. This will help you continue engaging on a one-to-one, personalized level with your customers.

    Defined microjourneys provide roadmaps for your agents and CRM systems to follow so that every customer inquiry is processed and resolved in the right way, with the right context, from end to end, and with consideration for how overall customer value may be affected.

    Read how Cisco removed 93% of process inefficiencies through case management.

The key: Move quickly, without “throwaway” efforts

In a time where markets, work environments, and customers’ needs are continuing to change, take advantage of all the tools in your toolbox to support operational and customer engagement needs. You need to be able to plan for the unpredictable.

By applying the strategies above, and with the right technology and approach, you can actually realize an all new bedrock and agility layer that can scale across your organization and will never need to be replaced. These approaches are lasting and are, by design, “channel-less” in nature, where code and logic are not locked away in a channel silo but instead may be activated on any channel, once configured.

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Industry: Cross-Industry Product Area: Customer Service Product Area: Pega Customer Service Solution Area: Customer Service Solution Area: Operational Excellence Topic: AI and Decisioning Topic: Customer Service

About the Author

As Pega’s Vice President and Global Head CRM, Jeff Nicholson, helps companies revolutionize customer engagement and exceed expectations with real-time interaction management, robotic automation, machine learning, and intelligent automation.

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