Wednesday, May 27th, 2020 | 6 min read
Every corner of the branded internet is plastered with pacifying proclamations from customer service teams. They range from the skimpy, “Our response to you may be delayed,” to the resolutely resigned, “Our customer care teams are hard at work to help you, though wait times are higher than normal.” But, like the crisis that prompted them, they all reveal the same hard truth: Customer care teams were unprepared for this global event.
Although the COVID-19 outbreak was an act of nature that few could foresee, the pandemic exposed existing customer service outfits for what they were: outdated and inelastic enterprises not suited for an always-on, always-changing world.
As Salesforce puts it, customer service is a “dynamic, ever-changing entity that requires near-constant attention.” Dynamic, ever-changing entities, as logic would have it, would be uniquely positioned to respond to a calamity. But the opposite has held true:
Global pandemics bring with them long-term implications and repercussions. But, as multiple companies have discovered, they’re especially difficult to ensure business continuity against because they’re also devilishly fluid and unpredictable. In response, many call and support centers have had to shutter down due to shelter-in-place mandates or intra-office spread of the novel virus.
Others have had to adjust to new work-from-home realities, and have been hampered by logistical and technical hurdles as they ready their teams with the necessary equipment and platforms to serve anxious customers while fully remote. All in all, the very business unit that should have been suited for this predicament (the same unit which is wholly integral to a brand’s reputation and bottom line) was uniquely exposed as categorically unprepared.
In a pandemic’s fluid nature lies a future-proof solution for the customer service and support teams and leaders caught unawares during the COVID-19 outbreak. To prepare for future crises, companies must ensure that their customer care arms are elastic and dynamic.
Elastic scaling, provided by Customer Service as a Service (CSaaS) companies like Influx, is just one strategy companies can turn to when scenario planning for future crises. Built around support seasonality and on-demand staffing, vendors like Influx provide fully trained and fully remote solutions for clients on a highly scalable and 24/7 basis.
According to LivePerson CEO Rob LoCascio, certain companies logged more customer service requests in the first month of the pandemic than during all of 2019. Yet, precisely when consumer requests and support tickets are drowning care teams in work, many businesses have had to scale back their customer support staff due to constricting revenue. The last thing those struggling companies would want to do is bring on additional overhead and tie down seasoned agents with new staff hiring, training, and onboarding.
But the right vendor partnership could help short-staffed teams mitigate never-ending support ticket queues while avoiding what were once necessary but sizable costs.
Plus, there’s the bonus that an elastic workforce and workplace solutions help minimize business disruption and were enacted to deliver productivity during uncertain times or times of increased demand.
What’s more, on-demand support can help with coverage issues as workers call in sick—a workplace reality that has taken on added and far-reaching implications during COVID-19.
As Deborah Alvord, senior director analyst in Gartner’s Customer Service and Support Practice, puts it, “Since service and support are labor-intensive, having large numbers of staff miss work due to pandemic-related issues can severely impact delivery.”
Chatbot company ubisend found that up to 80% of customer service inquiries can be answered by chatbots. Chatbots’ growing competence and capabilities have allowed several companies to use their AI-powered tech to scale with the increased demand this crisis has spurred.
While chatbot adoption is nothing new in the customer care sphere, it’s a strategy that’s tailor-made for when worker capacity is most strained as some bots can handle 150 messages per second straight out the box.
Though the sensitive and singular nature of the crisis will require human interaction throughout the support process, and a possible retooling of bot scripts and protocols to avoid unnecessary tone-deafness, an overworked and overwhelmed customer service division would benefit significantly from their own automated support system.
Similarly, chatbots can pull from existing knowledge base resources to help answer recurring issues and complaints, a task that could have greatly bogged down agents in the past.
Any highly scalable and adaptable customer service squad should ensure their self-service archives are regularly updated and replenished to provide a much-needed buffer between staff and customers and further enable support center continuity during turbulent times.
Aside from serving as a much-needed wakeup call for modern customer care, the COVID-19 crisis has stressed-tested existing customer service strategies and highlighted the ones best-suited to meet new challenges. Those customer service leaders that invest in those elastic and dynamic strategies now will save themselves from future nightmare scenarios and will help build the type of dynamic, ever-changing entities customer service departments should have always been.
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