5 ways that customer service is changing in the current climate
The covid-19 pandemic has forced businesses to change the way in which they operate, particularly where customer service and engagement is concerned.
Here, we look at how things have changed in the short term and how they are forming the foundation of customer service going forward.
1. Remote customer service
The first change probably comes as no surprise.
Since most offices were closed in March, the vast majority of non-customer facing staff are remote working.
As their roles do not require a face-to-face interaction, customer service agents that predominantly work in call centres or resolve customer issues digitally have made a seamless movement away from the office environment.
The successful implementation of remote working in this particular area of customer service comes as little surprise, as there are many flexible, off-the-shelf technologies required to facilitate operations.
Additionally, it is hard to imagine that the change to staff working from home have had any impact on the standard of customer service levels generally:
would customers even notice the difference between a member of staff working in an office vs. one at home?
This does raise the question as to whether the bricks and mortar contact centres of the past will even return after the covid-19 pandemic is over.
If you want to read more about this discussion, we recently addressed the idea of remote working becoming the ‘new normal’ in our blog.
2. Chat bots and artificial intelligence
Many industries have been severely disrupted by covid-19, but the contact centres are being transformed by it.
Even before the lockdown, the introduction of new technology such as chatbots, that are based on artificial intelligence, was well underway.
What is a chatbot?
A chatbot is a piece of software that is programmed to perform an online chat conversations without the assitance of a human.
The software is designed to simulate the way a customer service agent would behave in a conversation. Chatbots require continuous fine tuning to function in a more realistic way.
Machine learning and chatbots
This fine tuning of functionality can take place with “Machine Learning” – the capability of the chatbot to “learn” from inputs of information. Machine learning really forms the basis of artificial intelligence.
Chatbots and other automated functions are automating tasks done by humans in the contact centre.
Predictably, the lockdown in the UK saw a dramatic increase in online shopping, and since more people are preferring to use a live chat facility to resolve questions or issues, more organisations may opt for a chatbot facility.
A chatbot is a useful tool as an initial touch point for the customer; helping to screen questions where the answer is pre-programmable, simple to retrieve, and does not require a human intelligence.
As such, software like this can provide an effective means of managing the high volumes of inbound enquiries.
Whilst it is likely to be quite some time before a chat bot could become sophisticated enough to replace a human customer service operative, there is a general certainty that owing to the customer’s desire for convenience, this technology will continue to improve and is unquestionably here to stay.
3. Covid safety measures as a customer service standard
Will the standard of covid-security in retail and hospitality actually become a factor in the decision making of customers?
For example, will a pub with more safety measures in place be more popular than one with a less strict view on being covid-secure?
Will a hotel with a certificated cleaning regime provide greater confidence to the consumer to book a stay?
Of course, we can only speculate at the answer to this question and there is a balancing act to be addressed between operating safely and delivering a pre-lockdown, ‘normal’ customer experience; after all many of us are opposed to change in any form.
The businesses that get this balancing act right, might well benefit with greater bookings and customers.
Because of the nature of the work that Novus undertake, we believe that safe working practices go hand-in-hand with customer service standards.
Our clients and their customers rely on us to work safely and respectfully whilst in their homes and that’s why we’ve committed to the following procedures:
Where possible, operatives will maintain a social distance between themselves and others.
Where possible, operatives will travel to your home alone or in groups of two using their own transport or works vehicle.
Our operatives will regularly use anti-bacterial gel when working or changing tasks and clean down any surfaces they come into contact with.
Each operative will work with assigned tools, which (where possible) are not to be shared. If they do need to be shared, it is with one other operative only.
Before any work starts at your home, we will discuss with you how we will carry out the work and the measures we have in place to keep you and us safe.
4. Changing client relationships
With any business, building and maintaining strong relationships plays a critical role in acquiring and retaining customers.
In a socially distanced society, this can prove to be a challenge; you cannot currently visit their office in person or have a conversation over coffee, to discuss opportunities and challenges.
This is where more frequent and honest communication, encouragement of a more collaborative approach with the client, can help mitigate the lack of face-to-face contact.
At present, the common ground between suppliers, clients, and customers is the uncertainty surrounding the covid-19 situation.
Sharing knowledge and working together to form best practice in light of the uncertainty, might help form a bond of trust that will pay dividends when the pandemic is over.
5. Feedback and learning
In times of uncertainty, ascertaining what clients/customers expect from your business is vital to the its future success and a great way to form a ‘new normal’.
Increasingly, businesses are relying on customer feedback to 1. Tailor service offerings to better align with their needs, and 2. Steal a march on competitors who don’t listen to customer feedback.
The premise is simple, the better you understand your customer/potential customer, the better your customer service will be.
The covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly influenced customers and clients in the way they live their lives.
By extension, their product/service expectations may also have shifted in a short space of time. Everything from their physical needs, to the way that they consume marketing information (driven to become more digital), to their purchase motivating factors.
Therefore, the value of customer insight has never been greater, and we can be sure to expect businesses to attempt to get even closer to clients and customers from this point onwards.
Additionally, in the spirit of “never wasting a good crisis” the current situation may be the perfect opportunity to instigate change for the better.
We are operating in a climate where people and businesses are more open to change than perhaps ever before, just look at the adoption of mass home working in such a short amount of time as a case in point.
Join the conversation
If you would like to give your opinion on any of the points raised in this article or want to contribute anything further, please do so in the comments section on our social media update for this piece on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Thanks for reading and stay safe.
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