The sudden and devastating rise of the COVID-19 pandemic has radically transformed the lives and livelihoods of billions. Never before has the world experienced a disruption of this scale as it has challenged the very foundations of our systems and institutions. However, while the impact on industries and enterprises is sure to have long-term repercussions, it has also driven enterprises to rethink how they operate. The challenges brought forth by the pandemic have ignited new innovations and inspired shifts in business models. While digital transformation has recently become an enterprise priority, its implementation has now become critical, motivating even laggards to accelerate their adoption toward elevating customer experience, unlocking fresh revenue streams, and optimizing business processes.
Digital Driving Customer Service/Experience
During these uncertain times, organizations have found a silver lining in new-age technology as an enabler of normality during lockdowns and remote work. There is little doubt that the ‘new normal’ is here and it’s powered by digital innovations. Organizations further along their digital transformation journey have found themselves better positioned to survive, and even thrive, during these difficult times. But the advent of the pandemic has changed traditional mindsets.
In the pre-COVID era, businesses either had a gradual approach or were still in the planning stages of their digital transformation roadmap. But now they realize they have no choice and are rapidly seeking out new tools that can help them launch new digital opportunities. In particular, ensuring a fulfilling customer journey has become a critical priority. As a result, businesses are now adopting digital innovations to drive customer engagement, track customer behaviors, and deliver superior customer service.
This was perhaps unavoidable for most traditional contact centers who were unable to adapt quickly to the new challenges. Across companies, customer care representatives struggled with work-life balance, lacked work-from-home capabilities, and faced bandwidth crunch in the face of high volumes. A key operational bottleneck caused by the pandemic was the disruption of contact centers as service providers rapidly adapted to the challenges of the new normal.
In fact, according to industry reports, average handling times doubled, first-call resolution rates plummeted, hold times increased, and abandonment rates increased five-fold. All this came at the cost of customer service quality. A 2019-study by Gartner reports that 75% of organizations were already in the process of increasing their investments in customer experience (CX) specific technologies, with 52% of organizations looking to continue increasing investments further over the next year. The pandemic has now made it imperative for organizations to accelerate and commit to these goals. As customer behavior becomes the key differentiator for many businesses’, it can be a make-or-break proposition in the increasingly competitive market of the new normal. Fortunately, forward-looking business leaders have recognized the need to reinvent their CX processes with new technology solutions to elevate the customer journey.
Developing Next-gen Customer Service
Businesses seeking to remain relevant in the new normal of the post-COVID world have no choice but to reinvent their strategies, reprioritize their goals, and revitalize their ways of working. While change is indeed the need of the hour, it has to be driven by an even greater focus on customer journey. This focus is seen in the best practices that companies can follow to ensure they achieve the right results and deliver next-gen customer service in a post-COVID world. According to a recent report by Gartner, by 2022, 70% of all customer interactions will rely on mobile messaging, chatbots, and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). In contrast, in 2018, only 15% of customer communications involved these innovations. There is no doubt, recent disruptions have only accelerated this shift.
Here are some key changes that can help organizations deliver next- generation customer engagement and ensure they lead the industry in the new normal:
- Distributed Workforce
Remote workforce is the best way to provide stable, secure, and sustainable customer experience during disruptive times. This approach requires companies to deploy next-generation IT infrastructure, refine operational processes, develop new ways of working, and upskill their workforce. By empowering workers with a hybrid model of physical and remote working, organizations can maximize the diversification of their worker’s skills and resources to ensure consistent and high-quality customer service.
- Automation First
In the face of rising contact volumes, organizations need to adopt fully digitized workflows and pipelines that leverage the power of automation. To put this in perspective, 30% of all customer interactions are projected to be automated with the help of AI and ML innovations, according to a study by Gartner. AI technologies can transform internal and external processes to unleash new opportunities. Automation not only eases workload pressures on the workforce but frees them to deliver more personalized customer interactions. With AI-enabled learning and analytics, contact centers can leverage vast quantities of customer data to deliver faster and more efficient service.
- Engage in Self-Serve
Another aspect of AI that can revolutionize customer service is in the power of cognitive solutions such as smart IVRs, chatbot assistants, and easily accessible knowledge base. These tools can help customers quickly and easily get the answers they need without any delay. Combined with an intuitive and easy to navigate interface, these advancements also ensure that customers can conveniently self-serve for the majority of their needs. In general, the self-service approach helps reduce live contact volumes and their handling time while also increasing service capacity.
- Rethink Security
As operations become more distributed, they also broaden their digital threat landscape. Hence, ensuring secure systems becomes a key challenge for any contact center. This requires organizations to revise their security policies and align them to the modern needs of a distributed workforce. They need to adopt security solutions that enable a secure and remote work environment using tools such as advanced VPNs, private cloud networks, privileged access management, identity management, and much more.
- Transform Employee Training and Experience
Achieving desirable results during a transition period requires a change in how the workforce learns and deploys its skills. For the new normal, contact centers need to develop remote digital training solutions that rely on innovative techniques such as gamified learning, AI-enabled practice environments, and immediate personalized feedback. Digital training techniques can help personalize the learning experience for workers based on their learning style and help reinforce their strengths and resolve their weaknesses. Furthermore, by engaging in digital channels, organizations can also improve the overall employee experience. This can motivate and empower the remote workforce to best represent the brand and deliver superlative customer service.
- Develop Immersive Strategies
While adopting digital innovations can ensure better productivity, higher customer service outcomes, and lower costs, it may not be enough. Organizations in the new normal need to be proactive and continuously develop new ways of customer engagement. This includes reimagining the future of virtual communications to explore new channels and platform of delivery. A key part of this is adopting immersive strategies across both traditional and digital channels. For example, technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, as well as video based customer support, are rapidly gaining wide acceptance, and will be at the forefront of new innovations in customer service.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that digital acceleration is the only way forward for contact centers globally in a post-COVID era. To become next-gen support providers, organizations would need to wisely integrate new technologies, partnerships, and trained resources as part of their support ecosystem.
HCL has been at the forefront of 21st century CX technology and our CX transformation approach will help organizations understand their customer journey, map the right digital channels, track relevant metrics, and chart a digital roadmap allowing them to maximize their investments.