Will The Coronavirus Improve The Future Of Customer Service?

Without a doubt, COVID-19 has drastically affected workforce management, digital transformation, consumer behavior, and financial forecasting. For most, the disease has put capital growth in organizations of all sizes, as well as their customers, on standby. But if you’re looking for a positive amid the disheartening pandemonium, look no further.

Talk to Natasha Tatton, the owner and operator of Ed's Bakery in the ski resort town of Whistler, British Columbia, and she'll tell you about these positives.

Her bakery specializes in selling loaves of fresh sourdough bread made with organic Canadian ancient grains, Vancouver Island salt and clean Whistler water. But like many small (yet customer-centric) business owners, the coronavirus closures have forced her to switch to an online ordering system, a service her business could no longer ignore.

"They've always been disappointed if they drive up for their weekend break from Washington or Vancouver in the afternoon and we're sold out of bread," she says in an interview with Forbes. "Now we have had to close our bakery, we've set up an ecommerce store through our website.”

Tatton's bakery remains intact. In fact, once it reopens, the bakery will add to its product offerings with gift cards, pre-pandemic brick-and-mortar practices, and other new services that the disease has helped her become aware of.

Tatton's story is a small one, (inspirational), yet insightful nonetheless. What can we learn from Tatton’s bakery in the ski resort town of Whistler, British Columbia? I’m glad you asked.

Digital transformation is happening from local mom-and-pop bakeries to contact center solution providers, global banking leaders, digital marketing agencies, events services, and so much more. Customer-centric businesses are seeing the coronavirus closures as potential - potential to improve customer service in ways they’ve never thought of before.

For Tatton’s bakery, that’s meant online ordering. For many contact centers, that’s meant expanding automation and remote work to handle unpredictable changes in call volume. For financial services and global banks, that’s meant expanding or hiring new UX teams to re-design omnichannel app engagement. For digital marketing, that’s meant developing new SEO-generated algorithms, imagery and content tone to increase traffic and brand visibility. For networking events, that’s meant providing clients with leads via virtual conferences and webinars.

So what's the key to offering better service during and after the coronavirus? Our analysts have been in contact with and/or seen a number of customer-centric businesses that have adapted well to the pandemic to find out. Each successful business continuity plan we’ve seen has a few traits in common. Just like Tatton’s bakery, each emphasizes the expansion of digital product offerings or services, flexible work-from-home infrastructures, automated self-service, and most importantly, a greater need for human connection - all while adapting to an era that seems to have forgotten what that means.

At a travel insurance company like Seven Corners, more than 90% of the calls coming into the company’s 24/7 contact center have been about coronavirus. That's too many for the current team to handle alone. "We've cross-trained groups of employees to start helping with customer contact," says Jeremy Murchland, company's president. "Our company has employees working overtime, with no cap on the extra hours."

Most experts say the biggest gains will happen online, as you would guess. Hadar Paz, CEO of Powerfront, an AI messaging company, says as people shift toward online purchases. As a result, digital customer service has the potential to improve dramatically in response to digital consumer behavior.

"Online shopping will increase as people who were previously resistant change their shopping habits from in-store to online permanently," he says. "People will realize that now they can’t ignore their online stores and leave their customers with a basic FAQ or knowledge base to figure things out themselves."

Automation will be key to better service. Consider what FlightHub and JustFly did in late February, just as the coronavirus refund cases started to pick up speed (exactly around the time Wall Street faced its worst week since the financial crisis in 07-08). The companies knew that they would face a tsunami of requests in coming days, so they tapped a group of programmers and technologists to create a way to automate flight refunds through self-service, quickly and without the need for face-to-face interactions.

"Customer satisfaction went up in this model at a time when so many others were seeing customer satisfaction plummet," says Antonia Hock, global head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. "I love the rapid identification of a new customer need and a solution that dramatically improved the customer experience."

The contact center continues to experience new digital scenarios, unprecedented fluctuation, and urgency in adaptation.

“Take a look at what’s happening right now. You have government organizations recommending social distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus, but how can you do that with a brick and mortar contact center? People work in proximity, often sharing phones, cubicle spaces, computers, making agents significantly more susceptible to the virus,” Robert Padron, Executive Vice President and Chief Growth Officer at Arise Virtual Solutions, recently told us.

“You can’t keep the physical contact center open because you don’t want to risk your agents, but you can’t close it because you can’t risk your customers.”

“So, now organizations are scrambling. They’re trying to determine whether or not they should implement a work-at-home program or outsource to a BPO provider. They’re overworked and overwhelmed trying to find alternative solutions.”

As a result, Arise has increased its product offering to a totally different service partner, equipped to cooperate alongside a digital, remote infrastructure, capable of meeting the demands of not modern-day, but futuristic customer support. Arise is offering its Limitless Learning solution, a form of learning that utilizes cloud-based services for delivery, interaction, facilitation, demonstration and evaluation of learning material to ensure customer-facing resources have every tool they need for a successful B2C interaction.

Additionally, LivePerson, for example (as seen in VB): “LivePerson, a global tech company that develops conversational commerce and AI software, says it has observed ‘significant’ increases in volume on its conversational platform, which is used by over 18,000 brands, including Sky, IBM, Vodafone, Virgin Atlantic, and RBS. Overall conversation volume has jumped by about 20% since mid-February, with verticals like airlines and hotels experiencing 96% and 130% climbs, respectively.”

Indeed, agility in today’s customer service models are imperative. According to a recent CCW Digital Market Study, contact center technology decisions still, by and large, run through the IT department. IT influences purchasing in 83% of companies; contact center leaders carry that influence in 74%. But what happens when there is no IT department? More and more employees are working remotely by the day, and many companies are facing the prospect of functioning with little to no personnel on-site or skeleton crews in IT, and other important support functions. According to the same Market Study, factors inhibiting success include the lack of a 360-degree view, bottlenecks from legacy systems, misalignment between different channels, misalignment between enterprise systems, and inadequate analytics.

Requiring agility and adaptation that analysts could never have foreseen, complex problems (i.e. misalignment between different communication channels, misalignment between enterprise systems, and inadequate analytics) with skeleton departments and make-shift management operations, the future of digital customer-centricity is becoming increasingly cross-functional between departments. But it can be a good thing.

Whether you’re in finance, marketing or customer service, as seen in the above examples, the pandemic is reminding us that technological innovation centered around employee and consumer behavior in congruity with mandated government regulations is the center of every effective business continuity plan. To give a final and personal example, in February CCW Digital quickly recognized that it might be hard for clients to connect and benchmark with peers without access to conferences, training sessions or other forms of in-person networking. In February, we adjusted our editorial calendar, offering additional how-to guides, special reports, market studies, online events and more to help leaders learn about the industry and explore resonant technologies.

Local bakeries, hospitality leaders, contact center solution providers, and events and media services, customer-centricity is being challenged like never before. When the pandemic blows over, many digital customer service and customer-centric products and services across these industries will remain intact, only to be expanded upon by the additional pre-pandemic ones… just like in Tatton’s bakery.

In uncharted waters during times of distress and uncertainty, it’s important to stay connected. The CCW Digital community will be here for you, providing you with customer experience, contact center, and digital marketing services every step of the way. In remote working environments and challenging economic circumstances, remember to lean on your digital community to come out stronger on the other side. With over 150,000 global members, subscribe here to join the largest research hub for customer contact and customer experience professionals. Through our complementary offerings, you’ll have access to the latest research, news, blogs, podcasts, webinars, whitepapers, training, and technology insights in customer experience.

And remember, stay positive. Test negative.