Every organization has its own philosophies and methodologies for how best to establish customer relationships, but despite how companies get there, the end goal has always been the same: Treating people with care and respect to establish trust and improve their experience with your brand.
The pandemic has made this notion even more clear. In a time of complete uncertainty, customers simply want to connect with brands on a human level. In fact, recent research on consumer behavior shows that demand for human-to-human interaction in customer service environments is surging. Today, most consumers prefer human customer support over automated and self-service channels.
Yet, this human-first approach to customer service isn’t always easy or straightforward. In their path to improving customer relationships and service, many organizations end up “over automating.” The rationale being, if they can automatically answer more customer questions at the onset of a call or text or chat, they have staff focus on only the most serious of customer cases. The problem here is that rarely do customers see their issue as anything but serious.
That’s not to say that automation doesn’t have its place – like the checking of a balance or finding out when a bill is due. However, not even the smartest chatbots or self-service solutions can effectively and completely respond to 100% of customer needs, especially during a pandemic. Imagine trying to explain to a chatbot that you lost your job and can’t return to work because you need to take care of your kids?
There’s a better way. Instead of using technology to automate as many interactions as possible, organizations should use technology to make human interactions smarter and more effective.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, speech analytics and natural language processing solutions are emerging as ways to extract intelligence from every customer interaction and equip employees with the direction and guidance they need to meet customer needs in real time, at the human level.
During COVID-19, this means being able to identify common pain points across your customers, which customers are the most vulnerable, and more.
Delivering an exceptional customer experience (CX) and treating customers as real people requires a rock-solid, data-based understanding of all challenges, and a willingness to use the insights to change and improve the broader business.
In particular, there are three key areas where I see organizations using technology to gather and operationalize these insights, in turn equipping customer service teams with the knowledge and direction they need to make every customer interaction the best it can be:
- Proactively alert agents when they are dealing with vulnerable customers. Not every situation is the same, and vulnerability has many faces. Whether it’s flagging certain scenarios such as hardships due to unemployment – or even detecting stress or agitation in a customer’s voice – leveraging capabilities such as sentiment analysis to identify the common triggers of a vulnerable customer is key to any CX strategy. When common elements have been identified, benchmarks can then be created to label those similar situations more quickly and more accurately.
- Enabling agents with real-time guidance and actions on language to use, offers to make and questions to ask, specific to the situation. Recognizing the problem is one thing—but being able to address and solve it head-on is just as critical during these unprecedented times. However, chances are that managing vulnerability with the kind of empathy it requires isn’t included in an employee’s job description. By capturing and analyzing every interaction in real time, brands can offer personalized solutions on a case-by-case basis, including based on customer vulnerability, while also ensuring both organizational and regulatory compliance.
- Providing meaningful feedback and training for managing similar situations in the future. Inbound requests for customer service are at an all-time high, and most organizations are stretched thin. Add in the remote office, and you’ve got yourself a perfect storm for less-than-perfect customer experiences. Not only can the proper technology make sure engagements runs smoothly in real time, but post-call recommendations for improving and streamlining processes means agents can better perform in the future. Over time, employees will become more emotionally intelligent and in turn, improve customer sentiment towards your organization and optimize brand loyalty.
While improving real time customer engagement is important, using technology to help leadership operationalize and act on the intelligence they extract from customer interactions is also critical. Customer interactions are a goldmine of insights that can be applied to transform the business and elevate the customer experience. Any organization not listening to 100% of interactions and generating insights risks losing the pulse of its customers and falling behind as the market shifts.
There’s no foolproof method when it comes to managing a pandemic. Not even the best crisis and risk management plans could have predicted something of this scale. But the greatest CX stories did not stem from frictionless experiences. Instead, the most successful organizations focused on bridging the insights-to-action gap and understanding what people truly want in from customer experiences – and those who continue to do this even after the pandemic ends will establish the unwavering customer relationships that everyone strives for.
About the Author: Eric Williamson is chief marketing officer at CallMiner, a provider of speech and customer interaction analytics. He has more than 20 years’ experience leading marketing programs for major companies, including Acquia, Google, Microsoft, Walmart, and Hyatt.