C0-Founder & CEO Futr
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Managing a winter of customer discontent

10th Nov 2021
C0-Founder & CEO Futr
Blogger
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While there is much to look forward to with the changing of the seasons, winter is the time of year most often associated with challenges. In the Northern hemisphere, the temperature drops, nature goes into hibernation and the days get shorter. No wonder the phrase ‘winter of discontent’ is so well used.

In fact, depending on what you read and believe, it could well be a winter of discontent for a number of sectors. Even in the old normal, the end of the year brought significant challenges for certain industries. In healthcare, seasonal illnesses spike, putting strain on overstretched services. In retail, huge amounts of pressure are put on company performance in the run up to Christmas. Utility companies see huge rises in usage.

This year, the issues will undoubtedly be exacerbated. From supply chain disruptions to potential COVID-related restrictions, coupled with the inevitable spike in non-pandemic illness, keeping operational will be a huge feat for many organisations. And it is likely that within those businesses customer service teams will have to handle the brunt of customer frustration and anger.

A time for change

Are they equipped to handle it? If we’re looking at performances during the pandemic, definitely. Any business that has achieved a degree of success over the last 18 months owes their customer service teams a debt. Time and time again, in disrupted, strained and unusual circumstances, CS teams have helped deliver the best possible experience.

However, only the complacent would think that this means no changes are needed. Customer tolerance for recorded messages citing the pandemic as a reason for slower or less responsive service is now low; the crisis is no longer new, and the expectation is that businesses will have adapted.

That’s not an issue for those that already have the teams, processes, and technology in place to deal with whatever comes next. Thanks to ongoing digital transformation and the integration of cutting-edge technology, they have future-proofed their customer experience offerings.

Many, though, are still in that process, or haven’t yet started. They might be hoping that everything will return to a pre-pandemic normal, or that their teams can continue as they are. These will be the companies that struggle, that deliver increasingly poor service, that lose customers and, ultimately, struggle in business.

The fact is that what counts as normal has changed. From a CX perspective, that requires teams that can handle disruption as part of everyday life, irrespective of the complexity of demands, expectations and continually growing communication channels.

Three steps to building CX teams comfortable with today’s demands

How then do businesses build these sorts of CS functions?

First, they need to be hyper focused on access. Customers, whether consumers or businesses, want access when it suits them, where it suits them, how it suits them. Language, device, platform, channel, location, all tailored to them. With so many distractions, disruptions and other options available to them, it has to be easy, and it has to be the default position in the post-pandemic world. 

Second, businesses need to destroy silos. Separation has come about, and is maintained, by legacy IT systems unfit for the agility today’s marketplace demands. Overlaying the old with the new, in this instance conversation-as-a-service platforms, is the only way to transform silos of data into interoperable mines of intelligence and operational efficiencies.

Finally, they need to be smart about how they sort, or triage, customer issues. The biggest mistake any business can make right now is to assume they can automate their way to success. Human interaction got us through tough times, and now more than ever the winners in this paradigm shift will be the ones that adopt a hybrid approach that incorporates automation but doesn’t rely on it alone . Companies should automate where appropriate while retaining the ability to push issues to human teams when required.

Augmented intelligence

That means no downsizing, right sizing or reducing customer service teams. CX functions need to be supercharged, not replaced, by technology. When deployed properly, automation can back human agents up with multilingual live chat in over 100 languages, sentiment analysis and service delivery on web, chat and social channels.

This doesn’t mean significant upfront capital investment, either; many platforms are available as off-the-shelf, software-as-a-service solutions. These can deliver a fast return on operational expenditure thanks to an almost immediate transformation effect and tracked usage analytics. Customer feedback shows an overwhelming support for AI solutions that enable immediate responses to simple enquiries, saving the customer time.

Turning a winter of discontent into one of success

As highlighted before, businesses are indebted to their customer service teams for their efforts over the last 18 months, but that should not breed complacency. If that success is going to continue, companies need to focus on customer experience and put in place the technology and processes their people need. Failure to do so will undoubtedly lead to a winter of discontent, made worse by the knowledge that their competitors are succeeding through intelligent augmentation. The right digital tools are the key to meeting the demands of the current marketplace.

 

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