Business continuity and customer service

11th Feb 2021

When the pandemic first hit, businesses worldwide experienced financial and staffing issues, with many scaling back operations or shutting down completely. Suddenly, we faced business continuity issues we’d never seen before — and contact centers got hit exceptionally hard. They have huge workforces of stressed customer support agents reporting to the same physical location, many using on-premise technology that can’t be easily converted to work-from-home environments. It was a powder keg just waiting for the right match.

Now, several months into the “new normal,” it’s evident many quick fixes brands implemented to ease the pressure of staff shortages, office closures, and spikes in conversation volume weren’t enough to bail them out completely. Quickly deployed web chat welcome messages and “we’re experiencing unusually high volume” 800-number recordings were nice to have — but ultimately temporary. 

The pandemic was a wake-up call and paradigm shift. Brands have a massive opportunity to shift their thinking to be successful in a world with more questions, less agents, and new remote work environments. We need a radical change in thinking — to be digital first; accessible on digital channels, optimizing our digital workforces, and delivering the highest-quality digital experiences.

Enter digital customer care, which consolidates all the touchpoints consumers use to engage with brands into a single platform. Social media, mobile messaging, web chat, online communities, review hubs, in-app messaging — the right digital care platform puts them all in one easy-to-use dashboard.

Agents and supervisors must be equipped with smarter AI-powered tools, enabling them to better respond to higher volumes of customer inquiries. Those inquiries and complaints aren’t slowing down during the pandemic — particularly for financial institutions — as stress and anxiety levels are incredibly high.

Digital care impacts companies financially and operationally. It increases customer spend by 2%, agent efficiency by 30%, and operational efficiency (via bots and automation) by 26%. As we prepare for the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, here’s how AI-powered digital customer service can benefit your company.

Reduce impact of volume spikes or labor shortages

Agents handling conversations in non-session-based channels can manage five to ten conversations concurrently, while session-based phone and chat agents are stuck on one conversation until it’s done.

Think of times you’ve talked to a customer service rep on the phone and asked a simple question, but were still put on hold as they found the answer. With prioritization and queue management tools in place, asynchronous channels like web chat, Facebook Messenger, or Google’s Business Messages allow agents to respond to the most urgent conversations and low-effort resolution opportunities first. Meanwhile, they can spend time diving into the more complex inquiries without putting customers on hold.

For example, if you message a retailer asking to return an item even though the return window has passed, an agent may need to tap a colleague or look up a policy. On the phone, you’re going on hold. With asynchronous messaging, the agent can answer other customer inquiries while getting the correct answer to yours. And because you’re texting, waiting is a far less painful experience. You can go about the rest of your day, without a phone glued to your ear.

AI and automation can protect your contact center from capacity strain and outage threats. Smart digital care tools use AI-powered workflows to listen, filter, categorize, and route incoming conversations to the best place that will solve their inquiry — a bot, human agent, or self-service resource. 

Sometimes, it’s a combination of all three. Agent-facing bots monitor a conversation, then recommend the best action for an agent, which could include a quick bot-driven process, like collecting payment information, or a link to self-service resources, like how to reset and troubleshoot your router.

Chatbots can’t fully replace humans during a disaster, but they can dramatically increase support operations efficiency and act as a malleable first line of defense in tough situations. On average, Khoros Bot can contain 24% of a brand’s customer, while specialist bots — like password reset bots, order status bots, and update payment info bots — resolve upwards of 90% of inquiries without ever requiring human agents.

Put simply, customer-facing chatbots are the most valuable AI tool in any contact center’s business continuity management system.

More durable and redundant systems

Comparatively, digital care systems are harder to disrupt than traditional on-premise contact centers. Physicality and centralization are risky for business systems, especially in a pandemic. Legacy contact centers have plenty of both characteristics.

During the pandemic, we’ve felt a strain on operations. You’ve likely been dealing with stressed colleagues, overtaxed platforms, and a host of other obstacles. These challenges don’t even account for other risks for physical systems, like natural disaster or theft. 

Digital and decentralized systems have unique risks and quirks, but from a business continuity perspective, they’re a much better option. These systems win in the major criteria: risk, recovery, testability, and documentation. 

Reduce service interruption impacts

If a customer care system goes down, each unanswered or long call creates a frustrated customer. Reduce this frustration with non-session-based, asynchronous messaging channels, like WhatsApp, Google’s Business Messages, or Facebook Messenger.

Nearly two-thirds of social media users expect brands to respond to their messages, whether the initial outreach was public or private. About half those users expect a response within three hours.

These stats reinforce that customer satisfaction largely depends on the speediness and effectiveness of an interaction. With the proper channels set up to respond in times of outages, you’re more likely to retain customers. 

Boost operational resilience

Brands can make agile changes to respond in real-time when managing all channels from a consolidated dashboard. If system outages or volume spikes threaten phone operations, interactive voice response (IVR) deflection helps shift volume from an overwhelmed channel (the phone) into more efficient messaging channels, like text messaging.

You can also use a digital care solution to update IVR messages to reflect the current situation for a deflection. Welcome messages specific to the pandemic can set up a chatbot introduction to acknowledge high call volume and offer solutions for customers — FAQ replies or opportunities to transfer the conversation to other channels, like SMS, WhatsApp, or an online brand community. Being honest and setting the right expectations helps customers empathize with your brand’s challenges, and earns you some grace in how much longer wait times or effort level affects customer satisfaction. 

Speed up recovery timelines

Consolidated digital care platforms can also help identify threats to business continuity unrelated to customer service operations. Top platforms will let you customize the type of “fire alarm” to pull once volume hits certain thresholds.

There are thousands of potential causes for big volume spikes. For example, imagine an airline dragging a customer out of their seat, with video of that incident trending on Twitter. Or a retail store successfully runs a “too good to be true” Black Friday campaign, driving tons of Instagram and web chat inquiries.

The ability for contact centers to detect changes in volume and novel customer inquiries offers a powerful, early alert system to other areas of the business.

The pandemic has made clear what smart leaders were already figuring out: digital-first customer service should be a cornerstone of business continuity plans. 

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