BPO Insights: The changing face of customer service in a post pandemic economy
Opinion by Clinton Cohen, CEO of iContact
South Africa’s BPO sector has gained credibility and worldwide recognition for its ability to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining business continuity and client service, while safeguarding employee health. This has been achieved under tremendous stress as service teams experienced meteoric increases in customer service support queries amidst the chaos and confusion of the pandemic.
Interestingly, while consumers may understand that these are trying times, it has not offered brands much relief in terms of customer expectations. In fact, Customer Service teams face heightened and unrelenting pressure in 2021 as customer expectations have been radically and permanently altered by the pandemic experience.
While pandemic risks don’t occur often, when they do the impact and domino effect is severe. COVID-19 provides a model that we should draw upon and drill test to reduce the impact of such events in future, preparing appropriately for the disruptive nature thereof in terms of operations, supply chains, IT systems and the most fundamental aspect of business recovery – customer service.
Insights on the impact that the pandemic has had on how and when customer service is delivered, and what this means for overall customer experience:
- While initially challenging in the early stages due to the radically changed operational and connectivity requirements, much refinement has gone into providing the tools and support for hybrid – remote and in-office – working models, that allow companies to pivot in either direction in line with their circumstances and those of the customers they serve. While the initial work-from home movement was a necessity at the time, the hybrid working models of tomorrow are an opportunity to achieve greater innovation and productivity levels by being flexible, digital and responsive to the needs of customers and service team members.
- There have been major shifts in customer expectations driven by the instant gratification that comes with digitisation. Consumers increasingly expect immediate responses so the importance of managing their expectations is vital – whether that contact is through e-mail, whatsapp, chatbots, AI or a service agent.
- Offering multichannel, AI-driven client service platforms is essential, but not a replacement for a service agent. Chatbots, whatsapp, live chat/webchat and other self-service platforms have been invaluable in providing scale and resolving simple service queries to reduce volumes, however, they are not an effective replacement for human engagement on complex queries.
- The proliferation of multichannel self-service options also had unintended consequences, with meteoric increases in duplicate customer support logs across multiple service channels. BPO providers will need to be clear about managing customer expectations in terms of response times and deploy sophisticated analytics capabilities to deduplicate multiple logs and avoid wastage of efforts and resources.
- Customers will say goodbye faster in 2021 as their expectations rise exponentially. With high and rising customer expectations, brands will need to invest heavily into their service support offerings to deliver consistent, timely and professional customer experiences. Real-time data and analytics will be crucial in enhancing overall customer satisfaction.
- Timing of service enquiries has shifted – where these were traditionally early in the day as soon as people got to the office and tapered off in the afternoons, remote working has turned this on its head. We now see service enquiries to our call centre starting much later in the day, presumably after people have sorted out family responsibilities, but they are also extending to much later in the evenings when people have time on their hands. This has implications for agent staffing and availability.
While it’s impossible to predict with certainty what the months ahead will hold, there are certain fundamentals that we must build upon – most notably is that customer service BPO teams will play a fundamental role in helping our clients to recover from the economic and human crisis that has been unleashed by this pandemic. We need to unpack and build upon the important lessons that continue to emerge to build resilient and adaptive business models that safeguard customer experience, even in its most precarious state. We need to carve out not a ‘new normal’, but a ‘new better’ where multichannel customer service is at the centre of business and economic recovery.