COVID No Excuse: How to Prevent Customer Service Complaints

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Customer service complaints are at their highest level since 2009 according to The Institute of Customer Service. Its study of 10,000 people found a quarter of consumers felt Covid has been used by companies to justify poor service.

And businesses are rightly concerned. Poor customer service can make headlines, negatively impacting a company’s image. Take First Direct, now in danger of losing its customer-service crown because it’s struggling to get a grip on call wait times. Or The Telegraph article revealing the worst firms for handling complaints during Covid.  

What customers think about the way you manage complaints, matters. According to a recent report, 36% of consumers share their customer service experience with others, whether good or bad. Furthermore, 50% of customers say they would switch to a new brand after just one bad experience.  

But there’s good news too. Get customer service right and 78% of consumers will do business with you again, even after a mistake. And businesses that retain customers can see profits increase by 25% to 95%.  

But how do organisations move the dial on customer service when, despite the ‘return to normal’ on July 19, Covid related business challenges remain? 

CX operations and infrastructure: fault lines exposed 

During the pandemic, social distancing meant contact centres were not operating at full capacity and fewer agents were available to answer difficult calls. Compounding this, adapting to remote working proved to be a barrier for many companies. Not all IT systems are designed for home working, and even when they are, further complications remain, such as ensuring customer confidentiality.  

With the pandemic exposing fault lines in CX infrastructure and causing immediate problems in CX operations, companies rightfully responded with short-term working from home fixes, but these were not enough for two reasons. Firstly, they presented security and reliability concernsSecondly, customers were making demands for digital communication that most companies were ill-equipped to respond to rapidly. 

Home improvements: adopting a robust distributed operating model 

The best way to overcome these challenges is to get your IT systems on the cloud. This way agents can work from anywhere – addressing the capacity issue and minimising future disruption. We need only look at the impact the ‘pingdemic’ has had on businesses following 600,000 people being told to self-isolate to see why a full return to the call centre is unlikely to happen overnight.  

Having your CX infrastructure on the cloud also means you can deploy new components quicker and easier, providing you with the ongoing agility required to meet customer service expectations in an ever-changing landscape. While it is possible to run a distributed operating model with CX infrastructure that is not on the cloud, it’s more cumbersome. VPN technology is slower and more costly to set up, and deploying security solutions is likewise harder and slower. 

Complementing infrastructure, you also need to have a management process in place to support agents working remotely. Ensuring project management and collaborative tools are available, as well as a detailed training programme, to as a few examples. 

Infrastructure in place, you’re now in a position to start understanding changing customer attitudes and behaviour, meet expectations and deliver outstanding CX. To do this, businesses need to digitally empower their contact centres by taking advantage of the technology available to improve customer service and retention.  

The full mix: catching-up on digital channels 

A successful full channel mix means offering customers the channel of their choice to communicate, while also nudging them. Secondly, it’s about using technology to handle routine, transactional tasks, freeing up agents to handle more complex enquiries. Thirdly, and looking to the future, it means ushering in next wave technologies to offer asynchronous chat, such as WhatsApp, allowing customers to pick up and set down conversations at their convenience.  

As an example, we worked with a business that had already introduced chat and email support but found many customers were still calling for routine requests out of habit. Following analysis of all inbound calls on the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to identify customers suitable for digital deflection – for example, password resets and account balance requests – the IVR was reworked. The identified customers were subsequently given the option to interact using SMS or Facebook Messenger.  

The result was 30% of calls on IVR were diverted – giving agents more time to focus on customers requiring empathy, support and a human touch.   

Remembering the human aspect: CX strategy and commercial policies  

But it’s not just being able to speak to someone that matters to customers. According to a McKinsey study, 70% of the customer’s journey is based on how they feel they are being treated. Customer interactions that feel transactional can come across as cold leading to customer attrition. And this can happen inadvertently, for example, your existing approach to customer support may be to focus primarily on solving customer problems as quickly as possible. While prioritising speed of service is not negative in itself, it can lead to rushed conversations making customers feel like another number.  

For businesses facing these predicaments, today’s contact centre technology can provide a CX strategy and commercial policy that identifies different customer personas to develop a personalised support strategy for each one. Developing personas based on customer data means businesses can tailor how they use different channels and train agents on the different practices that will best meet the needs of different groups. The new approach emphasises the emotional aspect of customer support and outlines a set of operational practices that better reflects the business’ image.    

There are other approaches for improving customer service and acquisition that service tech can unlock, such as automation to support agents and revenue protection processes to win back customers. Consideration should also be given to factors such as making agents more productive and increasing self-service, one example being better cross-selling. Technology can also assist agents via support through AI- and RPA-based virtual advice bots to help handle interactions better. 

CX for an emerging landscape 

In an emerging customer landscape where expectation is high and leniency is low, it’s clear the old ways of customer service no longer cut it and can be damaging to a business when mishandledFor organisations at the start of their journey to meeting elevated customer expectations, a near term success may lie in getting a vision and strategy in place and, critically, a practical roadmap to get there.  

For long term CX and business successorganisations need to avoid looking for excuses and focus on improving all aspects of their customer service. Here, investing in service technology and harnessing it to better understand what customers want to consistently deliver against expectations, will be pivotal in the new customer landscape. 

This article is written by Ashish Bisaria, EVP, Customer Experience at Firstsource and was first published in CXToday.

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