Customer Service

Voice-based contact centers come alive amidst the COVID-19 pandemic crisis

The debate over the relevance of voice-based contact centers in the era of rapidly growing technology, is never ending. However, the lockdown situation arising out of COVID-19 pandemic has put some of those concerns about technology replacing human touch, to rest.

As the COVID-19 pandemic ravages economies around the globe, customer service centers have witnessed an unprecedented increase in overall volume of calls from disgruntled consumers. Airlines and hotel chains, for instance, saw a barrage of calls from travelers after flights and hotel bookings were cancelled in mass post the lockdown announcement. Most users preferred to bypass the AI-powered frontend chat tools to talk to human agents, despite waiting period stretching several hours. Banks and credit card companies have also seen longer-than-usual hold times.

Simply put, the pandemic situation has put the contact center industry back on the essential services list. It is not just driven by a surge in call volume or due to closure of walk-in centers or stores, but by the need to empathize with the users, which in turn is essential for the survival of a business. This, to me, is not the time to aggressively push customers to self-service. Rather, it is the best time for businesses, especially the consumer-facing ones, to increase customer stickiness by empathizing with their users with customized conversations and by proactively reaching out to them. Human agents at contact centers, thus play an important role.

The pandemic has given us ample evidence that technology can be an enabler for human agents, at best, to help them address customer queries more efficiently. AI and Machine Learning alone cannot solve the purpose, especially when it comes to consumer facing businesses. In these difficult times, consumers feel more at ease when they get to speak to a human on the other end.

The question that now arises is how do we balance between answering unprecedented call volumes, while also addressing the piling up queries from customers waiting in the line?

Here are a few of my suggestions:

White glove customer support through video:

Based on my interactions with various industry experts, video-based customer service support will be the future channel of support as work-from-home and digital way of working increasingly becomes an integral part of our lifestyle. Video resumes and video messages from CEOs to users, had already started to make the rounds before the lockdown. If those multiple webinars are any indication, the use of videos for personalized conversations will heighten in the coming days.

Relevant Training:

Swift agent onboarding and training is as essential as the technology backup. Infosys Lex, for example, ingests recorded historical customer interactions and creates customized training modules to cut down on training time. Creating new training modules based on the unique requirements of current times is crucial for effective communication with the users. Agents must be trained not only on framework and rules, but also on ways to impact empathy.

Chatbots for agents:

We have a heard a lot about chatbots, but we have never thought from a prospective of leveraging those to assist agents on the call or to train them. Chatbots can be a huge enabler for customer agents to address queries more effectively. Surely, chatbots can be trained to navigate through knowledge articles while the agent is on call to pull out relevant answers on company policy, refunds, changes in service, and so on.

New Normal infrastructure:

Definitely, technology can be plugged-in to fill the gaps that human agents aren’t able to address. Businesses are increasingly looking for solutions that will allow them to address consumer queries in real-time, while also ensuring safety of their employees through social distancing measures. There are several tools in the market to support the traditional contact centers during this crisis. Enterprise-grade cloud contact center platforms can help businesses to carry out their continuity plans by quickly shifting their agents to a work-from-home set-up and allowing them to productively serve customers remotely.

Distributed locations:

Flexibility in changing the physical location of contact centers is another essential continuity planning model that can come handy in times of crisis. Multi-shore approach to contact center operations in order to mitigate risk in the times of crisis will be one of the biggest trends in the coming days, I feel. I foresee 30% of agents working from home on a permanent basis, going forward.

Preempt queries using analytics:

To achieve the above, culling out intelligence from customer interactions with human agents over all channels is essential. Analytics can help managers preempt incoming queries and distribute them across channels of communication to take off the load on incoming calls. A lot of potentially valuable nuances can be extracted through transcripts of phone calls or through powerful neural network techniques. It will help in detecting niche patterns hidden in large stacks of unstructured data. These technical benefits can accumulate in improved customer service.

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