Guest Blogger

By Andy Wilkins, Co-Founder and CEO, Futr

Different seasons bring different challenges. In retail, the changing of the months means new demands from customers, while in healthcare, certain emergencies will be more prevalent at certain times of the year than during others. Look at winter, for example. There’s an increase in seasonal colds and flus putting pressure on existing services; at a retail level, there’s meeting the demand of the Christmas season, vital in covering the inevitable January slump.

These pressures have only increased in the wake of the pandemic. From supply chain disruptions to potential COVID-related restrictions, coupled with the inevitable spike in non-pandemic illness, many businesses will be stretched to their limits.  Within those, customer service organisations are likely to be handling the full force of buyer displeasure and frustration, whether they’re dealing with other companies or consumers.

The need for change

Of course, there will be those that already have the teams, processes, and technology in place to cope with whatever comes their way. From completed digital transformation programmes to the integration of cutting-edge tools, they will have future-proofed their customer experience offerings.

That won’t be the case for everyone, of course. Many will be hoping that everything returns to normal, that they don’t need to be proactive and that they will get through the rest of the year unscathed.

Unfortunately, those that want to follow this path are in for a rude awakening. It’s been repeated ad nauseum, but what counts as normal has changed. What does that mean from a CX perspective? It means that teams need to get used to handling disruption as a part of everyday life, all while managing increasingly complex demands, expectations and communication channels.

Looking at this another way: without change, your agents won’t be able to do all that and still provide a quality service. They – and you – will struggle.

The three steps to experience success

To avoid this, there are three things retailers need to think about.

First, their mantra needs to become access, access, access. Customers want access when it suits, where it suits, in the language of their choice and on the web, chat or social channel that suits. With so many challenges in all walks of life, making access as easy as possible is a no-brainer. It has to be the default position in the post-pandemic world.

Second, silos need to be broken down. Most retailers are stuck with legacy IT systems that have all the agility as a super tanker. Adopting cutting edge solutions, like conversation-as-a-service platforms which overlay legacy and new systems, is the only way to transform those siloed data behemoths into intraoperative gold mines of data and operational efficiencies.

Finally, triaging customer problems needs to get smart. Automation is amazing in so many ways, but it’s not a silver bullet. 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. Retailers need to be clear that they should automate where they can while having the ability to triage through to their vital human teams where appropriate.

The augmented, not replaced, agent

There’s one final step: no downsizing, right-sizing or reducing customer service teams. Technology should be used to supercharge, not replace, CX functions. Automation is important, but only when used to augment human agents, backing them up with multilingual live chat (ours supports over 100 languages), sentiment analysis and service delivery on web, chat and social channels.

The tools that will have the greatest impact are the ones that deliver choice to the customer. The baseline of customer satisfaction is being shifted by conversation-as-a-service platforms that convert existing processes and workflows into supercharged versions of themselves. This doesn’t mean significant upfront capital investment, either; many of these platforms are available as off-the-shelf software-as-a-service solutions. SaaS solutions can offer almost immediate transformation and tracked usage analytics to evidence fast return on investment.

Turning a winter of discontent into one of success

Any business that has achieved a degree of success over the last 18 months owes its customer service teams a debt. That shouldn’t mean they can be expected to continue to perform at that level without any change or additional support – any business that fails to focus on customer experience as we head into winter is unlikely to see much in the way of success, only discontent. Those that succeed will be the ones that have focused on augmenting their teams with the right digital tools to meet the demands of the current marketplace, delivering a consistently impressive service.

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