How The Customer Service Experience Will Change Post-COVID
We sat down with customer service expert Shep Hyken to find out how he thinks CS has evolved throughout this pandemic, and what that means for CS teams around the world.
What you’ll learn from this article:
- Customer service agents working from home are frustrated by the isolation that makes it difficult for them to ask colleagues or managers for help.
- If we don’t wrap the right experience around customer service, employees are going to view their job as just a commodity.
- If you have to cut back, do not cut where the customer is going to notice.
- This pandemic has put a magnifying glass on the personalities and emotions of customers. This can be countered with empathy, information, and human connection.
- This pandemic has thrown customer service three to five years into the future and forced customers to adapt to new technologies faster and better than they would have otherwise.
Let’s face it -- the whole world has changed over the last few months. And while all industries have been affected by the global pandemic and all that’s come with it, few have been quite as hard hit as the customer service industry.
Contact centres around the globe have shut their doors and sent their employees home to work remotely -- some without plans to reopen their physical offices...ever. Customer service agents have quickly learned how to take care of customers from their home offices.
Customer behaviour has changed too, of course. Fearful of the unknown, customers are exhibiting higher emotive states than normal, and many are craving the human connection more than ever. They’re also buying things online that they only ever purchased from a physical store in the past. And they’re adapting to new online technologies that they’d previously only dabbled in.
In short, the world of customer service will never be the same as we make our way to the other side of COVID-19. But is that a bad thing? World-renowned Customer Service author, expert and speaker Shep Hyken doesn’t think it is. In fact, according to him, it could just take customer service to the next level, far quicker than we ever anticipated -- with the right approaches.
How so? Read on to find out.
Contact centres close their doors
Hands up if you’ve spoken to a customer service representative lately who’s let you know that they’re working from home? Chances are, you have. It makes sense, of course -- workers around the world have been sent home to work, and contact centres are no different.
“I talked to one company who had 60,000 employees in 62 contact centres around the world, and within one week, they were shut down, and every employee was deployed to mobile, remote-type work. I was so impressed that they could pull that off in one week, and so one of the questions that I asked was, ‘When this is all over, will you go back to the old way?’ And he said, ‘Nope, we’ll be letting people stay home, because it works so well.’
Now, there’s some issues there that I’m concerned with, and that is that employees are used to being able to look over to the person to the right or the left of them and ask for help, or ask a manager to come over. It’s a little more difficult to do in a remote working situation, and I wonder how some of these people are going to be, because we do surveys and they are frustrated.
When they’re isolated at home and working, there’s a percentage of people who will do well, a small percentage that will struggle with it, but what happens is that without the ongoing interaction of human-to-human -- or co-workers -- we now have, basically, commodity employment.
People work at a support centre, and who cares what company they’re working for, as long as they’re working. And I’m concerned that, just as we’re worried that customers are gonna to view are product as simply a commodity if we don’t wrap the right experience around it, employees are going to view their job as a commodity, and the only thing that’s going to get them excited to go somewhere to work is when there’s more money. Usually, it’s management and leadership -- “I love my boss” is more important than an extra dollar or two an hour from a company that’s trying to steal you away.”
But that’s not the only recent change in the customer service world that concerns Shep. He worries, too, about the sacrifices contact centres have been having to make, and offers some sage advice.
Cut back with caution
What happens when consumers can no longer afford to make the same purchases they used to? When the customer stops buying, companies are forced to cut back. It’s inevitable. But there are clever ways to cut back, explains Shep.
“Do not cut where the customer is going to notice. There’s different things that you can do that won’t be as noticeable to the customer.
If you’re going to cut in certain areas, make sure you back up technology. I’ll give you an example: I use two different cable providers. One at home, and one at the office. And the one I had at home was amazing when I had an issue during this time. I’ve never had to wait longer than a minute. Ever.
The one from my business, however, was ridiculous. I waited on hold for over an hour, only to be told that it was after hours, and I had to call a different number. So, why didn’t they invest, with a minimal amount of money in the technology that would say, your hold time is 45 minutes, and you can choose to stay on hold, or we can call you back? That technology has been available for years, and why hasn’t it been adopted in this scenario, with a major company that’s always being called for customer support?
And what happens is, if I were to experience a 30 - 45 minute wait, I would be saying, they cut in a place that’s really noticeable, and all of a sudden, they’ve lost their footing with me. Because I’m going to think, well there’s gotta be other companies out there that do what they do.”
And while passing on key information like how long a hold time will be is a great way to manage customer expectations in spite of cutbacks, it’s also an excellent way to manage heightened emotions, says Shep.
The customer fear factor
One of the most in-your-face shifts during the COVID-19 pandemic has been increased emotions amongst customers. But these emotions are manageable with the right approach, says Shep.
“This pandemic has put a magnifying glass on the personalities of the customers. If they’re frustrated, they’re going to be even more frustrated when they’re put on hold. If they’re the type of person that’s very laid back, they’re probably going to be more forgiving and easier to do business with.”
Also, I think emotions are being triggered that normally wouldn’t get triggered by customers. They have fear — fear of the unknown. And that fear manifests itself sometimes in frustration, but other times in anger. So there has to be a level of empathy that a live support agent can be able to demonstrate when they’re talking to that customer.”
Shep says that beyond empathy, it’s possible to keep the trust and confidence of your customers by providing them with information.
“Information is key. Have you ever been at an airport and the plane’s going to take off in three minutes, but the plane’s not even here yet? Nobody’s made an announcement that the plane is going to be late, but you know it’s going to be late!
When you give somebody information, everything gets better.”
Finally, Shep points to the human connection as another key way to calm your customers’ tempers. He references a recent CGS survey that looked at more than 2,000 customers in the US and UK. The study found that 38 percent of respondents in the US, and 39 percent in the UK, stated that having the chance to speak with a live agent was a “make-or-break” factor to them having a successful customer service experience.
And we’d better get used to these adaptations, Shep says, because it doesn’t look likely things will be going back to how they were...ever.
A new way of doing things
This pandemic has thrown us three to five years into the future, according to Shep. What does that mean for customer service? A lot of exciting things.
“Anytime something bad happens, there are byproducts that come out of it. There’s been an ebb and flow of high anxiety and low anxiety, and we’re getting used to that way of life now. People are going to relax once all this is over because they’ve learned what companies are doing to meet their new demands.
Customers are learning to adapt to a new way. And certain processes are being put in place that may even be better than they were before.
To me, customer service hasn’t changed. The customer has a problem, the customer needs help, has a question, whatever, they reach out to the company, and at the end, they hope to get whatever it is they’ve been looking for.
What has changed is everything in the middle. How the agents go about connecting with the customer. How the companies go about giving information to the customer. The automation, the AI, and the innovation and technology that’s taking place is really amazing.
As we progress through this pandemic, we’ll get better at AI and digital support, and work better with customers. But we have to train our customers to take those digital routes. The good news is that this pandemic forced people into adopting new forms of technology faster and better than they would have otherwise.
This pandemic has been a springboard to give us a better customer service experience in the future.”
As we’ve learned from Shep in this article, customer service teams around the world are undergoing a huge transformation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Emotions are high, and sales are -- for many -- at an all-time low. But one need not look upon this event as an impossible situation. The players who follow Shep’s advice and take advantage of the positives, while managing the negatives, could actually come out of the COVID-19 pandemic better off than before it hit.
Shep Hyken is a customer service and experience expert, award-winning keynote speaker, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. Shep works with companies and organizations that want to create amazing experiences and build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. His articles have been read in hundreds of publications, and he is the author of Moments of Magic®, The Loyal Customer, The Cult of the Customer, The Amazement Revolution, Amaze Every Customer Every Time, Be Amazing or Go Home and The Convenience Revolution.
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