The Pandemic Can’t Subvert Customer-Centricity
The best strategies for delivering customer-centric experiences during and after the COVID-19 pandemic are the same as those prior to the outbreak, according to a report from CCW Digital.
While companies have dealt with culture-shift changes, such as contact center agents working from home, sales and marketing messages being altered to acknowledge the pandemic, and technology issues, customers remain the same, according to Sandy Ko, a senior analyst and conference director at CCW.
During normal times, companies could get by with faking customer-centricity, according to Ko. “They can have all elements of looking customer-centric without necessarily being customer-centric at their core,” Ko says. “But during times of chaos and uncertainty, it is much harder to fake when customers need businesses to go the extra mile and provide empathy and transparency. In this difficult climate, it is important to focus on successfully engaging customers and to continue to engage them in the future, whether during economic turmoil or not.”
Ko cites transparency, the ability to build long-lasting relationships, and empathy as essential elements of customer-centricity.
When denying a customer request, the agent needs to be clear and honest about why, Ko says. “Transparency is an essential tenet of supporting customers and agents during a crisis.”
And as customer-facing employees work from home, disruptions such as dogs barking or babies crying are likely to happen in the background. It’s important to notify customers of the changed environment and policy changes (like stores that are no longer accepting returns of certain items), Ko advises.
Many companies still focus on transactions rather than on relationships, according to Ko. If contact center metrics focus on call handling time and similar efficiency metrics, it is hard to build long-lasting customer relationships that increase loyalty and retention.
“The idea of building relationships rather than processing transactions ultimately means thinking about the longevity of your business,” Ko says. “However, do not mistake relationships for a claim that speed and efficiency are unimportant. With all that customers have going on in today’s world, speed and convenience arguably mean more than they ever have.”
“Businesses need to drive empathy and a more mature workforce now and in the future, when things are back to normal, to be a customer-centric business,” Ko says. “Businesses lacking empathy are struggling at the moment, because without empathy, agents are unable to reassure customers.”
Ko recommends using technology to mine calls for dissatisfaction or churn language and then providing agents with prompts to offer potential relationship-saving offers.
Acknowledging that time is necessary to implement best practices, Ko recommends that businesses update business continuity plans and service agreements, perfect virtual workforces, resolve technology issues, and continue to deliver seamless and effortless customer experiences.
For peak operational readiness and business continuity plans, Ko says companies need to focus on digital service expansion, flexible work-from-home options for agents, and automated customer self-service tools. Service agreements should clearly define expectations if contact center facilities unexpectedly become unusable.
Ko offers three recommendations for working with remote staff:
• Define expectations: Schedule daily supervisor check-ins with remote employees and employ tools to allow agents to connect with each other for support and guidance.
• Maintain the company culture: Use recognition programs and redouble focus on nurturing the company culture and supporting initiatives that promote networking or collaboration at all team levels.
• Leverage the cloud to improve staff skills: Identify cloud-based services for interaction and training, relying on artificial intelligence, automation, and workflow guides to help agents improve their skills and work through unfamiliar customer interactions.
And in the current business climate, there is likely to be a lot that is unfamiliar.