For Contact Centers Confronting the COVID-19 Crisis, Conversational Service Can Provide Relief

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The world of support has been turned upside down. People everywhere are scrambling to cope with the new reality caused by COVID-19. Families need critical information about healthcare concerns. Newly remote workers require tech support to stay connected. Worried investors are anxious about their portfolios. Companies that have always promised their customers immediate help over the phone are seeing their contact centers overwhelmed and unprepared for these spikes.

In critical times like these, organizations have their plates full of things to be concerned about: employee health, government-mandated shutdowns, costs spiraling out of control, and the need to scale up resources effectively. And at the very heart of these challenges is the need for organizations to balance processing call volume quickly with committing to care for their customers. Sure, it’s tempting to just blow through queues and get through these tough times, but it’s absolutely critical that people get the information they need, when they need it. People are anxious. Nerves are frayed. Lives could be on the line. Organizations need to assuage their fears, understand their concerns, and ensure they get the best experience in this difficult time. There’s a fine line that needs to be navigated between using technology to speed resolution and making sure customers feel they are being heard and that they are a priority. Successfully walking this line relies on an organization’s ability to deliver personalized customer experience.

Conversational Service Automation

Customer service is reliant on conversations in all their forms, including instant messaging, chat, email, and of course traditional voice calls. Given these huge number of conversations, there is an emerging category of capabilities that has the potential to help automate these services: conversational service automation (CSA). Amid many other uses, CSA can essentially help prioritize and route calls appropriately by recognizing a caller’s intent, mood, and sentiment in real time and funnel incoming callers through self-service prompts to get to the right information. These contact center technologies, powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), can help organizations get through these difficult times while improving the customer experience.

Here are five tips you can implement in your contact centers to help get people the information they need, when they need it:

1. Create a COVID-19 hotline.

One of the simplest things you can do is to set up a dedicated hotline to deal with customers calling specifically about Covid-19. This allows you to prioritize calls while ensuring other issues not associated with the pandemic are also addressed appropriately. Setting up a separate hotline also shows customers that you are aware of the extraordinary circumstances and are taking extra steps to address their concerns.

2. Make sure customers feel heard and feel like a priority.

People need to feel heard right now. Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than sitting on hold. Give customers an alternative to resolve their issue themselves with a self-service overflow option. Conversational assistants use natural language processing to accurately identify intent and direct customers to the relevant information they need to resolve their issue without having to wait to talk to a person. Additionally, both when speaking with a digital assistant or a live agent, real-time voice automation powered by AI can pick up on caller sentiment to prioritize uneasy or distressed calls. You can then route these priority callers to automated messages for quick resolution or escalate the calls based on current news and previous interactions with your organization.

3. Support remote work for agents.

With the current environment of companies shutting down their offices and even governments putting entire populations on home confinement, we must address the ability to continue business support through remote agent support. Yes, it can be a difficult transition to make, but those that have already set up these options are seeing the investments pay off in the form off growth and business continuity. As with any major transformation, it is better to take a holistic view and find a solution that meets not only your organizations’ long-term business goals but helps in the short term with things like monitoring agent performance/quality and compliance with government regulations and security.

4. Support non-English speakers.

We’re dealing with a global crisis, and it’s important you’re able to help customers in their native languages—especially when relaying critical information that can save lives. There’s no room for translation errors or anxiety from callers attempting to communicate in their second language. You need to be able to capture sentiment in multiple languages to get everyone the help they need.

5. Offer Proactive and Personalized Engagements.

We’re in this together for the long haul. Already, health experts and world leaders are predicting months of disruptions—if not years. Make sure you provide callers with automated reminders of events or actions they are supposed to take, follow up to ensure resolution, check future needs, and make recommendations for additional actions. Personalizing these interactions with context from previous touchpoints ensures a positive customer experience and builds brand loyalty.

The COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming call centers across the globe. Organizations need to deal with the explosion in call volume quickly while addressing customer concerns appropriately. Conversational service automation can identify customer intent and mood and automatically funnel calls through the appropriate channels. Listening to customers and making them feel like they are being listened to will help ease anxieties and help everyone get the information and service they need to get through this crisis.

Umesh Sachdev is the cofounder and CEO of Uniphore, an early leader in the emerging conversational service automation category.

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