We may be seeing light at the end of the tunnel that is the coronavirus pandemic, or maybe we’re still just hitting the half-way point. No one knows, opinion is divided from country to country and state to state, and new information seems to change our prediction models on an hourly basis. There is little certainty in anything — work and life — as a result.
What we can say for sure is that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life and human interactions in more ways than one. In addition to rearranging how we view social cohesion, the virus will likely forever redefine how brands interact with their customers — and what they do now is likely to have repercussions for a long time to come.
What can brands do to ensure they’re not losing touch with their client base?
It’s true that many people are now suddenly spending more time on messaging and video-conferencing platforms. In their attempt to stay in touch with the rest of the world, be it their close family or co-workers or casual acquaintances, it’s almost certain that most people are resorting to social media more than they have typically. We’re all trying to find new ways to socialize from the confines of our homes — which, for the lucky ones, are also now our workplaces.
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Where Are Your Customers Interacting with the World?
For brands, the challenge is to continue being where their customers are.
For a brand to be able to transition to a new way of doing business during these highly unusual times, it needs to be able to take its mission-critical: to transition its capacity in such a way as to handle customer interactions as business as usual.
The specific methods to establish may differ from one organization to the next, but what will define success regardless of the brand’s positioning in the marketplace is its ability to have latitude in handling interactions with customers during these trying times with immediacy all while still maintaining their service-level agreements.
Brands can make their own choices: even if you don’t want to bring voice communications to home agents, for example, being able to still service your customers from the web and through digital channels, and notifying them that you have these resources and are able to answer their questions on those specific channels, will still achieve that overarching objective.
But while it may appear that brands all of a sudden need to restructure their teams or redeploy resources onto channels that they typically wouldn’t be handling, the specific methods essentially don’t really matter. At the end of the day, digital interactions or voice interactions are as easy to do remotely or from work from home situations as they are from an office, for example.
Where organizations will certainly need to bring their complete focus to is the wider concern — but this can be handled through a checklist.
How Are You Making Sure You’re Prepared?
What’s your contingency plan? What’s your business continuity plan? How and which agents can go and work from home and make voice calls? What kinds of voice calls are there?
From there, the path to successfully communicating with customers even in this uncertain environment becomes clearer. In a structured environment — not the environment we’re all living in today, where we’re forced to work from home — an organization will determine what its staff is good at it, be it answering calls or handling real-time digital interactions and assign them to those tasks, as well as identify the agents who can handle everything in between too. After that, it’s a question of segmentation and shifting around of resources to be able to handle everything in as real-time as possible.
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In Times of Crisis, Go Back to the Basics
Brands that are wondering how to handle this unprecedented situation when it comes to customer service need only remember the old adage: consumers want to interact with brands in the mode of communication that’s most appropriate for them.
It’s that simple.
In the current environment, for example, we know that consumers are looking at food delivery options, for example. Brands in the sector will need to interact with consumers in the mobile applications they provide, through in-app messaging. But since any issues with any food delivery are likely to be specific to the service, and assuming it’s one that the consumers want to continue using, they likely won’t think twice about opening a brand-specific app to resolve their issue, so a brand should have customer service options there as well.
Likewise, a lot of people during the lockdowns are looking for information about grocery stores and their hours, since that’s all changing. They’re going to Google that information or look it up on the brand’s website, so the interaction on chat is going to be important.
Wherever your customers are looking for you, and where there’s a need for them to interact with you — if it’s looking for store hours, if it’s a crisis situation if it’s making an appointment, if it’s finding out when things are going to reopen — you want to interact with them right then and there.
And the digital component allows you to do that without a phone call.
A Glimpse Into What’s Ahead
What happens over the next few weeks or months, during this time of extreme stress on brands, their teams, and their customers, will have long-term repercussions. Organizations that are now learning that they don’t have a collaboration and communications environment that can handle these contingencies appropriately are going to later ask why they didn’t have a plan in place — and who’s going to own that mistake.
And they’ll likely conclude that they weren’t using the right vendors.
Organizations are going to really look, holistically, at the tools that they have for all their employees to work remotely, down to the details of remote access and security. All of those aspects of remote work are going to come into question.
While brands are trying to take care of their teams and their customers in this time of crisis, they shouldn’t neglect thinking of how their current methods reflect on their long-term trajectory. And they have to look at it from several angles, taking into account the users, the agents and employees, the business decision-maker and the technical decision-maker.
Organizations should be asking, even now: “How can we get ahead of this next time?”
Originally published Apr 15, 2020, updated Jan 30, 2023