The Pandemic Makes Online Customer Support More Important Than Ever
There are few things today that are not impacted by computer technology in some way. Billions of people carry a high-powered computer with them at all times. There is even a condition called nomophobia, which is anxiety caused by being separated from one’s smartphone for a prolonged period. This digital dependence has contributed to the digital transformation that is apparent within customer service at many organizations. But it is not the only factor, at least not directly. The pandemic changed consumer behavior, perhaps irrevocably. In some cases, existing trends were accelerated, and in others, new habits were adopted in response to measures aimed at mitigating the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
The pandemic forced businesses to make strategic and tactical changes in operating and tending to consumer needs. The exact methods vary across industries and customer segments. For example, Marcia Jochem – the owner of Thyme in the Kitchen – focused on helping customers find the right tools for cooking at home more seamlessly and augmented that with a new collection of recipes. Jochem believes that the trend of eating in will become a habit, so her goal is to help customers feel like master chefs in their own homes. She and her team provide unique recipes that are ideal for singles, couples, and families, along with advice on how to make cooking an event in which all can participate. In other words, cooking becomes fun instead of a chore. Jochem has made this information easily accessible through the company’s website and social media channels.
Changing how work is done is hardly limited to the small business environment. Big Tech companies like Twitter told employees that they can work from home permanently if they like. So, when a user contacts Twitter’s customer support team, the agent may well be at home, and the user will never know. The user does not need to know; if the issue is resolved and the customer is made happy, where service was rendered is immaterial. By necessity, several companies have found that working from home has not harmed productivity. In some cases, it has led to an improvement.
The Preference for Online Retail Has Grown
In a recent interview, Jun Li, an associate professor of technology and operations at the University of Michigan, said that the pandemic reinforced existing habits that favor online purchasing:
According to Adobe Analytics, in-store traffic decreased; Black Friday in 2020 set an online sales record of $9 billion, a 22% increase over 2019. A great deal of that activity came from mobile devices; whether shopping from home or the office, consumers and their smartphones were very busy.
The trend away from physical stores and towards online retailers is not new, but it has increased with the restrictions on movement and large crowds. Couple this with the stimulus checks being issued and extended unemployment benefits, contributing to funding for online purchases. More people shopping online more often predictably led to a greater need for reliable online customer service.
Customer Support: It’s More Than Handling Complaints
Watch the classic movie “Office Space,” and it is easy to believe customer service involves the dullest of dull jobs. The work is portrayed as nothing but trying to help irate or irrational customers. There is an element of truth in that, but it barely scratches the surface of all that happens within a contact center. Then again, the following factors would probably make for a less exciting program:
Anyone who visited an e-commerce website is familiar with the chatbox window that frequently pops up to ask a question or offer to help the user. The chatbox itself may be automated, but the person who responds to questions or comments is a real customer service agent whose role is to prevent user confusion and be readily available if assistance is needed.
Customer service often involves a degree of upselling. While the job is not sales, per se, agents are speaking with customers about other products within the company’s catalog that users might find helpful. These one-on-one interactions are made possible by the credibility an agent establishes in resolving the initial question or problem that prompted the customer to make contact. Often, the agent is not engaging in direct sales but rather, giving the customer enough data to make an informed decision. In this manner, a support or service team moves from being a cost center into being a revenue and customer retention center.
Promoting the Customer Experience
The digital world has changed consumer habits about “the experience.” As such, brands and their support teams are charged with delivering ‘wow’ at every opportunity. This only happens with service agents who are empowered to deliver the type of customer satisfaction that leads to customer loyalty. It can mean directing customers to the products they need, answering any questions they might have, or resolving an issue. When contact begins with a customer who is angry and ends with a customer who is thrilled with the brand, that is a success.
Outsourcing Customer Service
Making a choice to outsource customer service can be a difficult decision. It conjures horror stories of indifferent agents or of contact centers filled with people who speak English poorly. But those stories are not the norm, and they can be easily avoided if companies choose outsourcing partners wisely. Today, outsourcing options exist in onshore, offshore, and nearshore environments. Choosing the right partner involves factors such as cost, the availability of the labor force, product or industry familiarity, and the hours of service that would be involved.
Partnering is the key term here, and we mean it in its literal sense. The outsourcing provider must understand your products, your customers, and your business model. The more that the service team knows about the brand, the better agents are equipped to serve as ambassadors. A partner will treat your customers as their customers because, as stated earlier, the user neither knows nor cares if service is done in-house or outsourced, or if the agent works at home vs. on-site. The customer only knows if the agent was professional and whether the interaction was handled successfully.
The pandemic not only altered how customer service online is delivered, it has also increased the demand for it. Again, more people using more digital tools more often will result in more contact with support agents. You worked hard to gain those customers; do not lose them because of poor customer support. When you are ready for ideas on turning service into a retention and revenue center, please contact us to learn how to make that happen.