Customer experienceDigital engagement

Customer experience in the time of Coronavirus aka COVID-19

At last count, more than 247K persons had been infected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in 172 out of 195 countries worldwide. More than 10,000 have already died from complications arising from it. (Source for live data: ncov2019.live/data)

The novel coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on people’s physical as well as economic wellbeing. While businesses may or may not be people, there is no question they are also being impacted. The one thing they can ill-afford to mess up in this difficult environment is their customer experience (CX).

Here are four things companies can do to sustain and even improve CX in the face of the coronavirus threat.

1. Double down on digital

People are being advised to stay out of public places. Consumers are themselves less inclined to go to public places, including retail stores and banks, to avoid getting infected. The answer here is to accelerate your digital customer service and engagement strategy, whether it involves messaging, chat, cobrowsing, email, social, or self-service.

Design common customer journeys with a digital-first mindset. For instance, your customer should be able to converse with a chatbot, escalate to human-assisted chat with all the context intact, video-chat and cobrowse with an agent on the other side to find his or her way around a website, fill out forms collaboratively, and complete a transaction such as a loan application, without ever having to go a branch.

A typically multichannel customer journey of a busy mom

Hospitals and healthcare clinics are looking to avoid unwarranted visits by the “worried well,” so that patients with a real infection may get the care they need. One of the ways to get the worried well to stay at home is to provide them virtual care through technologies such as chatbot, text chat, and video chat, where the initial screening can even be conducted by the chatbot.

If yours is a financial services firm, financial advice and even ongoing coaching about improving one’s FICO credit score or paying off student loans should be offered at scale by an automated banker bot rather than by forcing the consumer to visit the branch office.

Use a banker bot on the website to advise prospects during the covid-19 crisis
A virtual assistant “banker bot” advising a prospect

A leading tax prep organization, one of our key clients, has been doing it already—helping taxpayers at scale with a chatbot-fronted, omnichannel digital service and sales process, that includes human-assisted chat (text and video) and cobrowse. In a way, they had inoculated themselves against the coronavirus more than a year ago!

2. Leverage the gig economy

Some of your agents might be sick with the COVID-19 virus, some may be worried about getting infected, especially in crowded call centers, some may even quit. So, you need to leverage the gig economy to fill the people gap in customer service.

Finding these agents is hard enough in today’s tight labor market. Then once you hire them, you need to onboard and train them, a tough ask since remote onboarding and training is much harder for both the business and the employee. Moreover, millennial and Gen Z workers have short attention spans and hate to sit in training classes, and this was before the pandemic even set in!

The answer? Conversational guidance with AI and knowledge. Take these seasonal, freelance agents step by step through customer conversations, telling them what to say and do in a way that is compliant with best practices and industry regulations. That way, all agents, in-house or gig or completely outsourced, can be as good as your best agent.

3. Deploy virtual assistants

The last I checked, virtual assistants aka chatbots were still immune to the coronavirus or anything else! Implemented right, they can provide engaging CX while helping the business deflect calls and drive down the need for human agents. But, many virtual assistants are not delivering on the promise. In fact, Forrester is promising a backlash on chatbots this year. Comments such as “My service provider’s virtual assistant is actually a virtual idiot” are common in social media.

Reasons why chatbots or virtual assistants may fail during the coronavirus crisis
Hurdles to an effective customer service chatbot

How do you get it right?

  • Power the bot with natural language understanding and machine learning to better understand customer intent and start the right conversation, reasoning technology to guide the conversation, knowledge base to provide answers, and analytics to optimize its performance over time.
  • Make sure you don’t create yet another customer engagement silo with your chatbot. Your virtual assistance initiative should be an integral part of an omnichannel customer engagement strategy. Go with an omnichannel solution partner with deep digital capabilities and stay away from point product vendors.
  • As you automate the handling of routine customer queries, transition your human agents to higher value-add activities such as sales. Empowering them with conversational guidance will help facilitate and even accelerate that transition.

4. Deliver proactive service

Proactive notifications are a great way to provide timely, convenient, and memorable customer service, while reducing the need for human-assisted service. Proactive notifications are especially valuable in a crisis situation such as the coronavirus when consumer panic can result in a flood of incoming phone calls. Make sure your notifications are omnichannel so that customers get them where they “live,” whether it is messaging, email, voice, or other channels. Your notifications should also be consistent across channels, powered by a common, omnichannel AI and knowledge engine. While notifications preempt the need for service and reduce incoming contact center traffic, serving up proactive and contextual content at the right time when a customer is on your website or app can also help reduce the need for human-assisted service.

 

When implemented, these strategies will not only protect you from today’s novel conV COVID-19 pandemic but also futureproof your business from tomorrow’s disruptions and market megatrends.

Updated the COVID-19 data in the first paragraph on March 20, 2020.