A Crash Course in Survival: What We Learned from Lockdown

May 22, 20207min

The global pandemic has forced businesses to quickly implement new working practices and customer communication approaches.

Although we’re all hoping to go back to normal as soon as possible, the old normal may not apply any more: Covid-19 is unlikely to be an isolated incident.

Businesses must prepare for further lockdowns and future pandemics – and for other situations that will demand operational resilience and agility. Organisations that have adopted remote working tools and found methods of managing employees, forced to work from home, will find that these stand them in good stead for the future.

Even more crucial will be the ability to ensure excellent customer service in these restricted working conditions.

Maintaining positive customer experiences

At the start of the lockdown in particular, many businesses received extremely high volumes of customer calls and emails. Keeping on top of customer contact, often in multiple languages, has been a challenge even without the need to move call centre agents into a WFH (working from home) model.

While customers have shown a degree of patience and understanding with regard to delayed orders or cancelled bookings due to this crisis, they still expect satisfying and timely online responses from brands, as a recent US retail sector survey reveals: “Virtually all shoppers are willing to give retailers more time to deliver items (94 percent)” but “70 percent say they are less likely to shop with a retailer again if they are not informed in advance of a delay”.

Maintaining relationships with customers by communicating with them on a personal level is key to retaining business as we come out of this crisis.

Tools for scalability

Automation and AI translation allow businesses to keep on top of increased volumes of contact, but for those that were unprepared for business continuity, dealing with third-party vendors and hardware/software issues has been problematic.

One of Unbabel’s clients in the gaming sector had to onboard an additional WFH vendor as their existing provider could not handle the increase in customer enquiries. As per the humorous memes, people at home and isolated are playing more video games and support demand is going way up for this company: at the beginning of February the business had 4000 tickets (customer – service operative interactions) per day. Now that figure is up to 9500 tickets per day and counting.

The gaming company also had to recruit and train a significant number of new customer support agents. With customer enquiries coming in many different languages, Unbabel’s AI-human translation enables these new operatives to real-time, authenticated responses to a customer in their own language.

Motivating homeworkers

Even for remote-friendly businesses with the systems and processes to support WFH, this has been the first time entire organisations are working from home at the same time. Customer service agents are typically office-based and the person who fulfills that role generally differs demographically from someone who chooses to work at home. Many workers are missing the workplace as somewhere they can make friends, have lunch together, and share harmless gossip.

Regular and open communication from the organisation’s leaders to employees is vital. It is important to recognise the current challenges employees are facing, such as entertaining children at home or balancing supporting their online schooling schedule against business meetings and focused working time.

Employers can help by providing tips on how to balance work and home life, by offering more flexible working times and by finding ways to keep teams connected even when they’re not sharing the same physical space, such as regular online social hangouts during the working week.

When everyone is working remotely the focus needs to move from time spent to output. This means managers need to assign clear deliverables and outputs and accept asynchronous communication and workflows.

At the same time, regular and frequent communication with remote teams is paramount to ensure independent but coordinated work.

Planning for the unknown

The ability to adapt to new ways of working is all about operational resilience and businesses need to build this into their customer experience – ensuring business continuity with agile operating models that can adapt fast to new contexts. A good place to start is to reduce the risk your operations are exposed to so you can adapt quickly to different social and economic environments. When companies are less dependent on and tied to providers, locations or technology, for example, they are freer to adapt.

This “forced” agility is here to stay. The new processes and tools that we have adopted, as a result of this crisis will serve us well as we finally move out of lockdown.


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Sophie Vu

Sophie Vu

Sophie Vu is Chief Marketing Officer at Unbabel.

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