Yearning for Human Engagement: Customer Service in The Next Normal

September 2, 20205min

Human interaction is critical to our wellbeing, which is why many of us struggled with the COVID-19 lockdown. As Nicholas Christakis at Yale put it “The world called on us to suppress our profoundly human and evolutionarily hard-wired impulses for connection: seeing our friends and getting together in groups.” This is why we saw a dramatic rise in the use of apps like Zoom and HouseParty as we found different ways to interact with our friends, family and colleagues.

This yearning for human engagement is driving an important shift for customer service teams. Customer experience can no longer be formulaic: it must be driven by empathy, connection and the desire to resolve problems actively. And these changes need to be implemented whilst large parts of the workforce are still working remotely. So how will businesses navigate this change?

Balancing empathy and efficiency

Even before lockdown, positive human interaction sat at the heart of good customer service. Consumers were seeking a personalised experience. In fact, research from Microsoft found 72 percent of customers wanted customer services teams to know who they are and what they had previously purchased. However, personalisation alone is not enough; nearly a third (30 percent) of consumers expected customer services agents to be knowledgeable and friendly. Failure to deliver this positive experience can negatively impact Net Promoter Score (NPS) and see customers turning to the competition.

This need for personalised, human engagement has increased as we ease out of lockdown. For businesses, this means a delicate balancing act between empathy and efficiency. Every organisation is looking to streamline operations; ultimately, the goal is to have agents deal with more enquiries whilst delivering a higher ratio of positive outcomes. However, an efficient customer service capability that also provides a sensitive, empathetic experience is not as counterintuitive as you may think. Enter technology and upskilling.

Human plus digital

To deliver a customer experience that is fit for these unsettling times, agents will need to be driven by empathy and the resolve to solve customers problems proactively. This is where technology has a critical role to play as an enabler to your team. By taking away administrative tasks and equipping customer service teams with data-driven insight, it will be easier for agents to have positive, empathetic conversations whilst speedily resolving issues.

Just as important as elevating human interactions is identifying the areas that are ripe for automation. There are many low-lift, non-strategic engagements where a digital solution can deliver better results. Enterprises should review the customer journey and identify where there is a role for automated systems such as chatbots, which consumers are increasingly willing to engage with. Research has found 30 percent of consumers rate chatbot interactions as “very effective” when dealing with their queries. Implemented in the right way, these systems can quickly resolve simple issues while freeing up agents to focus on more complex issues where human interaction is essential.

Finally, customer service staff have also been impacted by lockdown. Many are working remotely and need support and upskilling to help them reshape customer experience for the current climate. One UK media company provides a great best practice example here. Remote teams were supported with digital training around products, processes and compliance. This was supplemented with in-depth training assessments, train-the-trainer initiatives. The result was more positive customer interactions across the board; NPS rose by 4.5 while productivity grew by 10 percent.

Get the right guide

Given the unprecedented disruption that businesses have faced over recent months, the task of revamping customer experience may seem daunting. Taking a digital-first approach that supports staff and customers alike makes it possible to drive change fast, effectively and affordably.  Service providers and technology partners can act here as experienced guides for businesses embarking on this journey.

No one can be certain about what will happen next. However, making the right decisions now, organisations can ensure they are ready to surprise and delight customers in the next normal.


Sundara Sukavanam

Sundara Sukavanam

Sundara Sukavanam is Chief Digital Officer at Firstsource.




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