You’ve probably heard industry experts talk about how customers expected more from contact center representatives during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how many of those changes are here to stay. We’ve heard that, too.
But what exactly do they mean?
After all, customers always have had high expectations for the customer service representatives they entrust with their time. That’s why many companies safeguard their customer experience by purposefully designing tiered customer support teams, so even the most complex requests can be quickly resolved.
We needed to know more. So, to find out exactly how customer expectations for customer service teams shifted during COVID-19 and beyond, we surveyed 300 contact center employees in managerial roles across various industries in the U.S. and U.K.
My take: Pre-pandemic, many companies already offered multiple communication channels—phone, email, chat, etc.—to customers needing assistance. That shift already was happening, and, in many cases, those new communication channels already were in place. But customers weren’t necessarily using them.
COVID-19 made everyone stop and look for new ways to squeeze even more productivity out of every minute of their day. So they started to look for the fastest, most efficient way to resolve their issues, and that solution often was a customer service communication channel new to them, like chat or videoconferencing. They finally began experimenting with new communication channels—and they found they liked them. Videoconferencing, by the way, is a great example of a channel massively impacted by the pandemic.
I, for example, usually participated in only 1-2 videoconferences per week before COVID-19 despite working from home for more than a decade. But the remote work situation mandated by the pandemic changed all that. It forced me—and everyone else, it seems—to get so much more comfortable with video conferencing, and to do it fast. Now that so many people use videoconferencing, it’s easy to envision a not-too-distant future where consumers expect—even demand—the option to see, not just hear, the customer service agents assisting them.
My take: Regardless how far apart we might drift, undergoing a collective, widespread experience like a pandemic tends to bring humanity back together. It reignites and refuels the deep empathy innate to all of us. As a result, I believe it also increases the amount of empathy we expect from those we ask to assist us in some way, like customer service agents.
(Interestingly, during the pandemic, I’ve also witnessed more customers having more empathy for customer service agents. Customers are demonstrating more patience and more understanding when faced with delays—often inquiring into the customer service agents’ own mental and emotional well-being!)
My take: Frankly, this finding somewhat surprises me since customers always have had high expectations when it comes to being heard. I suspect the never-before-seen, weird combination of factors we’ve had to deal with over the past 3-4 months—coping with a pandemic, working from home, home schooling our children, etc.—created an emotionally charged environment where exhausted consumers strapped for time can’t spare the extra energy required to repeatedly communicate their needs.
They want a customer service agent who “gets it”—one who can quickly understand the issue and reach a resolution the consumer finds satisfactory.
My take: I believe companies helped create this expectation by forcing customers through a single support channel—like phone or email—during the pandemic in an attempt to easily queue inquiries for on-again/off-again customer service agents working odd hours from different locations. But—since few agents can assume the role of the 10-year veteran rep that can answer nearly any question thrown at him or her—many companies found it difficult to guarantee the more experienced and/or technical resources needed for more complex requests and questions would be available whenever needed.
To meet this expectation, customer support organizations will need to arm all agents with better tools and techniques for triaging the more-complex situations and answering difficult questions on their own whenever possible.
My take: In my experience, brand loyalty can be a weird and finicky thing. But it typically comes down to one question: how good was your last customer service experience with that company?
That means a company is given the opportunity to “reset” brand loyalty every time a consumer interacts with it. The company will either meet/exceed expectations and preserve that brand loyalty until the next interaction with that consumer comes along—or it will fail to meet expectations, losing the brand loyalty until it’s given a chance to regain it.
Want to find out what else we learned from our survey? Download the complete report; “The State of the Contact Center: Embracing the Evolving World of Work ”.