Delivering Exceptional CX in Times of Crisis and Rapid Change

Companies are struggling to keep pace with rapidly changing customer expectations, and it's impacting customer service, experience, and retention.

It's hard to blame companies, though. There was a sudden and fundamental shift in customer needs at the outset of the pandemic that extended beyond what you'd expect in terms of payment deferments or forgiveness. For example, organizations were suddenly inundated with safety questions they had never handled in bulk before, such as: "Am I safe using my finger to sign on the device used to confirm delivery of a package? How often is that device cleaned?"

Further, with our near-term public health and economic future still in flux, it's impossible to predict what's next. And today, most customer service organizations are weighed down by outdated and static customer feedback practices, like post-engagement surveys and manual, random-sample interaction analysis, that make it challenging to uncover critical customer insights.

While the backdrop is daunting, the pressure to deliver exceptional customer experiences is extreme. In fact, PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 32 percent of customers will walk away from a company they love after just one bad experience, and that was before the pandemic. Now more than ever, organizations must evolve, improve, and meet customers where they are, right now. Here are several proven and essential strategies for taking care of customers in times of crisis and rapid change.

Embrace Human Connection and Fast Resolutions.

A recent study by CallMiner found that 63 percent of respondents prefer human customer support over automated and self-service channels, an increase of 11 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels. Similarly, at the outset of the pandemic, 77 percent of those surveyed called customer support despite warnings of long wait times and encouragement from companies to use self-service channels.

What does this tell us? Consumers crave human-to-human interaction in times of crisis.

Many customers are extremely vulnerable right now. They are unemployed, financially challenged, sick, have lost a loved one, or are taking care of a loved one in greater numbers than ever before. They want to be heard and understood and have their issues resolved quickly. This requires companies to prioritize empathy, understanding, and where possible, flexibility. This applies across channels and types of customer interactions, not just within the contact center.

Organizations must immediately focus on equipping contact center agents to connect with customers on a more personal and effective level and resolve issues faster. In our personal lives, few of us are trained experts at responding to vulnerable situations, like job loss or health problems, and we can't expect those representing companies to be either, especially if they don't have the tools they need to make quick, informed decisions. Enabling technologies like speech analytics, artificial intelligence, and natural language processing can play an instrumental role in uncovering vulnerable situations in real time, preparing and empowering agents with guidance on how to respond and be more empathetic, and delivering quick and accurate information to increase the rate of positive outcomes.

Analyze and Operationalize Insights in Real Time.

Many organizations still analyze customer conversations on a random, manual, and ad hoc basis. This approach leads to some companies analyzing as little as 3 percent of customer conversations, which makes it impossible to uncover insights representative of the entire customer base or agent population or to collect feedback in a timely manner. This is a poor practice in normal times, and downright harmful in today's market, where the conditions are changing rapidly.

If you don't listen to what's happening on the ground and in real time, agents will be ill-equipped to deliver exceptional customer experiences. Take the early stages of the pandemic, for example. CallMiner's research found that nearly 40 percent of respondents said 75 percent to 100 percent of their calls mentioned the coronavirus, yet only 30 percent of agents were able to somewhat answer questions with accuracy and credibility. That's not good enough.

Enter AI-based analysis. By adopting solutions that can analyze customer conversations at scale, organizations can gather more insights into customer concerns, identify important trends in those conversations, and deliver real-time guidance and coaching to agents on how to more effectively respond. Instead of spending weeks causing frustration and damaging relationships, organizations can deliver better experiences and create happier customers.

Extend Empathy from the Customer to Employees.

While the goal of any agent is to deliver the best customer experience, it's critical for organizations to remember that those agents (and other employees) are living amid a crisis as well. Like customers, your team might also be experiencing vulnerability. The shift to work-from-home environments complicates matters further, especially regarding childcare, remote schooling, and family caregiving.

Give agents what they need to be successful. This includes real-time guidance, data-based feedback and coaching for improvement, solutions that are tailored to customers' needs, and of course, time, space, benefits, and flexibility to take care of their personal needs. Make sure agents have the time to gather themselves or decompress after tough interactions.

At the end of the day, agents and customer experience are intrinsically linked. Confident and satisfied employees take better care of customers. Satisfied customers treat your employees better. Investing in both, simultaneously, is a key lever for success.

Listen, Operationalize, and Act.

The stakes are high. Of the customers who switched providers during the pandemic, nearly 45 percent said they would have stayed if companies delivered a better customer experience or connected with them on a human level. On the brighter side, 80 percent of consumers said they will stay loyal to the companies that provide good customer experiences during the pandemic.

There are many strategies that will lead to success, but they all require organizations to listen to customers, create positive employee and customer experiences, and operationalize customer insights across the business.

Eric Williamson is chief marketing officer at CallMiner, a provider of speech and customer interaction analytics. He has more than 20 years' experience leading marketing programs for major companies, including Acquia, Google, Microsoft, Walmart, and Hyatt.