How the Customer Service Industry Can Deal with Coronavirus

COVID-19 keeps spreading quickly throughout the world, affecting people's daily lives, restricting their ability to move freely in some cities, altering the way they communicate, and changing such entrenched habits like the way they greet one another. Furthermore, it's changing the way they interact with companies. Under this worrying scenario, several industries have been affected, and customer service is no exception.

In general, international organizations expect the global pandemic to cost the world more than $16 trillion, with multiple economies being undermined.

While it's too soon to determine the consequences by sector, how is this health and economic crisis affecting the routine of consumers and businesses? We've identified two dynamics at play:

Online queries skyrocket.

Quarantines and fear of infection are affecting industries based on the number of customer inquiries. Consumers are demanding attention more than ever and want companies to be responsive and answer immediately.

Telecommunications and the Internet, banking, education, health, air transportation, and tourism, as well as entertainment and retail, have seen a higher demand by their customers during this global situation.

Remote work expands.

Viral infection outbreaks like COVID-19 make it necessary to put in place new measures to stop their expansion. Among them are restricting people's movements and the implementation of remote work in industries that can remain active with this arrangement.

For large teams in customer service, especially contact centers, that have huge structures with hundreds of people operating simultaneously in small spaces, the risk of exposure to the virus is alarming. This situation is leading employers to seek new ways to work that put the well-being of their employees first while still addressing the demands of their customers.

With this scenario, what mitigation measures can companies put in place to maintain a customer-centric strategy? Following are three ideas.

1. Communicate clearly.

It's super important to keep customers up to date about changes or problems in service. During this crisis, transparency is key. Company strategy has to include open and clear communication. It has to anticipate questions and avoid adding to the uncertainty surrounding everything right now.

2. Prioritize automation.

We already know that many companies are migrating toward models that integrate automation into their customer service. However, in this situation, it's even more important that support teams act fast, consistently, and with empathy.

The tools we use are key for ensuring good experiences, especially in times of crisis. When choosing them, it's important that technology adapts to strategy, and not the other way around.

Today, automation and conversational artificial intelligence are at the service of the most demanding customers to provide customized, immediate answers. Applied to bots and live chats, they help reduce support times and increase the number of conversations between companies and customers. Their use will have frequent questions covered, but it also allows for attention to be focused on more complex cases in times of excessive demand, like this one.

3. Take telephone communication to digital channels.

Before COVID-19, companies already had an average of 1.5 million conversations a year with their customers through digital channels. In the coming months, messaging channels will take on much more relevance.

In this time of uncertainty and urgency, consumers want efficient service. Messaging apps are more personal and approachable. Email can be a slow and bureaucratic channel, but these apps develop a one-to-one digital communication between the customer and the agent, creating a feeling of greater closeness.

WhatsApp has been one of the fastest-growing channels in 2019, especially in the e-commerce, finance, telecommunications, and automotive industries. Implementing WhatsApp as a customer service channel enables faster and more personalized communications. It's a great choice when going to the bank or physical store isn't an option.

All in all, being where your customers are and adopting customer-centric strategies will be key to dealing with this situation we're experiencing.

COVID-19 will speed the ongoing changes and will require a greater commitment to customers. The virus will force companies to think creatively about how to connect with their users. Companies that remain open-minded about change and react quickly will be prepared to be there for their customers and employees in this time of need and navigate this situation for as long as it lasts.

Martin Frascaroli is founder and CEO of Aivo, a company that helps businesses solve their challenges in customer service and sales growth with omnichannel solutions powered by artificial intelligence.