4 Tips for Sustaining Customer Experience Amid the Coronavirus Threat

The coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on people's physical and economic well-being. There is no question that businesses are also being impacted. In this difficult environment, companies can ill-afford to mess up their customer experience (CX). Here are four things they can do to sustain and even improve CX in the face of the coronavirus threat.

1. Double down on digital.

Consumers will be less inclined to go to public places, including retail stores and banks, to avoid getting infected. The answer here is to accelerate your digital customer service and engagement strategy, whether it is messaging, chat, co-browsing, email, social, or online self-service. Design common customer journeys across sales and service with a digital-first mindset.

Customers should, for example, be able to converse with a chatbot, escalate to human-assisted chat with all the context intact, video-chat and co-browse with an agent on the other side to find his way around a website, fill out forms collaboratively, and complete a transaction, such as a loan application, without ever having to go a branch. Financial advice and even ongoing coaching, whether it is about improving one's credit score or paying off student loans, should be offered at scale by an automated banker bot rather than by forcing the consumer to visit the branch office.

A leading tax prep organization and one of our key clients has been doing it already, helping taxpayers at scale with a chatbot-fronted, omnichannel digital service and sales process, including human-assisted chat (text and video) and co-browse. In a way, this company safe-guarded itself against coronavirus more than a year ago.

2. Leverage the gig economy.

Many companies are already allowing employees to work from home. This is a good idea, considering that some of your agents might already be sick or are likely to be overly concerned about getting infected by going to the office, especially crowded call centers. Some of them might simply choose to quit. You then need to have a strategy to leverage the gig economy to fill the people gap.

The challenge here, in addition to finding them, is to onboard and train them, which is again hampered by the virus threat.

Moreover, millennial and Gen Z workers have short attention spans and hate to sit in training classes. To address this, try to provide them conversational guidance with artificial intelligence and knowledge, which will take them step by step through customer conversations, telling them what to say and do next in a way that complies with best practices and industry regulations. That way, all agents—whether in house, gig, or completely outsourced—can be as good as your best agent.

A multinational banking client of ours has been able to empower any agent to handle any call—attaining the contact center holy grail—while reducing training needs by 50 percent and moving from third to first in Net Promoter Score rankings among peers, using conversational guidance powered by our AI knowledge solution.

3. Deploy virtual assistants.

The last I checked, virtual assistants (chatbots) were still immune to the coronavirus and other illnesses! Done right, they can provide engaging CX while helping deflect calls and drive down the need for human assistance. Unfortunately, many of today's virtual assistants are not delivering on the promise. In fact, Forrester Research is promising a backlash on chatbots this year. Comments such as "My service provider's virtual assistant is actually a virtual idiot" are common in social media.

How do you get your chatbot right? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Power the bot with natural language understanding and machine learning to better understand customer intent and start the right conversation; with reasoning technology to guide the conversation; with a knowledgebase to provide answers; and with analytics to optimize the chatbot's performance over time.
  • Make sure you don't create yet another customer engagement silo with your chatbot. Your virtual assistance initiative should be an integral part of an omnichannel customer engagement strategy. Go with an omnichannel solution partner with deep digital capabilities and stay away from point product vendors.
  • As you automate the handling of routine customer queries, transition your human agents to higher value activities such as sales. Empowering them with conversational guidance will help facilitate and even accelerate that transition.

4. Deliver proactive service.

Proactive notifications are a great way to provide timely, convenient, and memorable customer service, while reducing the need for human-assisted service. Proactive notifications are especially valuable in a crisis situation like the coronavirus when consumer panic can result in a flood of incoming phone calls. Make sure your notifications are omnichannel so that customers get them where they live, whether it is messaging, email, voice, or other channels.

Your notifications should also be consistent across channels and powered by a common, omnichannel AI and knowledge engine. While notifications preempt the need for service and reduce incoming contact center traffic, serving up proactive and contextual content at the right time when a customer is on your website or app can also help reduce the need for human-assisted service.

When implemented, these strategies will not only protect you from today's pandemic but also future-proof your business from tomorrow's market and technology megatrends.

Anand Subramaniam is senior vice president of global marketing at eGain.