How COVID Reset the Future of Customer Service

Up until this year, many companies, from large enterprises to small businesses, still relied on antiquated customer service processes. Despite 87 percent of organizations agreeing that traditional experiences no longer satisfy customers, there wasn't an end in sight for the use of outdated call centers or case management systems. While these processes typically led to longer wait times, the systems were working, so why change them? Organizations found themselves stuck on a transactional hamster wheel with customers with no major reason to evolve.

Today, 80 percent of businesses rely on customer experience to differentiate themselves from competitors. So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was a wake-up call for many companies. The world of customer service was turned upside down in an instant. Customer service volumes began to spike to unprecedented levels as organizations grappled with shrinking teams and a shift to remote work. With 32 percent of customers reporting that they would stop doing business with a company they loved after one bad experience, customer loyalty was at stake as older infrastructures began to expose cracks in the systems and companies struggled to quickly adapt to new customer demands. Businesses no longer have a choice. If they want to survive in this new normal, they cannot continue to serve their customers in the antiquated ways they used to. They must transform their customer experience.

Today, all eyes are on customer service. Arguably, customer service and experience leaders have an even more prominent seat at the table, no matter the industry, to ensure their strategies and teams can withstand the economic impact that the pandemic has brought on. Here are some of the ways leaders navigated customer service and set up their businesses for success in the next normal.

As stay-at-home orders took place at the onset of the pandemic, businesses, consumers, and schools alike turned to Zoom Video Communications. In April, usage surged to 300 million daily meeting participants, putting unprecedented amounts of pressure on the platform. To keep up with the increased demand in users and manage an influx in customer requests, the company needed to quickly scale its customer service operations. Leveraging customer service management technologies like proactive case management and personalized self-service options, Zoom was able to send customer requests to the right teams to solve issues quickly, fix problems before customers noticed them, and make customer engagement simple.

When the U.S. government passed the CAREs Act (which included the Payroll Protection Program or PPP) earlier this year, demand for loan processing surged. Many banks quickly got to work, but outdated, manual processes for processing loans made it difficult to keep up with demand. Bridgewater Bank, for example, went from processing 950 loans in 2019 using spreadsheets to processing 1,000 loans in just two months. The company's manual processes for tracking loans made it difficult to maintain visibility into the phases of lending. As a result, leaders at Bridgewater Bank decided to create an automated PPP loan management tool. The tool, from concept to launch, was ready in less than a week with a central location for loan, credit, and administrative teams to find information about customers and loans. This made it easy for employees to check on loan progress in real time, look up contact information, and follow up with requests for additional information. This app led to a 48 percent reduction in workload per case, making it easy for employees to deliver great value to the bank and customers as they navigate the challenges of the pandemic.

Across hospitals, urgent care facilities, and clinics, employees quickly found themselves underwater with the volume of customer requests at the onset of the pandemic. HonorHealth, a provider of clinics and facilities in Arizona, was not equipped to handle the number of phone calls it was receiving despite having more than 6,000 doctors and 13,000 employees. The provider's leadership team quickly re-evaluated how they were handling the phone calls and turned to automation and self-service capabilities to give customers the information they needed quickly. In just four days, HonorHealth was able to build an online symptom checker chatbot that responded to customer inquiries, providing guidance, information, and next steps, such as directing the customer to a nurse if further help was needed. The provider's call volume reduced by 90 percent, alleviating nurses from the phones and giving them time back to focus on helping patients in need.

Put simply, the pandemic served as a reset button for customer service, and this is only the beginning. The potential in the customer service market is unprecedented. Some estimates place it as high as $26 billion. It's now crystal clear that the old ways of customer service are no longer viable. Businesses across industries are taking a hard look at the strategies they have in place and digitizing their processes, implementing automation capabilities and omnichannel strategies to reach their customers in new, efficient ways and bring value to their organizations. The changes that are taking place are transforming businesses' approaches to the overall customer experience and will change the industry for good.

Paul Selby is a product marketing director for ServiceNow Customer Service Management. Previously he held product management and customer service and technical support management roles at several software companies.