Ushering in the New Era of Customer Communications

The coronavirus has changed the way we live and work. It has also changed the way organizations communicate with their customers. In the midst of a pandemic that requires lots of answers, and requires them fast, companies had to get ahead of customers' questions with outbound messaging, not just to preemptively address desperately needed answers but because their call centers were sparsely staffed and had a hard time handling the influx. As the crisis continues, we are going to continue to see an evolution in how companies and their technology providers approach customer communications, including an increase in scale, speed to market, and a desire to be more proactive than previously required.

Until recently, company communications to customers and employees were on a much smaller scale; their lists of recipients were smaller and the messages were spread out ove time. With the coronavirus pandemic, this all changed. Companies wanting to provide customer service and, in some cases, needing to address regulatory, HR, and legal requirements, have been forced to massively scale up their communications, issuing large-scale batches at an almost breathtaking pace.

For example, a healthcare client recently asked to be able to push out 40 million to 80 million text messages all at once in response to the pandemic. This required rapid behind-the-scenes work. We had to increase telecom circuit infrastructure and coordinate with SMS aggregators to ensure the network could handle the massive volume bursts. Time-to-market demands for communications were also a concern for such a request. Getting authorization for short code from carriers typically takes 90 days, but we were able to work with partners to ensure a 10-day turnaround. National companies dealing with crisis communications during the pandemic have also required best-in-class SMS testing and assurances to ensure critical messages are received in a timely manner with the correct information displayed.

Communication during a time of crisis is not just limited to SMS, of course. Print, voice messaging, and email campaigns also require providers to scale up. We recently had a print company work with us to rapidly send out 2 million mailings to seniors about the coronavirus. Another wanted to set up new forms of communication with 80,000 employees via text/email. A town hall meeting in my own community required a rapid dissemination of voice mail messaging. Whatever the medium, companies and their providers have been forced to establish new communications protocols and scale up in a matter of hours in some instances instead of weeks.

As a result of social distancing, we have also seen an increase in remote troubleshooting. Rather than have a technician from a cable operator, for example, come to your house to fix a problem, a remote agent can resolve issues through direct, web-based interactions that reduce on-site support calls, or a technician can solve a problem from the driveway. Customers can share video or photos with the technician or agent through their smartphone cameras, letting the technician or agent see the problem, diagnose the issue, and show the customer what to do using augmented reality technology. These services have enabled technicians to take visits from their trucks without entering customer locations and empowered agents to remotely deploy self-install kits directly to the home.

Moving Forward: Communications Post-Pandemic

If COVID-19 has taught companies one thing, it's that they must be more proactive in their communications when thinking about the needs of their customers and employees. Because of this, we are going to see several trends.

One is the reemergence of companies trying to get customers to opt-in. Currently, only healthcare companies can send out massive SMS communications to consumers who haven't opted in. To prepare for future emergency communications or massive awareness campaigns, companies will proactively try to bolster their opt-in lists, collecting phone and email information from as many customers as possible to ensure optimal customer support during crises.

Journey orchestration projects will also see a massive uptick as companies look to build smarter, more customer-centric communications across any channel. Customers expect a seamless experience across all touchpoints, and for companies to maintain customer loyalty, they must bridge the gaps caused by ad hoc digital expansion and by multiple departments owning specific parts of the customer journey. When companies can collect customer profile and interaction data across silos and legacy systems, they can engage the customer in real time with timely, personalized and relevant communications in the customers' preferred channels.

COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on businesses and, for many, has highlighted the importance of delivering relevant, timely information to customers during times of crisis. The last few months have shown that we are in a new era of customer communications: one that is flexible, proactive, and able to scale rapidly to accommodate emergencies and build loyalty, whether during troubled times or not.

Dave Bukovinsky is executive director of product management at CSG, overseeing the company's customer experience portfolio. He is a digital transformation specialist with more than 25 years of experience in the cable, consumer and enterprise software, and telecom industries.