When the pandemic was at its height and we were plunged into lockdown, we had no choice but to turn to the phone and online services to contact businesses we would previously have visited in person.
Despite the vaccination programme leading to the opening up of services, people still want the experience they became used to while they were self-isolating or social distancing. The need to visit business premises has diminished.
For some businesses, this has led to an increased use in digital tools, such as mobile apps and instant messaging. For example, to get my refund for my cancelled flight to New York, all my interactions with Virgin were via WhatsApp. Virgin are not alone. Mexican airline Volaris was running 81% of its interactions via WhatsApp, including the delivery of boarding passes, even before the pandemic began.
While I was happy with my experience with Virgin, many feel that other businesses’ customer service levels have dipped. According to the UK Institute of Customer Services (UKICS), complaints are at their highest since 2009 with 14.9% of customers experiencing a problem with an organisation. Conversely, satisfaction with complaint handling was at its highest ever level.
Joanna Causon, chief executive of the UKICS, said: “What this demonstrates all too clearly is that we have got better at dealing with issues but not necessarily better at preventing them impacting customers in the first place.”
The report also highlighted that more than half of customer experiences were digital - website, email, web chat, text or social media - and that the number of people who were willing to pay more for excellent customer service had risen to 32%.
Where customers did use the phone, they made more calls about a problem or a complaint than they did to make a purchase.
The need for a multi-channel approach to customer service is clear, but while businesses may go out and sign up to the latest messaging apps, they cannot ignore the rest of their communications channels.
The phone system remains critical.
This is where we tried to help our customers during the multiple lockdowns. The first lockdown saw many businesses just shut up shop and asked us to divert their calls to a mobile or voicemail. However, as the pandemic became a long-term concern, businesses turned to us to find a way to stay operational even if their physical doors were closed.
We used flexible home working communications solutions to enable our customers to handle calls from wherever their staff were working. The appetite for these solutions has not abated, despite restrictions being lifted, as some staff found they preferred to work from home. The sea-change shift we predicted has become a reality with many businesses adopting a hybrid working model.
Understandably, these staff want all the tools they use in the office to be easily accessible at home. For those working in customer services, having access to contact centre functionality that links to corporate databases is critical. The integration of CRMs with contact centre software and phone systems is so important in making customers feel their call is important. Quick access to records and screen-pops of details make for quicker conversations. Notes on previous calls also help shape a more satisfying conversation in which people will not have to repeat themselves.
Meanwhile customers want to be assured their calls are answered when they ring in. A lack of call capacity and/or an effective call queuing system and automated attendant will result in customers hearing the engaged tone. This is the not the best way to start a customer service interaction!
Live call statistics displayed on PCs and wallboards also help managers ensure their staff are performing well, while call recording can be used as an excellent training tool and to check quality of calls.
Not to leave the digital experience aside. Interactions via email, instant messaging, etc. can be queued in the same contact centre solution as calls to make sure they are fairly dealt with in turn.
Businesses that survived the pandemic may want to take note of the findings of the UKICS service report and audit their current communications tools to ensure they are offering their customers the multi-channel service they now expect.
We can help you improve your customer service with the appropriate technology. The UKICS report suggests the investment will be worthwhile.