The COVID-19 pandemic has not only changed customer's expectations for customer support, but it has shifted the way businesses operate. As businesses begin opening up, and life begins moving towards an unfamiliar ‘new normal,’ it’s important to pause for a moment and discuss the transformations that have happened over the last year and how those changes are likely to impact the future of Customer Service.
ArenaCX, along with our partner Forethough.ai recently hosted a panel discussion to address a topic that’s been on every CX leader’s mind:
How has COVID-19 changed the future of customer service?
We constantly hear how consumer expectations have changed since the start of 2020, generally, but early in 2021 we also conducted our own study of consumer behavior as it relates to support interactions - and some of the findings were interesting!
What our findings really came down to was that consumers aren’t buying the “longer than usual wait times” a year after the pandemic and their expectations about how long receiving support should take is getting shorter and shorter.
Although somewhat alarming, these heightened expectations aren’t a bad thing. Customer service must improve and adapt to meet the needs of consumers, and the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to have propelled us forward at a faster-than-expected pace.
Now that we’re finding ourselves in need of “upping” the CX game, what exactly does that mean of the future of CX?
In our panelist discussion host Amanda Malach, SVP of Finance & Marketing for ArenaCX sat down with ArenaCX’s own CEO Doc Shufelt, Forethought.ai’s Head of Customer Experience, Rose Wang, and D2L’s Head of End-User Support, Sasha Antonenko to discuss how we can expect the CX industry to look moving forward and what trends we should expect to see following in this post-covid world.
Discussion Highlights: CX Takeaways
CX Tip #1: Build a redundant partner network.
"Sasha, you run B2C support for and education platform - a business that was significantly impacted by COVID as the need for remote learning grew. What was that like?"
"We went from having a nice, predictable volume of incoming requests to forecast against to overnight quadrupling our volume and a week later quadrupling again, and then a month later quadrupling again...
At the very beginning [of the pandemic] we realized very quickly where we had opportunities to improve. We had [only] one BPO partner to support the millions of users... and when they went down, we went down. That was scary!
People needed our help and we're struggling to actually give them the help they're looking for. That led us to very quickly evaluate and select a new BPO so that we always now have, going forward, two partners where if something happens with one, the other is always there."
CX Tip #2: Emphasize resiliency & capacity-building.
"Rose, in your day-to-day job you talk to support leaders across the spectrum of different types of businesses. What were some of the themes you were observing or hearing about from them [in the early days of the pandemic]?"
"We saw a 60% rise of individuals spending more computer time in the US. And so what does that really look like? It means a lot more interactions, more expectations on the digital front, but... the part that hasn’t really been highlighted is how has that hit agents?
This is the first time support agents have had to work from home, really. So what that means is... you’re dealing with tech issues AND customers are becoming increasingly frustrated. Harvard Business Review did a study with an AI company of a million conversations for customer support and what they found was the number of difficult conversations rose up by 2.5x.
So customers in general are just more frustrated and angry - so that sentiment is already not great and then on the other hand agents now have to deal with that rising negativity while not having their own support, not only from the tech front but also they’re by themselves now.
In the past, they’re surrounded by their peers and so if you have something you don’t know you can go and tap someone on their shoulder. That’s not true anymore. There aren’t that many collaboration tools that can go help agents where they don't operate individually, normally - there’s a collection of knowledge and that suddenly goes away. What can we go do to fill that gap. I think that’s what the post-COVID world still looks like.
We’ve now learned there are probably going to be more things that come up. We should plan for resilience and capacity-building and so let's start now in thinking about next time there is a disruption in the system what can we do to prep, like Sasha getting more than one BPO.”
CX Tip #3: When you treat your partners like your internal team, the sky's the limit.
“Doc, are there some industries that are just too specific to hire a BPO company that it’s not the right step and expanding the CX team in-house is the right decision?”
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily industry-specific I think there are elements of almost any operation in almost every company that are candidates to be outsourced. But there are certainly areas within a company, even within a support organization for example, that are much more appropriate to remain in house.
Two examples I would give of that:
1. Is technical complexities. Say you’re a B2B software company that is doing a lot of heavy customization for a client, you probably need someone internal that's very close to the machinery to work on that.
2. The other is from a company maturity standpoint. If you’re very early on to the point where you’re wondering does anyone even want my product and if so what do they wish it did differently.
I often advocate for people to keep support teams in house during that period because it keeps the feedback loop from the customer that much closer to the people who are building the product. So there are certainly circumstances within which it makes sense.
But I will point out that today we’re working with tele-health. We have BPOs with nurses in the network and then we have nursing schools that help feed their teams.
We have super complicated telecommunications and software support, so I think it’s a lot about what you need either as a leader or as a business in this season and then how much real custom knowledge is required.
And I say “real” custom knowledge because we all think that everything we do is unique and special. Most of it is not. But there is definitely a part of it that is. And so being really disciplined and honest with yourselves about 'this is a thing we must maintain and know in-house vs. not' is a key step but I would say generally speaking you can find a really good, experienced BPO for most of what you need. But that doesn’t mean it’s a universal fit for every single situation.”
“You can find a fit for any or most situations but also I think if... you work with them really really closely to the point where they become your extension, the sky is the limit, honestly. And I have lots of proof of that.
I think it’s a matter of how do you organize the control of all of the operations and how does reporting look like and how frequently are your checkpoints and your conversations to make sure you’re calibrated on all of your objectives. And while certainly there are parts that really can’t be outsourced, majority of them if you invest the right amount of time into them, it can work.”
“That’s a fantastic point. That is a huge change in how people have successfully partnered with BPOs. It’s a partnership not a vendor and that’s so huge. That’s exactly the way we’ve thought about it forever. And even the way you talk about a BPO internally, them vs. us… we always talk about them as just part of the team. We would write notes to people on those team congratulating them on great performance. If you treat them like part of your company they will act like they’re part of your company. "
Interested in hearing more from Doc, Rose, and Sasha? This was just the tip of the iceberg of thought-provoking CX trends we discussed in our hour-long chat.
Or get in touch with our team to learn more about ArenaCX.
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