Technology's role in keeping us connected

Look for the helpers: technology's role in keeping us connected in times of crisis

In this moment of crisis, when the majority of the population is self-isolating at home, technology is an even more vital tool for streamlining crisis communications between companies, their teams and their customers.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, IDG's 2019 Digital Business reported 91% of companies expressed some level of commitment to digital transformation. Now, some businesses' transformation plans that were slowly underway prior to the coronavirus outbreak have been accelerated due to social distancing measures and workplace closures.

As people adapt to the new reality of their daily lives, brands have an opportunity to further leverage technology to enable their teams and services. They are also now facing a unique testing ground for integrating digital tools, brand communications and online operations into real-world services. For instance, many businesses have had to create curbside pickup programs for online orders — an option that wouldn't even have been a consideration prior to the outbreak. Mastering the balance could spell the difference between going out of business and riding out the storm.

But for all brands, brick and mortars or not, the pandemic has put an enormous strain on customer support communications. Encouraged to stay at home, customers are turning to online shopping, virtual medical consultations and other digital services — including people who are not particularly tech-savvy.

For business owners, the more new digital support and social channels you introduce to your customers, the more customer queries you will receive. And as many businesses are operating with reduced staff, this puts an enormous strain on the ones who are left. That is why this is not only a time for innovative sales tools to help keep your business afloat, but also a time for strategic automation and effective self-service support. This is how technology can help businesses make it through the coronavirus pandemic.

Intelligent help when and where it's needed

Since the start of the outbreak, call centers and customer support lines across industries have seen an increase in call volume and wait times as travel plans get cancelled, businesses move online and support teams transition to working from home.

The situation has served to highlight the efficacy of self-service tools like AI-powered chatbots and intelligent FAQs to reduce the load on frontline agents, who can then be redeployed to focus on more complex issues. Technology used in this way can help brands boost overall customer experience (CX) by reducing wait times and offering simple and clear ways for customers to help themselves. It can also help drive cost-efficiencies for businesses, according to customer effort score data from Gartner. Low-effort interactions cost 37% less than high-effort interactions, which include channel switching and repeat interactions. Low-effort interactions can also cut repeat calls by 40% and escalations by 50%, says the report.

Babylon by TELUS Health is a prime example of this technology in practice. The application's AI-powered Symptom Checker asks patients questions about their symptoms to provide information on possible courses of action. Then it coordinates video-based appointments with Canadian-licensed family physicians, arming them with the pre-screened information, which gets patients through to a doctor more quickly.

Tools like these are becoming the new frontline for brands. But they also need human intuition to make sure they are sensitive to the current crisis. Feedback from customer support, for example, can help identify top questions and be used to update other self-service channels like FAQs, putting that insight front and center.

The ultimate goal is to make sure help is there when and where it is needed.

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Empowering your frontline

That first line of support, critical as it is for redistributing the crush of queries in the midst of a crisis, is only one part of the overall customer journey clients have come to expect from brands.

If the consumer doesn't find what they are looking for by themselves, the transition to live support should be seamless. According to data from Hubspot, two-thirds of consumers report that “the most frustrating aspect of getting customer service is waiting on hold or having to explain the same information to multiple representatives."

Once clients have transitioned to live support, you can help set your team up for success by ensuring they have access to current and accurate data and information to enable them to solve customer challenges in a way that demonstrates empathy to the extenuating circumstances created by this crisis. That could mean using knowledge management tools to optimize collaboration. It could also mean giving them heightened powers to adjust company policies or make in the moment decisions that show the brand cares about its customers.

As call volumes increase, brands in industries that are overwhelmed with support requests may want to pre-emptively consider bringing in additional customer support team members to ensure their CX is consistent.

Support your team so they can support your customers

Your team is your frontline, facing many of the same uncertainties and feelings of isolation as your customers. Any stress your customers might be feeling can also be transferred to your team through challenging interactions. According to a survey by mental health platform Ginger, 69% of employees surveyed said the coronavirus has proven to be the “most stressful time of their career."

Virtual check-ins and one-to-ones with employees through web conference tools like Google Hangouts, Skype and Zoom give brands a chance to be proactive about employees' engagement and well-being. They also present an opportunity to engage them in team building activities such as virtual fitness or wellness classes or even fun extracurricular activities such as an online games group for employees.

The changes we are seeing and experiencing today may stick around long after the pandemic has subsided. As Tom Eagle, senior research director at Gartner, recently told Computer World that the uptick in virtual conferencing and collaboration tools is likely to continue beyond the current crisis and could be a “catalyst for transformative work cultures and practices that will be significantly characterized by remote work."

The things your brand does now to adapt and stay agile and connected in an isolated and uncertain world could ripple outwards, leading to an even better, digitally driven CX. What you do today, will matter in the future.

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