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By Martin Frascaroli, CEO at Aivo

COVID-19 keeps spreading quickly throughout the world, affecting people’s daily lives: restricting their ability to move freely in cities, altering the way they communicate and changing such entrenched habits like the way to greet each other. Furthermore, it’s changing the way they interact with companies. Under this worrying scenario, several industries have been affected, and customer service is no exception.

In general, international organisations foresee this global pandemic having a global cost of 16 trillion dollars, with multiple economies being undermined.

While it’s too soon to determine the consequences by sector, how is this health and economic crisis affecting the routine of consumers and businesses? We've identified two dynamics at play:

1. Online queries skyrocket

Quarantines and fear of infection are affecting different industries based on the number of customer inquiries. Consumers are demanding attention more than ever and want companies to be responsive and answer immediately.

Telecommunications and the Internet, banking, education, health, air transportation, and tourism, as well as entertainment and retail, have seen a higher demand by their customers during this global situation.

2. Remote work expands

Viral infection outbreaks like COVID-19 makes it necessary to put in place new measures to stop their expansion. One of them being fewer people out and about, and the implementation of remote work in industries that can remain active with this arrangement.

For large teams in customer service, especially contact centers, that have huge structures with hundreds of people operating simultaneously in small spaces, the risk of exposure to the virus is alarming. This situation is leading employers to seek new ways to work that put the well-being of their employees first while still addressing the demands of their customers.

With this scenario, what mitigation measures can companies put in place to maintain a customer-centric strategy?

  • Communicating clearly
It’s super important to keep customers up to date about changes or problems in service. During this crisis, transparency is key. Brand’s strategy has to include open and clear communication. It has to anticipate questions and avoid adding to the uncertainty surrounding everything right now.
  • Prioritize automation
We already know that many companies are migrating towards models that integrate automation into their customer service. However, in this situation, it’s even more important that support teams act fast, consistently and with empathy.

The tools we use are key for ensuring good experiences, especially in times of crisis. When choosing them, it’s important that technology adapts to strategy, and not the other way round.

Today, automation and conversational artificial intelligence are at the service of the most demanding customers to provide customised, immediate answers. Applied to bots and live chats, they help reduce support times and increase the number of conversations between companies and customers. Their use will have frequent questions covered, but it also allows for attention to be focused on more complex cases in times of excessive demand, like this one.

  • Take telephone communication to digital channels
Before COVID-19, companies already had an average of 1.5 million conversations a year with their customers through digital channels. In the coming months, messaging channels will take on much more relevance than they already had.

In this time of uncertainty and urgency, consumers want efficient service. Messaging apps are more personal and approachable. Email can be a slow and bureaucratic channel, but these apps develop a one-to-one digital communication between the customer and the agent, creating a feeling of greater closeness.

WhatsApp has been one of the fastest-growing channels in 2019, especially in the e-commerce, finance, telecommunications, and automotive industries. Implementing WhatsApp as a customer service channel enables faster and more personalised communications. It’s a great choice when going to the bank or physical store isn’t an option, in light of the present restriction of movement in many cities of the world.

All in all, being where your customers are and adopting customer-centric strategies will be key to dealing with this situation we're experiencing.

What’s next for customer service

COVID-19 will speed the ongoing changes and will require a greater commitment to customers: the virus will force brands to think creatively about how to connect with their users.

Those companies that remain open-minded about change and react quickly will be prepared to be there for their customers and employees in this time of need, as well as navigate this situation for as long as it lasts.