5 Customer Service Rules the Pandemic Just Rewrote
If there’s one lesson that 2020 has taught just about every company on earth, it’s this: whatever we “predicted” and “projected” and counted on happening this year would prove to be wildly untrue by the end of the first quarter. Many organizations, including some contact centers, actually had continuity plans that were robust enough and specific enough to articulate “what to do in a pandemic.” But for most businesses, this has been a painful year of recognizing just how thin those plans were – and how they reflected a deeply held (but flawed) belief that no pandemic capable of this much havoc could really reach every corner of the world, including North America.
Here at Skybridge Americas, as with so many other organizations, this has been a time of hyper-focus on meeting our customers’ shifting needs and realities. But for our organization, it’s also been an extraordinary year that has placed us at the center of a national conversation about contact center leadership, technology investments and decision-making, cloud-based platforms, artificial intelligence, and yes: how to run large, complex, highly secure contact centers that are staffed entirely with at-home agents.
Within hours of the mandatory shutdowns earlier this spring, I was getting inundated with emails, Inmails, calls, and texts from customer care and contact center leaders. Skybridge had been leading at-home agent teams for years before COVID came along. And I’m proud to say that we have maintained seamless service levels throughout the pandemic. But honestly, I’m even more proud to say that, when these companies reached out – even those BPO’s who were our competitors and those brands who had outsourced with some of those BPO’s – we were truly happy to share our insights and best practices, no strings attached. This crisis has united all of us in trying to keep doors open, customers happy, and team members employed.
Most of those calls began with one urgent question: how do we move an entire contact center team out of the center and into hundreds (or thousands) of homes across the continent? They were all about speed and short-term continuity. There wasn’t much appetite for massive paradigm shifts.
Understandable. But not very realistic for the long haul.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the course of the past few months and countless conversations: COVID-19 has completely upended and replaced 5 long-held rules of contact center management. To thrive in the future, today’s customer care leaders will need to embrace these new realities.
1. You Can’t Go Back
Traditional, brick-and-mortar contact centers were a growing threat to customer experience long before the coronavirus. But old beliefs and unfounded fears about contact center control and security had many organizations refusing to budge. In the meantime, customer expectations and customer experience standards have been rising for years.
How can you find – and keep – the best team if your talent pool is limited to single remote geographic area where your building is located? You can’t. How can you scale to meet unpredictable volumes if your agents have to drive to the office just to pick up a shift? You can’t. When COVID came along, it forced a rushed move to at-home. But as the months drag on, it is also forcing contact center leaders to let go of a long-held but misguided fantasy that “managing” means “standing over” employees while they do their work. Customer care contact centers who emerge successfully from this year, will do so because they have left the building for good and have figured out how to hire top talent, regardless of geographic location.
2. The Contact Center Has Moved to the Cloud
Cloud-based, virtual platforms were already outperforming traditional, on-premises systems. At Skybridge Americas, we deliver customer care, sales support, technical and back office support, emergency roadside rescue services, and medical and appointment scheduling – in an omnichannel environment. Our virtual platform empowers us to deliver consistent, superior experiences – not just for our customers, but for our agents and supervisors, and the brands we support. Moving to the cloud has given us maximum agility in adapting to rapidly changing customer needs and call volumes.
3. The Best AI Strengthens Human Teams, It Doesn’t Replace Them
Not all contacts are created equal. But all consumers deserve – and expect – equally excellent care. At Skybridge Americas, we are committed to investing in bleeding-edge technology. Recently, have launched a new conversational Artificial intelligence solution called SkyAI. This exciting new innovation is capable of learning progressively with each call, routing contacts along their ideal paths, and communicating at the speed of natural conversation. With SkyAI, virtual agents operate alongside live agents, creating total contact fluidity, increasing productivity and, most importantly, creating a better customer experience. Without some form of AI-assisted customer care, tomorrow’s contact centers will be simply unable to keep up.
4. Disruptions Will Happen More Frequently and More Dramatically
There have always been disruptors – those unexpected people, start-ups, new ideas, or major events that come along just when you least expect them. They will force you to assess your performance and your relevance through the eyes of your customers, employees, and others. This is particularly true for privacy and security regulations. With each new advance in technology innovations, contact centers need to anticipate and address new security challenges. To keep up with these demands, contact centers must be able to sustain substantial investments in security technology, process, and infrastructure.
5. Tomorrow’s Business Continuity Plans Will More Specific and More Vision-Driven
BCP’s are driven by risk assessments – a company’s best guesses of how various catastrophes can harm the business, its people, and its brand. This year has proven that a world-wide pandemic can obliterate many of the plans so carefully outlined in last year’s BCP. I truly believe that the companies best poised to weather the next disaster are those who broaden their BPC format. COVID has shown us that it would be impossible to plan every perfect step to mitigate for every unimaginable disaster. We still need to make those plans but, at the end of the day, what’s most likely to help a business survive is a long-standing investment in the technology, infrastructure, and human resources that enable quick pivots, foster reliable delivery, and protect the company’s reputation as trusted brand and treasured employer.
If it all seems overwhelming at times, you’re not alone. Whether you have been running your own, in-house contact center or you’re concerned about your current BPO’s commitment to long-term solutions, I hope you’ll reach out. Superior customer care is our core business. It’s what we’ve been delivering, every day, for more than sixty years. We would love to learn about your brand, your vision, and your customers’ needs. And we welcome the opportunity to show you how we can help you.