Are Customer Service Teams Ready for Winter?

Customer support team

Winter always brings challenges to certain sectors. In healthcare, there’s an increase in seasonal colds and flus putting pressure on existing services; in retail, there’s meeting the demand of the Christmas season.

This winter promises to be like no other. It’s become a cliché to point out how impossible it is to predict what the coming months will bring, but few will dare to suggest the coming months will be straightforward in the face of potential supply chain disruptions. This will be challenging for many businesses; within those, customer service organisations are likely to be handling the full force of buyer displeasure and frustration, whether they’re dealing with other businesses or consumers.

That’s before one considers the added complications of any potential COVID-related restrictions as debate rages about dealing with variants and the need for boosters.

Separating the winners and losers

Certain businesses will find it easier to handle the coming winter. There will be those companies that already have the teams, processes and technology in place to cope with whatever disruption and demand come their way. They will have fast tracked digital transformation programmes, embraced and integrated cutting-edge tools and future-proofed their customer experience offerings.

Unfortunately, many won’t, hoping that everything returns to normal.

Put bluntly, that isn’t going to happen. Our perception of what normal is has changed, and there’s no going back. From a CX perspective that means teams will have to handle disruption as a fact of life, while dealing with increasing levels and complexities of demand, customer expectations of immediacy and constant channel shift. Without change, agents will be unable to balance all of that with specialised service levels. They will struggle.

What, then, do retailers with significant customer-facing functions do?

Three steps to service success

First, access, access, access – this should be the core mantra of any CX function. As a customer, that means access when it suits, where it suits and in a language and format that works – either on the web, via chat tool or social channel. Life is hard enough at the moment, so making access easy is a no-brainer and really has to be the default position in the post-pandemic world.

Second, they need to break down silos. One problem most retailers face is the ability to change the direction of the supertanker they know their legacy IT systems to be. Adopting cutting edge solutions, like conversation-as-a-service platforms which overlay legacy and new systems, can transform those siloed data behemoths into intraoperative gold mines of data and operational efficiencies.

Finally, there needs to be intelligent triage. Automation is amazing in so many ways, but it’s not a fix-all-solution. Human interaction is what has got us through these tough times, and now more than ever the winners in this paradigm shift are adopting a hybrid approach. The message to retailers needs to be: automate where you can but, crucially, triage through to your amazing human teams where necessary.

Augmenting, not replacing, existing ability

What should be apparent is that none of these steps talks about downsizing, right-sizing or reducing customer service teams. It’s about adopting technologies that supercharge, rather than replace, CX functions. Automation is mentioned, but only in the context of augmenting human agents, supporting them with live chat in multiple languages (Futr offers live chat in 120+ languages), sentiment analysis and service delivery on web, chat and social channels.

That’s all delivered by technology. The tools that are having the greatest impact now are the ones that deliver choice to the customer right now. Conversation-as-a-service platforms that convert existing processes and workflows into supercharged versions of themselves are shifting the baseline of customer satisfaction. With many platforms available as off-the-shelf software-as-a-service solutions, there really are no excuses to not be able to deliver that choice in the short term. The age of large, drawn-out IT projects, demanding significant upfront investment, is over, thanks to SaaS solutions that can offer almost immediate transformation and tracked usage analytics to evidence a fast return on investment.

The path forward to success

Customer service teams have delivered time and time again over the last 18 months, and any business that is still functioning owes their agents a debt. Yet to expect them to continue to perform at that level with little or no additional investment is a mistake – any business that fails to focus on customer experience as we head into winter is unlikely to see much in the way of success. Those that do will be the ones that have focused on service delivery, augmenting their teams with the right digital tools to meet the demands of the current, continually disrupted marketplace.

About the Author

Andy Wilkins, Co-Founder and CEO, FutrAndy Wilkins is the Co-Founder and CEO of Futr. Futr is a VC backed tech start-up with the mission of delivering superpowers to support teams everywhere.  From out of hours self-serve chatbots to making live chat agents instantly multilingual on any social or chat channel, Futr’s superpowers are transforming the way organisations serve their audiences.

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