Care beyond COVID: Digital customer service is the cornerstone of business continuity planning
With the global pandemic still driving staffing shortages and government-mandated shutdowns, countless businesses are revisiting their business continuity and disaster recovery plans. Considering the wide range of disasters that these plans are designed to address (hacks, floods, labor strikes, civil unrest, and more), COVID’s impact on customer service operations proves most businesses weren’t ready for any disaster, much less one on this scale.
The old contact center model was bound to crumble eventually. An army of unsatisfied, overworked agents, showing up to a single location, relying on physical systems that can’t be easily moved or reproduced — what could possibly go wrong? Many brands implemented quick fixes to facilitate remote work and keep communications channels online, but this is a temporary solution at best. Any solution that doesn’t shift conversation volume away from volatile phone systems or add artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to enhance operational capacity is vulnerable to the next disaster.
Digital customer care consolidates the digital touchpoints consumers use to engage with brands — social media and mobile messaging channels, web chat and in-app messaging, online communities, and review hubs — into a single platform. It then equips agents and supervisors with efficient tools and AI to resolve inquiries and manage resources.
Like any system, it’s not 100% disaster-proof, but here’s why digital customer service is quickly becoming a pillar of the business continuity plans and management systems brands are rebuilding.
1. Digital customer service offers more durable and redundant systems
Compared to traditional on-premise contact centers, digital care systems are much harder to disrupt and easier to make fail-safe to keep operations online during a crisis. Physicality and centralization are among the riskiest characteristics for business systems, and legacy contact centers have an abundance of both.
Physical systems are open to risk from a host of threats digital systems avoid: natural disaster, theft, and fire, to name only a few. Centralized systems are similarly risky, as a single disruption to the regional power grid or public transportation can cripple a labor center and knock customer support offline, sometimes for days. Digital and decentralized systems may have their own unique risks and quirks, like finicky IT infrastructure, but in terms of business continuity criteria for risk, recovery, testability, and documentation, digital care beats legacy contact centers every time.
2. Digital channels reduce service interruption impacts
When a brand’s communications or customer care systems go down, every unanswered call or long wait time creates a frustrated customer. But non-session based, asynchronous messaging channels like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger dramatically limit this risk. An outage’s impact to customer satisfaction depends a lot on how quickly the customer expects a reply, and having the right channels set up to respond when IT or staffing capacity issues are resolved gives brands the chance to fix the experience and retain the customer. Setting up these more forgiving channels is critical to softening the impact of longer wait times, as customer expectations for response time are more lenient on asynchronous channels.
3. AI-powered digital customer service reduces the impact of volume spikes or labor shortages
Agents handling conversations in non-session based channels are able to manage 5-10 conversations concurrently, while session based phone and chat agents are tied to a single conversation until they’re able to close it out. With prioritization and queue management tools in place, these asynchronous channels allow agents to easily respond to the most urgent conversations and low effort resolution opportunities first, while taking the time they need to research and respond to more complex inquiries later — without forcing customers to wait on hold. The efficiency of channel consolidation and concurrency makes support teams much more likely to preserve their SLAs, even in the face of labor shortages or increased volumes.
AI and automation are the next step to protecting your contact center from capacity strain and outage threats. The best digital care tools use AI-powered workflows to listen, filter, categorize, and route incoming conversations to the best possible bot, human agent, or self-service resource to resolve their inquiry. AI helps prioritize the highest value, most addressable inquiries and route them to the top of the queue. Agent-facing bots can read each turn of a conversation, and recommend the best response or action for an agent to take, even tapping the bot in mid-conversation to automate a tedious or predictable process.
Meanwhile, customer-facing chatbots are likely the most valuable AI tool in a contact center’s business continuity management system. They can contain and resolve a high percentage of simple or common inquiries, collect information, and help manage expectations or deliver timely information. Chatbots can’t fully replace humans in the event of a disaster, but they can dramatically boost the efficiency of a support operation and provide an easily-modified first line of defense for when capacity challenges do arrive.
4. Digital customer service boosts operational resilience and speeds up recovery timelines
Managing all channels from a consolidated dashboard enables brands to make agile changes to respond to disasters in real-time. If system outages or volume spikes threaten phone operations, interactive voice response (IVR) deflection helps shift volume from an overwhelmed channel into more efficient messaging channels.
Supervisors can also use a digital care solution to quickly modify their IVR message to reflect the current situation or heightened urgency for a deflection. They can update welcome messages and chatbot introductions on their messaging channels to help manage expectations and deliver situation-relevant information. For urgent inquiries, auto-replies can provide links that drive volume to channels where they’re more likely to get a response — like SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or even an online brand community (which can also dramatically improve customer support capabilities during times of crisis).
In addition to easily routing conversation volume to different channels or labor centers, consolidated digital care platforms typically offer volume spike alerts that can help brands identify threats to business continuity unrelated to the customer service operation. The ability for a contact center to detect changes in volume and novel customer inquiries offers a powerful early alert system to other areas of the business.
How Khoros can help
If you work in a contact center, you’ve probably experienced some of these issues. Khoros provides digital first care solutions to help contact centers maintain their SLAs and workflows even in times of crisis. Khoros Care offers the industry’s most intuitive agent tools, real-time reporting, proprietary workforce management analytics, and AI-powered workflows and chatbots — all critical components to a forward thinking business continuity plan.