‘Customer experience’ has been an industry watchword for years – and with good reason. Customers want, and now expect, a strong customer experience every time they engage with a brand. They expect your customer service representatives to know who they are and what their previous interactions with your brand have been, regardless of when or by which channel they occurred: SMS, email, social media, direct message, phone, in-store—you name it.
Of course, customers do not see the processes underpinning the delivery of customer experience: what they see is the tip of the metaphorical iceberg, which extends in a dizzying array of data working hard beneath the surface. Professionals know that delivering seamless customer experience can be challenging to get right even under regular circumstances: there are a lot of moving parts, comprised of man and machine, that need to be coordinated and up to date.
The remote work environment required by the Covid-19 pandemic made the work of the customer service machine even more demanding. Contact centre staff became, seemingly overnight, the interface between businesses struggling to adapt to unprecedented pressures and their anxious customers also dealing with seismic shifts in the way they live and work. There were structural obstacles, like staff lacking access to platforms that supported their work in the office, and health and wellbeing challenges, like the skyrocketing measures of stress and hardship across both staff and customers, which made for a tense and difficult work environment.
Now, as we begin to map our recovery from the pandemic, we’re facing new challenges. The impact of covid-19 on customer service is yet to be fully understood, however some aspects – like remote working – must be immediately addressed by businesses. While a lot of workers are keen to return to the office again, very few of them want to work there full time. Acceptance of remote work has increased steadily over the past decade, but the pandemic drastically accelerated our demand for flexible working conditions.
Remote work has many benefits. For example, it permits those who otherwise may not be able to fully participate in the workforce to do so. It has financial benefits for many businesses too, for which office space is at a premium. A hybrid workforce can even be more productive with their work outputs, with recent research indicating that hybridising can improve customer service by 12%.
In short: Covid-19 forced a diverse array of industries, including those heavily reliant on customer service, to learn how to manage remote work. Now, due to its other benefits, it’s here to stay.
Outstanding customer service is only possible with the support of high quality data. Your customers expect a customer service representative to know who they are and how they have previously interacted with your brand from the moment they make contact. To enable this, your representatives must have at their fingertips data that is trustworthy, robust and accessible.
So what steps can you take to support more flexible working arrangements for your team after the pandemic, without sacrificing customer experience? Our experts have put together some suggestions.
Lockdowns and hybrid work are not the same thing, so don’t treat them the same way.
During lockdown, businesses enjoyed a grace period with regard to their customers’ expectations. Hobbled by short timelines and uncertainties about the permanence of their transition to online services, many organisations implemented short term fixes and interim measures—slap-dash and piecemeal solutions that provided service continuity in the immediate term.
By and large, customers accepted that even the businesses with expertise in the area—like telecommunications giants—could struggle with the sudden shift in work practices, so when a customer service representative said, “Sorry, I can’t access that right now and I will have to get back to you,” it was understood that staff were muddling along in a difficult situation.
But an emergency lockdown and hybrid work are not the same thing, so this means that there are a lot of organisations who will need to revisit the structure of their working from home arrangements in the post-pandemic world. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a Band-Aid solution is as good as a well-planned, long-term one just because it hasn’t fallen down yet. Instead, make sure you’re supporting your customer service team by meeting the access needs for work with strong, flexible platforms, clear guidelines and well-documented operation procedures.
Centralise your data in a single source of truth database.
A single source of truth database is one where all references to a datum go back to a single, editable point regarded as the source of truth. All updates made to that single point are propagated across all references to that information. This practice helps you limit out of date, inaccurate or duplicate data in your database. It’s a way of making sure your data is as correct and complete as you can possibly make it.
Having several references to one customer that hold conflicting information can be a nightmare for staff and customers alike—no customer wants to call your business a third time to correct some item of misinformation, and no representative enjoys answering that phone call.
In practical terms, using a single source of truth means that all of your staff who might be accessing information on your CRM system are going to be seeing the right information. It helps you comply with data privacy regulations by keeping information up to date, and it ensures you won’t be sending conflicting messages to your customers. It only becomes more important when customer service staff are operating in the relative isolation of remote work and are less able to manually double-check the information they see.
Eliminate unnecessary manual work
There are some kinds of work that should be done by people and not machines. This is particularly important in customer service, where human connection is vital to success. This is necessary manual work.
Unnecessary manual work is nevertheless likely underpinning much of what supports your customer service delivery. This includes basic data manipulation, extracting lists, importing information into your customer database or even making manual updates using third party sources.
When it comes to processes like this, a machine runs a process identically every time, so as long as it’s correct once, it is going to be correct every time. A human doesn’t have the same advantage—they must get it right every single time. Over time, this introduces a significant possibility for error. Under a remote working arrangement, staff can be isolated and unable to have their work even spot-checked, which makes human error harder to catch and correct before it begins to affect your business.
Ensure your team has all the information they need
The kind of information your team needs in order to offer the best customer experience possible will be highly dependent on your business.
For example, if you ship physical products to your customers, it will be vital to know their addresses and if they’ve recently moved. But if your service delivery is online from end to end, you might have a greater need to ensure you’re contacting verified email addresses and won’t compromise your sender reputation with duds, ISP complaints and hard bounces.
The one thing that all businesses have in common, regardless of what kind of customer data they use, is that they need it all to be as up to date and accurate as possible. Make sure that the data your team uses is up to date and accurate to ensure a seamless customer experience.
Data validation and verification services can help you with this. Data validation is the practice of combing through your database and ensuring that certain fields match the parameters set for them. For example, data validation can be used to flag any dates of birth that are outside a certain range—vital for services that don’t or can’t market to minors. Data verification helps ensure that your data is accurate by confirming it against third-party data sources, like the Australia Post National Change of Address database, which captures eighty per cent of address changes across Australia.
These practices can fortify your team with the information they need to ensure smooth customer experience and prevent shipping nightmares, uncomfortable mistakes or accidental non-compliance with regulations.
Providing excellent customer service post-covid will rely on a wide range of factors, some of which will be unexpected and impossible to predict. However, you can set your team up for success no matter what the future holds by taking a proactive approach, ensuring they’re able to focus on their core capabilities and have all the information they need at their fingertips.