Building agility into your customer service strategy
It currently seems that disruption is the new normal. From the impact of the pandemic to the latest supply chain issues affecting petrol stations, problems caused by external factors are growing. These can appear quickly and are difficult to foresee or plan for. To cope businesses have to build agility into their customer service strategy.
This requires a more flexible approach that supports frontline employees. Agents (and staff on the ground) are at the sharp end, dealing with dissatisfied, emotional, and often angry customers. Often they may not have the full facts to hand, or have the ability to solve customer problems, adding to their own stress levels.
So how can businesses better support agents? They need to create an agile customer service strategy that has the flexibility to deal with a rapidly changing world, focusing on five key areas:
1. Put the right infrastructure in place
The switch to working from home demonstrated the importance of cloud-based solutions in the contact centre. Organisations that had moved to the cloud were able to get staff up and running instantly, wherever they were based, ensuring a smooth transition, and continued high levels of customer support. As we move to hybrid working this flexibility remains key – for example, allowing agents to work from home rather than drive into the office if they are short of fuel.
Agents rely on information from a whole range of other business systems to answer customer questions. That means your contact centre infrastructure must integrate with solutions such logistics and CRM to give the up-to-date information that customers need. And it also needs to be open to connect with suppliers (such as couriers) to ensure agents have the full picture.
2. Support your agents and customers with the right knowledge
In fast-moving, unclear situations customers want reassurance. That means providing them with the latest information, delivered consistently across every channel that they use. Creating a centralised, up-to-date knowledge base is therefore vital. Agents can access answers when dealing with queries over the phone or digital channels such as email, chat, or social media, with the same information being made available on your website through self-service. The same knowledge can even be shared with the wider business – such as staff based in shops or petrol stations who are dealing with consumers face-to-face.
3. Be proactive
When disruption happens, customers want answers. But they don’t necessarily want to spend time calling or emailing the contact centre. Businesses should therefore be proactive and clearly share information on their websites, Facebook pages, via Twitter or by text/messaging apps. For example, if supply chain problems mean a delivery will be delayed, then sending an update ahead of time will avoid the need for a customer to make contact, while still delivering reassurance. This approach also reduces incoming contact volumes, freeing up agent time to answer other queries and shortening waiting times.
4. Put in place clear processes
Businesses today need to be flexible, which means bringing in additional resources when times are busy, often by tapping into the gig economy. This could be adding freelance drivers to ensure deliveries are made or expanding the contact centre team in the run up to peak periods such as Christmas.
Ensure that you have visibility across your operations by putting in place clear processes that everyone (whether employed directly or indirectly) must follow. For example, mandate that every driver logs on and provides their mobile number ahead of starting their shift, so customer service (and consumers) can make contact in case of issues. From the customer point of view, they want a clear, consistent experience, and having the right processes helps you deliver this.
5. Empower your people
At times of disruption, customers may have queries that fall outside the scope of your existing processes and knowledge base. Answering these questions therefore requires a different approach, with agents empowered to do more to solve a problem. This could be reaching out to other departments and collaborating to find an answer, simply spending longer on a call empathising with the customer or providing a specific solution based on the consumer’s particular needs. Training and enabling your agents to go above and beyond will boost satisfaction, increase loyalty, and ensure you build a reputation as a customer-centric organisation.
No-one can predict what the future will bring. So, organisations need to be flexible and agile if they are going to adapt to changing circumstances. Putting in place the right infrastructure, skills and processes is therefore vital to ensure customers receive the service that they need, whatever disruptions the world throws at you.