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17 May 2020

Covid-19 will drive big changes in digital customer service

Pandemic drives digital innovation

By Nic Ray, BrandsEye CEO, first published in Tech Central on 14 April 2020

With 96% of its flights grounded, cabin crew at Singapore Airlines are helping the carrier’s overwhelmed social media team identify customer complaints on Facebook and Twitter.

In the UK, where contact centres have not yet closed, Virgin Media is employing 500 new call centre staff to meet the growing demand for customer service after its offshore centres in the Philippines and India shut.

The Financial Times reported that the chief concern for British banks wasn’t liquidity, but whether they would be able to maintain customer service amidst the massive influx from customers in financial difficulty.

We can expect better, more responsive digital customer service, and both businesses and their customers stand to benefit In South Africa, a CEO of a Durban-based call centre was arrested for operating the facility during the national lockdown.

Customer service is facing unprecedented pressure

Covid-19 will change many aspects of daily life, from remote working to personal hygiene, but one of the most significant changes is likely to be the way we seek information from the organisations we buy from and subscribe to, including banks, telecommunications operators and retailers. We can expect better, more responsive digital customer service, and both businesses and their customers stand to benefit.

For a while now, millennials have expressed their preference for contacting brands on social media and live chat, rather than by picking up the phone. For many people, myself included, asynchronous digital customer support is convenient and permits me to seek help when and where I need it without disrupting my (remote) working.

Digital channels

The halt of normal life, which has kept us home and led to the closure of physical branches and stores — including in some countries the closure of call centres — will now force all of us to consider digital customer service channels. In theory, we’re lucky to have them. I can contact my telecoms operator about a connectivity or billing issue over a bowl of cereal. But, in reality, organisations around the world, however large, are facing a new and unprecedented wave of customer service queries that they won’t have faced before. The swift and serious measures some organisations have taken to prioritise business continuity and maintain customer service is good news. But they must move quickly or risk losing customers and causing lasting reputational damage.

South Africa’s lockdown has already led many more consumers to use social media when seeking service.

BrandsEye’s assessment of some 950 000 social media posts involving six South African industries between 1 March to 2 April 2020, found that businesses are struggling to respond to customer queries amid increased online conversation due to Covid-19. Since a national state of disaster was announced on 15 March, the rate of response to customer posts that require attention has dropped by 26.6% across banking, retail, telcos, insurers, pharmacies and ISPs.

Between President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 15 March announcement and 2 April, banks suffered the largest response rate drop of 39.2%, while supermarkets and pharmacies had the most significant customer conversation growth of 300% and 257% respectively. As shopping for medical supplies and groceries is still permitted under lockdown, online consumer conversation has focused on pricing, stocks of sanitiser products, and the safety and hygiene measures retailers are taking for customers and staff.

The primary challenge faced by organisations is finding the important customer conversations to respond to from within all of the increased noise of social media. Too many organisations still rely on systems that do not filter incoming social media conversation. The good news is that this is likely to change.

Covid-19 will force organisations to revise the ways they serve their customers, likely shifting focus to digital channels and introducing new measures and tools designed to alleviate pressure on their care teams. The net impact of this is responsive and reliable service. There will be some hiccups, but if organisations get this right, we are likely to see a global change in consumer-brand interactions that will have long-lasting benefits for businesses and their customers for years to come.

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