To try to stop the spread of COVID-19, companies and governments are mandating people work from home. Customer service managers are navigating through a time with a displaced workplace, at the same time when their agents are on the front lines of an unprecedented pandemic. Many companies are finding there may be no better time than the present to turn to AI to support their customers and agents.
With COVID-19, customer service agents are on the front lines
The panic and uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus has led to a surge in customer service tickets. Few, if any, industries have been spared, although the circumstances vary greatly from industry to industry.
Companies including airlines, hotels, conferences and events are managing an influx of cancellations or deferral requests. Frustrated customers are experiencing hours-long wait times looking for refunds or credits. Agents’ work is further complicated by ever-evolving company policies, as well as new and quickly-changing local and federal regulations.
This compares to the influx of tickets for companies that can power the social-distancing society, like meal kits and subscription companies, streaming services and e-commerce. These businesses are seeing a surge in demand. These new customers come with their own issues and questions. That’s why if you look at the Contact Us page of these companies, it’s not uncommon to see a note asking for patience due to “higher than normal ticket volumes.”
Support Challenges with Business Continuity Plans
Customer service managers have multiple challenges during this time that are putting business continuity plans to the test like never before: new hires and a remote workforce.
As demands for their products and services skyrocket, eCommerce companies like Amazon1 and Walmart2, grocery and meal delivery companies like Instacart, and companies that power the work-from-home ecosystem are on a hiring frenzy. These new hires that need to be trained remotely, and monitored closely in their first few weeks of work to ensure consistency.
Experienced agents are also now working remotely. Some hourly workers don’t have ideal work-from-home set-ups with proper work stations, computers and wifi. The costs associated with outfitting teams for remote work adds another cost in already uncertain economic times.
In these circumstances, it’s difficult to maintain trust and transparency, as well as keep resolution times down and CSAT high.
Why AI is more critical than ever for customer service teams
AI is proving to be an essential part of customer service teams that are weathering this storm with high customer satisfaction, as well as agent productivity and happiness. This is because AI is the ultimate team player: always-on, 24/7; transparent in its work; guard-railing new agents during their training process and doling out work fairly to existing agents. Let’s dive in to how AI is helping companies through the Coronavirus:
1. Always-on and always-resolving
AI agents don’t sleep, get sick or take breaks. AI resolves repeatable, simple queries and tickets in seconds, so human agents can focus solely on more pressing, high-touch and critical issues. Response times will decrease substantially, as AI alleviates work from agents.
2. Scale-up, scale-down in seconds
AI can scale to adapt to changes in volume immediately. While hiring new agents can take days, if not weeks, which is accompanied by training and on-boarding, relief for your existing agents is far from immediate. Compare this with AI: it can handle an infinite number of tickets at a single time. For example, WestJet previously averaged 60 customer service messages per minute on Facebook Messenger, but during the first week of the Coronavirus outbreak in North America, it peaked at 200+ per second. Because the airline leveraged a virtual agent, response times remained low, even as volume surged.
3. On-boarding new agents
Once agents have been trained initially, they still might have low confidence about how to respond or questions about a business policy. AI can recommend responses to agents, which can serve as a point of reference for them.
4. Identifying new or trending issues
In real-time, AI can alert customer service managers in real-time if there is a spike in tickets related to a specific issue, or ones within a specific geographic region. This can help the company monitor the situation, create a response plan and proactively communicate it to all affected customers.
There are plenty of tech solutions that track agent work and productivity, but AI is completely measurable. Customer service managers will know, in real-time, precisely what is and is not working, how AI is helping agents, as well as key metrics such as SLAs, CSAT, resolution and response times.
6. Being the first line of defense for anxious and rude customers
According to an article in The Atlantic, “Research has consistently shown that the emotional labor often performed by people in customer-service jobs – the smiling through rudeness, the calming of nerves, the constant control of one’s own emotions – has what one widely cited study described as “uniformly negative effects on workers.” 3
All of this is true on a normal day. Now, compound the stress of today’s environment where customers are unsure, panicked and anxious. We’re also in a time when families are doing triple duty: working, parenting and teaching.
AI can help with agents’ emotional well being in a few ways. On the most basic level, AI offloads work and responsibility. AI can also leverage sentiment analysis to route frustrated or anxious customers to the right agents. For instance, this could be an agent who has not had a difficult customer in the last hour, sparing the agent who just finished with a difficult customer.
7. Available across every channel
AI can scale across email, chat, social, and voice. When you leverage AI, you don’t have to choose or sacrifice performance on one channel while your company focuses on another. AI enables companies to be present on a customer’s channel of choice.
It’s a new world. Is your customer service team ready?
In an article in the Financial Times, Ann Fracke, head of the Chartered Management Institute, says “This is unprecedented. It may change the workplace forever. Everyone will need to embrace a different sort of workplace behavior4”.
AI will be the key hire for customer service organizations in the immediate future. When support departments become stretched and remote, AI can help maintain CSAT, boost agent productivity and provide experiences that build long-term loyalty.
Netomi is here to assist you during the Coronavirus pandemic. Our AI solution is strictly focused on customer service teams. In times like this we understand your customer service organization needs support. Let’s chat about how AI can provide relief and help scale your team.
- CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/11/amazon-is-hiring-3000-remote-workers-in-18-states.html
- Yahoo! Finance: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/walmart-to-hire-150000-people-amid-coronavirus-002023425.html
- The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/03/customer-service-workers-are-charge-pandemic/607801/
- Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/5dc60b96-669c-11ea-800d-da70cff6e4d3