Covid-19 has had a resounding impact on businesses. Regardless of industry, business plans have had to be rewritten and many organisations have had to make short-term tech investments to continue operations.
However, as the dust is settling around a new ‘business as usual’, it is time to take stock of existing operations and make sure that the needs of your agents – however dispersed they might be – and that of your customer base are being met. Indeed, the fear is that the voice of your customers, notably the most vulnerable ones who need your help, is being lost in the noise of everything else. In a business climate such as today’s, organisations need to make sure that they are ‘switched on’ to the signals – even the subtlest ones – from its customer base.
The contact centre in the new normal
Throughout this unprecedented crisis, customer service has never been more important. However, for agents, numerous challenges remain in this new ‘working from home’ environment. Aside from issues such as finding a suitable space to quietly connect with customers, factors such as a lack of support from supervisors to help with challenging and complex calls, have taken their toll.
Added to that is the evolution of customer contact. From an agent perspective, the signals they are trained to look out for from customers are changing every week, so keeping pace has been an uphill struggle. Depending on the channels used to connect, customers display different requirements so contact centre teams need to make sure that they have a different strategy in place to deal with each potential scenario – keeping front of mind those more ‘vulnerable’ customers.
Who is the vulnerable customer?
According to the FCA, “A vulnerable consumer is someone who, due to their personal circumstances, is especially susceptible to detriment”. Those factors include bereavement, illness, stress and anxiety from a change of circumstances, amongst others. As such, due to the widespread impact of Covid-19, the number of potentially vulnerable customers has increased. Those who previously wouldn’t have been classified in this category may suddenly need to be redefined as they deal with increasingly challenging circumstances. The reality is that any one of us could suddenly become a vulnerable customer. But are we listening to them?
The contact centre’s ability to address vulnerable customers differs substantially across sectors. Recent research from CallMiner has shown that insurance companies – where perhaps you would expect agents to be well-versed in dealing with the vulnerable – are perceived by customers to be the least effective at recognising vulnerability (only 50% of respondents gave a good rating in this category). The same research found utilities companies to fair slightly better, with over half of customers rating them as good at recognising vulnerability. Overall, the banking sector emerged with the top ranking with more than 66% of respondents giving a positive rating. However, across all sectors, the same research found significant improvements from the previous year, suggesting that strides are being taken in the right direction. But more can still be done.
How can we get better?
Technology exists that can look at specific vulnerable customer triggers and that can help guide agents to the next best course of action that will help a particular customer.
In practice, this means analysing your call recordings or online conversations from the likes of web chat and email. You should be analysing the granularity of the calls to look for common themes and topics to get a better overall understanding of the customer. Artificial Intelligence can be used to analyse words, phrases or behaviours from customers –even periods of silence or where there might be agitation from a customer can be analysed. All of these factors help contact centres to understand recurring themes and conversations, which in turn help to better train staff to provide more attuned guidance to customers.
To do this effectively, we need to have agents working consistently. In the virtual contact centre that many currently find themselves in, making the workplace a consistent area of analysis can be challenging. When agents are assessed, make sure they are being scored across common areas such as quality, ownership, customer satisfaction, process adherence, sentiment and vulnerability risk assessment. This will help with consistency across the board. But it is equally important to look at the calls holistically – celebrating the good that has been achieved by the agent, as well as the areas that need improvement.
This immediacy in feedback to agents also provides an opportunity for coaching in real time– perhaps, even something as simple as a supervisor following up after a call to suggest better outcomes in the future – all with the aim to provide better overall service, and provide agents with better guidance on effectively dealing with more challenging customer contacts.
The need for greater understanding
Every customer interaction presents an opportunity to identify a customer vulnerability so that we can ensure customers are treated fairly, consistently and with empathy. Particularly in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, tools like interaction analytics that can help to recognise and manage customer vulnerability and help agents better do their jobs, meet obligations and ultimately help to drive customer lifetime value, are vital to showing understanding to customers that we’re all in this together.
Originally published in Contact Centres.