How 2020 has changed customer service

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This has been a year of change, that much we all know. Few facets of business were not profoundly rocked by the pandemic and its ripple effects. So how has 2020 changed customer service?

 

It’s shifted customer expectations

For starters, your customer support team is the harbinger of empathy, something that’s been deeply sought after since the pandemic began. We’ve been asked to practice more empathy — wear a mask not only because it helps keep you healthy but because it helps keep others healthy, social distance yourself if you’re sick in order to save other people’s lives. These are the messages of the pandemic. This is how we have been getting through. It’s no wonder customers are looking for the same level of empathy from the brands they love and choose to purchase from during this time. 

Then, of course the front line of empathy at most businesses is customer support. They’re the ones fielding messages from frustrated customers when orders are delayed or to find out about your health and safety protocols or to delay a bill payment. They’re the ones providing the follow-up messages to customers after their online purchases to thank them, send them a loyalty discount and offer that reliable brand voice and delight the customer. 

Well before this year began, the customer was already seen as  a relationship that needs careful management rather than a series of transactions. But as of March of 2020, during a time when in-person shopping took a huge, and in many cases irreparable, hit, the relationship with the customer became even more paramount.

Ninety-three percent of customer service teams agree that customers have upped their expectations in 2020, according to Hubspot’s 2020 State of Service report. Messages delivered at the start of the pandemic from most brands, not just the big names, were of support, empathy, encouragement. Marketing departments hustled to broadcast their empathy to their customers. They wanted everyone to know that their company cared. Why? Because that’s what customers expected. It’s what the moment called for. 

 

It’s streamlined online ordering

From April to June 2020, e-commerce spend in the U.S. increased by more than 31 percent compared to the previous quarter. According to a recent report by J.P.Morgan, the dearth in in-person sales sometimes coincided with an uptick in online business. This uptick provided an opportunity for many companies to pivot their focus and invest in enhancing the online customer experience. 

As a result, e-commerce exploded. GoDaddy, one of the leading website hosting platforms in the U.S., saw a 48 percent jump in subscribers to e-commerce products between February and April. Should a purchase webpage stop loading or a discount code not work or a customer is struggling to find an item they’re looking for online, your support team needs to be there to make the customer experience as seamless as possible. Then, of course, there are always fulfillment questions, returns and questions about billing. E-commerce relies on smooth, painless customer support touchpoints as much as any other.

 

It’s increased volume and complexity

Fifty-one percent of B2C businesses report larger call volumes since the start of the pandemic, which challenged their capacity to keep up, and that number shot up to 75 percent for retail businesses. When the pandemic began in the U.S., there were delays in shipping and confusion in ordering and convoluted safety procedures to take into account. Customers were also concerned about their in-person shopping experiences as well and often sought information on available products or safety procedures they’d be facing. 

And, of course, at the same time as customer queries were increasing in complexity and volume, customer service faced the same reduced employee headcount as other departments did. Support teams didn’t get a break just because the workload increased. Like everyone else, they had to do more with less. 

On top of that, with most customer service employees working from home, many of the tools used to assist customers were suddenly no longer available. According to Harvard Business Review research done earlier in the pandemic, there was a distinct change in the challenges customer support teams faced due to lack of infrastructure. Simple conveniences like being in the office to consult a colleague on a particularly challenging query or maintaining a reliable phone connection throughout the conversation became frustration points for many. The research indicates that hold times at some companies shot up by 34 percent and support calls escalated to managers and higher-ups increased by 68 percent. 

As your team is likely to work from home — at least part of the time — for the foreseeable future, these frustrations could haunt support teams. In fact, the challenges caused by at-home customer service during a pandemic are probably going to remain unless companies make a shift in supportive technology. The teams that have the technology to be able to respond quickly and accurately to customer queries are going to be the teams with the most success.

 

It’s propelled better technology

The pandemic has been a time to reflect on old practices that may have been working but not seeing as much success as they should be. Customer support teams across the board have taken to adopting new, more efficient technologies to aid the support process and ultimately prop up the entire customer experience. 

Michael Maoz, Salesforce’s senior VP of Innovation Strategy, told ZDNet in an interview that tech like “remote monitoring and diagnostics, video, text messaging, dynamic shift scheduling, predictive AI for parts positioning and maintenance, and greater technician autonomy, will all be under consideration as a part of field service.” New technologies that are being deployed during this time of customer experience creativity can open the door to better businesses overall.

Text messaging is one of the technologies that can help support your support team as the pandemic continues and into the future of increasing customer expectations. More than half of consumers prefer texting over calling with customer support.

With text messaging for business, you can rely on centralized inboxes for an easy way to route queries, track chat histories to help build stronger customer relationships, tag requests to help your team understand customer needs better. Your team can use templated messages, automations and texting that integrates with Salesforce or Slack for convenience and organization — all of which lend to enhancing the customer experience.