The majority of businesses have felt some kind of impact from the coronavirus pandemic – from travel agencies working with customers to cancel/rebook holidays, to retailers having to move to online sales only, writes Sandra Schroeter, VP Product Marketing, at IMImobile.
At this time, many of us have been trying to find out whether businesses will remain open, and if so, what items and services they are still making available. Understandably, customer service teams have become swamped with these kinds of enquiries, limiting their ability to respond and share key information.
Managing Growing Volumes
In order to manage a growing tide of inbound requests, businesses must have a specific strategy in place. Even though there is a large volume of calls to deal with, customers still need to have their questions answered.
For most businesses, it isn’t simply a case of just hiring more contact centre staff. Businesses are already allocating large budgets to these operations – $1.3 trillion a year, according to IBM. Even if this luxury was available to a business, temporary call centre staff may well be difficult to locate and train at short notice.
Where Could Calls be Deflected to?
Instead, businesses should focus on stemming the number of inbound calls they have to deal with in the first place. But, what is the best way to set about doing this in practice? To date, businesses have been managing large volumes of calls with Interactive Voice Response (IVR), but they are increasingly switching their attentions to chatbots and popular consumer messaging channels instead.
For frequently asked questions, where an answer already exists, businesses can use chatbots to share information with customers straight away. Chatbots can also handle common customer journeys and tasks that lend themselves to automation. While the first generation of chatbots disappointed, the technology has matured and is ready to support customers at scale. This automated approach will help cut some of the call traffic down, although there will of course be scenarios where the conversation needs to be taken over by a human agent.
That’s where messaging apps come in. Businesses have been using SMS to communicate with customers for years, whether that’s a retailer sharing the delivery date for an order, or an airline sending confirmation that a cancelled booking has been refunded. Now, many of them are also turning to new messaging channels such as RCS and WhatsApp, which allow interactions to become two-way, so customers can respond in real-time. Customer service agents can also manage multiple text-based conversations at one time, and elements of the journey can be automated to speed up the process and lessen the burden on human agents even further.
Proactive and Reactive Steps to Divert the Flow
Businesses can use a two-pronged strategy for limiting the number of calls and diverting as many conversations onto messaging channels as possible. Firstly, they need to think about what customers are likely to be asking, and then proactively reach out before customers pick up the phone to get in touch. Calling them one-by-one would be a costly and time-consuming exercise but sending an SMS or WhatsApp message is much more practical. Using messaging channels to send regular service updates to customers can dramatically lower the number of inbound requests a business is likely to receive.
Of course, you cannot always predict when incidents will arise that will lead to a spike in customer queries. As such, businesses can divert calls onto messaging channels and automation from within their IVR. This strategy helps them avoid voice agent teams being overrun and unable to answer calls from customers with enquiries that are better handled over the phone.
There’s nothing worse than feeling like your calls are being avoided, but if businesses do not act when faced with a large volume of calls, they run the risk of letting customers down. With a two-pronged strategy for deflecting calls, both proactively reaching out to customers, and then reactively deflecting calls to messaging channels, they will be able to stay afloat and ensure customers are able to access key information when they need it.