A Blend of Empathy and Tech Will Future-Proof Customer Support

By Anand Venkatraman, Vice President & General Manager, – APAC Partnerships, Freshworks

Businesses today are in the middle of reimagining many key functions in the aftermath of COVID-19 to address the new world order, due to the disruptions it brought. In Singapore’s retail sector, sales declined 10.8% percent in September compared to the previous year, due to the disruptions the pandemic caused.

Profound changes in the human experience are influencing how consumers engage with brands and what they expect from these interactions. Accenture notes that human responses to the pandemic, such as an erosion in confidence, adjusting to the virtualisation of the world, and a greater focus on health, are impacting consumers’ choices. According to the KPMG 2020 Customer Experience Excellence Singapore Report, newly digitalised companies now find themselves on the same platform as other companies who have perfected their delivery standards. These new digital companies need to rethink their strategy and find faster ways to respond and deliver to customer.

It is critical that businesses understand these responses, and adapt the customer support infrastructure, to operate successfully.

It is also an exact moment when a failure to plan is essentially a plan to fail. An unprepared, ineffective and demoralised customer service department will impact the entire organisation.

The teams on the front lines receiving e-commerce, supply chain and logistics questions need to be prepared for even greater tests as everyone adapts to a post-pandemic world. Maintaining high-quality experiences in the foreseeable future will not be possible if customer service teams are not supported with tools to streamline their work and they are not met with the same empathy that is reserved for customers.

Spreading the empathy around

Excellent customer support agents are adept at balancing knowledge of company products and services with a caring, personal approach. Small gestures go a long way in improving individual agent-to-customer interactions and reflecting the business’ values to the world. In this competitive environment, investing more effort in taking care of customers improves the chances that they will stay loyal to the brand. However, in a recent survey Freshworks conducted with the Harvard Business Review, only about half of executives believed that better employee engagement resulted in happier customers and higher quality products or services.

As the direct connection to customers, it is in the best interest of the business to first take care of support agents so they can continue delivering high-quality experiences. Recognition for exceeding expectations and acknowledging the difficulties over these months can keep teams motivated and engaged on the tough road ahead.

Tech enhancements to customer interactions

Providing personal, human-centric customer support is also reliant on the technological capabilities of the team. Without the right tools, resources and processes to exceed customer expectations, companies run the risk of losing them to competitors. Some key customer pet peeves in the retail journey relate to friction that slows down transactions or makes it more difficult to obtain the information they are looking for. Customers commonly note the inconvenience of repeating the details of an order or inquiry across channels. An omnichannel help desk solution with agents trained to handle multiple channels simultaneously provides a 360-degree view of customers’ journeys.

Providing this level of personalised support at scale can be a challenge, particularly as ongoing social distancing guidelines in Singapore’s second phase of reopening push more people to shop online. Customers expect immediate answers to questions, even outside of normal business hours. Singapore Management University’s (SMU’s) latest report on customer satisfaction uncovered that Singaporean consumers who conducted research online before making a purchase had 13.4 percent higher levels of customer loyalty and spent significantly more that those who had not conducted prior research online. Embracing automation through self-service options and chatbots provides a first line of defence for customer support teams.

Deploying a robust online knowledge base meets this need well for a simple reason: given the option, people would rather help themselves than turn to someone else for help. However, setting up a knowledge base, dropdown FAQ, or support community is the easy part. Keeping the information up-to-date and steering customers to these resources is much harder. Deploying site-wide widgets ensures that customers have no trouble accessing the knowledge base and optimising these pages for SEO enables customers to find the information when they need it. Adopting self-service options reduces support volumes and improves overall customer satisfaction.

When the knowledge base is unable to answer a customer’s question adequately, adding a ‘Contact Us’ button on each webpage directs them to further assistance that can be addressed by chatbots. With entire customer support team working remotely, it is the perfect time to deploy an AI-assisted chatbot to bolster their output. Chat and self-service options are mutually inclusive and can work in tandem to address customer issues and allow your agents to focus on more complex queries. Research has shown that automating your customer support workflows with a chatbot can deflect up to 80 percent of routine questions.

Striking the right balance

Empathy and technology are two sides of the same coin. Automation is not a substitute for old-fashioned interpersonal communication. As more customer interactions taking place virtually with remote teams, it will be exciting to see how customer service is further reshaped by the changing times.

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