Call Center Industry
In 2022, the call center industry seems primed to surpass its two most profitable years — 2016 and 2018. According to a report published by IBISWorld, an industry analyst, the 2022 U.S. telemarketing and call centers market size is projected to reach $23.9 billion. That’s 2% market growth. If anything can be taken from the shutdown, the consumer’s need for personal engagement has not lessened.
How the Pandemic Has Changed Customer Service
As a result of the pandemic, many companies in various industries were forced to modify how they interacted with customers. Whether curbside pickup, essential safety enhancements, or a bolstered online presence, the modifications weren’t hard to miss. As we enter a post-pandemic era, it’s obvious that some of those changes will endure long into the future. This is because the customers themselves have changed.
According to a report by Talkdesk, most consumers have higher expectations for customer service than before the pandemic. The primary example is that they expect quick and convenient interactions with customer service.
The Return to the New Normal
The function of the contact center agent has changed, with calls becoming more complicated and emotionally charged. Customers want phone support because they want individualized answers to their queries. For this reason, agents need soft skills such as active listening, compassion, empathy, and understanding. Being a nimble problem-solver and a critical thinker is equally as important.
Customer experiences are driven by more than what they hope to achieve; they’re driven by other factors, such as their past experiences, their emotional state, and the urgency of their request. If the pandemic has taught us anything, human intervention is vital for getting customers aware of offerings. Not only that, but it’s necessary for getting customers to understand digital offerings, as well as how to use them.
According to the Bank Administration Institute (BAI), financial institutions of all sizes were polled about how customer contact has been affected by the pandemic. Approximately 70% of respondents named “online and/or mobile banking support” as the main contributor to increased inbound calls. This was over COVID-related matters and requests for Economic Impact Payment (EIP) information.
Organizations that aren’t prepared to provide top-notch customer service, they’ll lose their customers to their competitors. Technological innovation has reshaped how customers interact with companies. However, one thing remains true: customers want human interaction. This is because the COVID-19 pandemic raised the standards for empathy. In order to truly push emotional engagement with consumers, companies need to adopt the role of contact centers.
Ways COVID Has Changed Customer Service: The Return to the New Normal
Primarily, businesses and their customer service teams have done their utmost to satisfy customer needs by adapting their services. While some of these attempts have worked, others have failed miserably. Below are some service trends that demonstrate what customers expect post-pandemic.
Demand for Personal Connection and Empathy
For many Americans, the isolation brought on by the shutdowns was one of the toughest side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. But isolation also brought with it an appreciation for personal connection — even if it meant connecting with customer service agents. The result is a greater demand for a more personalized customer service experience. Niraj Ranjan, CEO of Hiver, told MarTech Series that “The focus has to be on building relationships.”
The MarTech Series report explains that “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, more than 80% of consumers in the US expect customer support to get more empathetic or more responsive, and in some cases, both, according to the findings of the report ‘Customer Support Through The Eyes of Consumers in 2020’ published by Hiver.”
In terms of showing customers more empathy, the new post-COVID customer experience requires that agents be more accommodating. It doesn’t matter if someone calls in and asks a question that is actually answered on the company’s FAQ page. This has led to a major shift towards automation technology that augments — not replaces — one-on-one support interactions.
For example, messaging automation remains a significantly important tool for most organizations. However, rather than using it as a way to carry out entire conversations, it’s become more of a means to an end. Another example can be found in the amount of investment by brands into technologies such as customer-in-control and callback solutions. Of course, call centers are also investing heavily in automating more mundane requests and streamlining responses so that agents actually have more time to spend with callers.
Have Better Understanding and Anticipate Customer Needs
It’s no longer adequate for brands to respond to consumer feedback as service expectations increase. Customers’ needs changed, like the direction of the wind during the pandemic, with companies forced to adjust likewise. This required them to understand and anticipate those needs in nearly real-time to stay ahead. To achieve this, call centers have started to invest in advanced call data and analytics tools.
Throughout the pandemic, 57% of C-suite executives invested in advanced data and analytics tools, according to digital consulting firm West Monroe. An additional 21% have invested in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to help provide critical customer and operational information. Such tools became particularly prevalent after brands were taken by surprise by how fast COVID impacted business.
In a report published by Informa Tech, “Within banking, many of these efforts are focused on risk management, fraud prevention, and compliance-related activities [….] The customer experience is at the heart of the telecommunication industry’s BDA investments; for instance, BDA technologies are being deployed in call centers to enable representatives to delight callers with superior service.”
Through data analytics, a call center can do numerous things better, such as better understanding what customers need and expect. We here at Millennial Services believe that reliance on data and analytics is a hallmark of a post-COVID era.
According to the Harvard Business Review, a study found that the number of escalations in contact centers increased 68%. For call centers, escalations and/or redirects are essentially problems that are sent up the chain of command. Analysts ascribed this sudden spike to call centers having to deal with twice as many “difficult” calls. That was compounded by the fact that they were also trying to figure out how to re-systematize their service with most of their agents working remotely.
“Problem” calls are more demanding for call center reps, as well as more frustrating for customers. The more times a customer is placed on hold and the more people they’re forwarded to, it only makes it harder to resolve the issue. More often than not, they’ll merely hang up. Trying to connect the best agent for each call using an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system can be problematic. For this reason, it’s a good idea to offer customers a choice of intents so customers can link up with the right agent.
Excessive Hold Times
The pandemic led to massive shifts in the availability of products and services. As a result, call centers experienced a dramatic increase in call volume. Hold times in 2020 were among the many things that were described as “unprecedented.” Whether people were trying to track a care package, defer a loan payment, get a refund for an airline ticket, or something else, being on hold was a frequent occurence in 2020.
In a story published by the Washington Post, Amazon had reportedly asked its customers to wait at least three days before calling and inquiring about packages that hadn’t arrived when expected. In other words, its call center needed breathing room to handle the increased call volume. During the height of the pandemic, people were literally waiting on hold for hours. And this lasted for months, not merely weeks like during the Christmas holiday.
However, call center leaders should keep in mind that, according to Shep Hyken, a best-selling author on customer service, 60% of customers think that being on hold for one minute is too long. Organizations tried to manage excessive hold times using various tactics, such as asking customers to call back during off-peak hours. Others went as far as revamping their self-service infrastructure. Of course, it also became popular to simply outsource a third-party call center to handle the excess calls.
But due to the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic in those early days, customer call volumes kept climbing. Those organizations that ultimately couldn’t handle the increased call volume inevitably suffered in more ways than one. The organizations that experienced a rocky start but wound up thriving adopted things like callback scheduling. This is because over 60% of customers stated they prefer that over being placed on hold.
By allowing callers to control when they get in touch with a representative, they’re returning control to the consumer. Not only is there nothing wrong with doing that, but it’s something that has been needed for quite some time.
With callback scheduling, callers can go about their daily activities, get stuff done, make additional calls, among other things. Most importantly for the call center, its agents aren’t forced to deal with displeased customers who have been on hold for half a day. And if they were, at least it wasn’t your call center that had them on hold.
Missed Opportunities To Connect
NBC and Telemundo conducted a survey on customer service during the pandemic in November 2020. According to the findings, 75% of those who responded felt customer service had gotten worse. In addition to that, another 78% of consumers were forced to contact companies numerous times to address one issue. Of that 78%, most of them had to contact a company between two to nine times before their issue was resolved.
One respondent reported that they encountered a recorded message that merely repeated itself in a loop. It goes without saying that they were never able to speak to an actual human. By the time the worst of the pandemic was over and things returned to “normal,” 55% of consumers never got their issues resolved. Thus, it’s pretty easy to understand why there is such a disconnect between brands and consumers post-COVID. People are traumatized in all sorts of ways, and customer service played a huge role in that.
But, in all fairness, not all of the issues plaguing customer service were the fault of agents or even management. Not only were most of them not accustomed to working from home but they had to learn completely new tech. This means hardware and software, as well as using various platforms for different tasks. On top of that, they lost their network of on-demand assistance if they needed help. Even then, there is no reasonable excuse for being hard to reach or totally unreachable. This holds especially true if a brand claims that its responsiveness sets it apart from its competition.
Top Tier Talent Customized for Your Brand
Enterprises often refer to customer service as a cost center that doesn’t generate a profit or produce a return on investment (ROI). Many organizations presume that no matter how much they invest in customer service, it’s impossible to know if all that time, money, and training were worthwhile. Thus, why not invest all those resources in aspects of the business that are more efficient?
It goes without saying that this is a huge mistake.
Having a call center partner will help fill talent gaps in a highly competitive market. Some of the industries where this has played out include insurance, healthcare, news publications, financial services, subscription-based services, eCommerce, Travel and Hospitality, and many others.
What Does Your Business Need?
Millennial Services is not merely an answering service; we’re a fully-fledged, highly scalable dedicated contact center with Omnichannel Support capabilities. Not only that, but we invest our time in curating customer care knowledge bases, crafting quality assurance regimens, refining customized analytics and reporting packages, as well as continually enhancing your customer support operations.
Our team does this in order to bring you one outcome: the best customer care experience for you and your customers. If you want to learn more about how we can work with you to improve your customers’ experience, please don’t hesitate to contact us today!