We’ve all heard the stories — on the news, from friends, on social media. With shops reopening, there are accounts everywhere of overworked, exhausted employees, irate customers, and customer service experiences that might range from exemplary to nonexistent. There’s no doubt COVID has changed the way we look at customer service — from the perspective of public health as well as courtesy and the social contract. Here are some of the ways the pandemic has changed things… sometimes for the better.
How Customer Behavior Changed in 2020
In a recent survey, almost 54% of respondents said they’ve noticed considerable behavioral changes from customers since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
One of the most noticeable changes in customer behavior: where customers went. With COVID shutting down travel and tourism, there was (and is) a considerable rise in demand for things like online shopping (especially groceries), healthcare, and even cybersecurity. This has led in turn to ticket backlogs, slower service, and an increased volume of customers seeking help via phone or online.
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The increased volume of customer service calls changed in other ways as well. Peak customer service hours shifted to earlier in the day, almost entirely due to the increased number of people working from home. With the greater flexibility and freedom that comes with telecommuting, customer service is no longer restricted to after 5 pm.
Finally, the pandemic made customers much more comfortable with ordering, requesting, and paying for things online, out of safety concerns as well as convenience.
How Did Business Respond?
In the wake of the changes wrought by the pandemic, companies have had to change the way they do business — not only in terms of stepping up their customer service game to deal with increased demand, but also account for seismic shifts in how work gets done.
Many companies have seen a big shift in customer service demands, which means a higher volume of help tickets and businesses scrambling to keep up — and keep customers happy. This has led to the widespread adoption of chatbots to take some of the burden off living employees. The good news is, other strategies for dealing with the pandemic, like streamlined workflows and omni-channel support, has made response time faster than pre-COVID levels.
One of the other noticeable trends is the aforementioned shift toward working from home — in-person meetings become Zoom meetings (or emails), and teams must learn to rely on cloud-based solutions like document sharing, collaboration tools, and shared access to data to keep things running.
Digital Apps in the Age of COVID
Speaking of the cloud: mobile apps! Out of necessity, reliance on mobile apps has skyrocketed in the midst of COVID. Goods and services formerly accessible in person have shifted to digital solutions in the wake of retail stores, restaurants, and other establishments closing up shop — some of them for good. This has led to an increased adoption of digital alternatives and a sharp rise in a wide array of apps:
- Messaging apps like Signal, WhatsApp, and Telegram
- Food delivery services like Uber Eats and DoorDash
- Quick pay apps like CashApp and Venmo for easy transfer of funds between individuals
- COVID-19 symptom trackers and information apps
- Apps like Rave which allow shared streaming of media
- Mood trackers and online counseling apps
- Not to mention countless mobile games that can be played with friends from the comfort and safety of home — a surrogate for when hanging out in person is impossible.
What Customer Service Skills Became Most Important?
The massive shift in the way customer service is handled in a post-pandemic world has left some companies wondering: which customer service skills will be the most vital going forward into 2021? A software survey of 90,000 companies yielded some valuable insights on this question. According to the survey, the top five most valued customer service skills are:
- Product knowledge
- Messaging skills
Are These Changes Permanent?
While many are hoping for a full-on “return to normal” once the pandemic is conquered, it’s likely that many of the changes brought about by COVID will remain long after it’s over — maybe even permanently.
An increased comfort with online shopping may seriously impact, or even end, some retailers. More workers operating from home might mean the shuttering of formerly busy office complexes. The travel and tourism industry could take years to recover. Businesses requiring an in-person presence are likely to focus far more on safety and cleanliness as perks to attract customers, as well as superior customer service and attention to detail.
This doesn’t have to mean gloom-and-doom for businesses. Those who choose to adapt to the new circumstances and continue to innovate — particularly when it comes to customer service — are likely to find themselves with considerable advantages going forward into the post-COVID world.