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AI/Automation

How customer care is transforming amid the new normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched the customer care teams of many industries beyond their elastic limits. Customers are stressed and care staff have certainly felt the strain. In some industries, such as airlines and hotels, the pandemic led to a wave of cancellations and refund requests. In other industries it has led to a surge in demand. In food retail, for example, call centers have been overwhelmed as consumers try to find home delivery slots. At the same time as the workload is increasing, many care agents have been forced out of the call center and are working from home. The combination of high demand, relocation and the move to a distributed workforce has posed a huge challenge to agents and their managers.

The telecom industry has been the linchpin to enabling a world that's suddenly seen a greater need for connectedness. That said, communications service providers (CSPs) have had to adjust to these same conditions. Forced to work from home, many customers have placed orders to upgrade their fixed broadband speeds. And with family members streaming games and videos online (and occasionally doing schoolwork) home broadband contention has undoubtedly sparked many calls to customer service asking why video conference calls are so jittery.

When the lockdown started to hit countries such as the Philippines in March, Virgin Media announced they would hire care staff in the UK to compensate for the closure of their overseas call centers. Most of these new hires would be working from home. In April, BT announced that around 80% of its 10,000 customer care staff would be working from home. Similarly, in the US Comcast reported in April that over 95% of its Cable Communications' call center employees were working from home. In May, Verizon revealed that all its call center employees would stay at home at least until September.

For some CSPs, the WFH transition for customer care agents was swift and seamless. With their applications already hosted in the cloud they were able to provision staff with laptops and VPN access to work from home within a few days. However, for those CSPs running on-premise systems with no support for remote access, the transition has not been so easy.

Of course, having a friendly voice on the end of the phone when you have a problem is not a resolution in itself. In the case of a fault, customer care agents needs to have access to information from the network operations team (who are also working from home) so they can let the customer know when the problem is likely to be resolved. Better yet, the ideal service management platform should alert customers directly, via email or text message, that a problem has occurred and that a fix is being worked on. These proactive self-service functions save customers from having to call the contact center and can dramatically increase care agent productivity, especially at a time when productivity is being redefined by WFH remote environments.

Before the pandemic, it was widely understood that customer care was an important differentiator for businesses and a key element of the overall service experience. Switching to a provider that is unresponsive to requests and complaints in order to save a few dollars on your telecom bill is a decision many have come to regret. With many telecom retail outlets now facing permanent closure, digital care channels supplemented by self-service functions are becoming an even more important touchpoint for customers. What's more, it has never been more critical for care agents and network operations to be connected in order to deliver a more connected experience.

To learn more about how communications service providers are connecting the customer to the network in order to improve customer care productivity and better serve their customers, join me for the webinar Proactive Care: Achieving Speed and Resilience in an Era of Connectedness on June 17.

— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

This blog is sponsored by ServiceNow.

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