“Customer communication channel preference are evolving dramatically, especially post-COVID, and customers expect more personalized support than before.”
By Lori Childers,
Vice President – The Verde Group
The COVID-19 pandemic may be over and, in most places, life feels normal again. Family gatherings have returned. People are shopping in stores, eating in restaurants, going to the gym. Nevertheless, there are still lingering challenges, particularly in customer service, that are not likely to go back to the way they once were — at least not for the foreseeable future.
Let’s take a look at three areas of customer experience that aren’t quite what they used to be.
Take hotels, for instance. Daily housekeeping, once one of the conveniences that set your vacation stay or business trip apart from life at home, has disappeared at many hotel chains. This made sense at the height of the pandemic when anyone who was still traveling preferred as little human contact as possible. But 2+ years on, daily fresh towels, clearing out your room service and making your bed have not returned.
Hotel chains have positioned this decline in service as part of their mission to go green but the reality is it’s likely more of an attempt to recoup lost profits from the pandemic and deal with severe staff shortages from employees who were laid off and never came back.
Practically speaking, customers may not need the extravagance of puffed up pillows. On the other hand, have most hotels now simply become glorified Airbnbs?
A growing number of us have a story like this one: I arrived at Buffalo Airport Labor Day weekend ready to pick up the mini-van I’d reserved for my group of six — we were psyched about driving up to Canada to celebrate my birthday. When I arrived at the car lot, however, my vehicle wasn’t available and the rental car company offered me a four-person compact car instead. When I insisted this wasn’t acceptable, they told me I could come back in a few days to see if a mini-van became available. Needless to say, it wasn’t service I expected as a top loyalty tier member.
Rental car companies blame the semiconductor chip shortage that’s delaying their acquisition of inventory — inventory they sold off in the early days of the pandemic. Industry experts don’t foresee the problem being fixed anytime soon, which means even more inconvenience and bad CX to come.
Customer service centers
Cutting across all industries, contact centers/customer service centers find themselves squeezed for resources in a variety of ways — making it harder for them to address customer concerns. Here are just a few examples:
- 78% of customers are contacting companies multiple times to address a single concern (NBC), hiking frustrated and impacting loyalty.
- Customer service agents now manage 2 more calls per day. (Calabrio) There seem to be two contributing factors — high turnover and difficulty filling vacant positions, so fewer reps are available to handle call. Call talk times are also longer, with customers desperate for human contact, keeping CSAs on the phone to discuss the pandemic, politics or vaccines.
- Difficulty reaching a ‘live human’ or the right agent when calling customer service has raised the unlikeliness of future repurchase for a major full-service department store by a factor of 176%. (Verde)
- Not being able to find customer service contact information, like a phone number or email, had a damage impact value of 162% for full-service department stores and 101% for high-end fashion retailers.
On the flipside, working in favor of customer service are trends that suggest more customers are using self-service features, texting and chat functions, which require fewer resources for companies — when they work properly.
3 ways to mitigate customer service issues
- Dig into the data to understand the impact of changes made to policies and service offerings due to COVID. Find out how damaging these changes were to key performance indicators (KPIs) like customer loyalty, customer effort and future purchase intentions. Be specific in surveys — ask about changes and probe on whether the customer experienced problems related to the change. Use advanced data analytics to understand if problems associated with these changes have actual impact on KPIs or if they are just annoyances. For example, if hotel guests don’t like the lack of daily housekeeping but it has no material impact on future booking intentions, then this may be a cost-saving change that can stay without risk to customer loyalty. Finally, be mindful of what the competition is doing — if everyone is equally “bad,” you may be able to get away with cutbacks in the short-term but not necessarily if the competition returns to more fulsome post-COVID customer service practices.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of customer support to CX and other KPIs including financial metrics. Consistency across digital, phone, agent-assisted and self-service is critical, as all of these interactions impact your bottom line. Consider your own experiences – do you ever think twice about giving repeat business when you’ve had a painful CX experience? In the majority of cases (57%), it only takes two negative interactions for a customer to switch to a competing brand. If you have a choice (and we don’t always), the typical purchaser wants assurance that if there’s a problem — friction of any sort — customer support will make it fast and easy to resolve.
- Keep up with changes in preferred customer support channels — and remember: digital offerings are key. For instance, customers increasingly prefer text messaging-based support channels, which actually allows companies to gather more contextual information and analyzable, segmentable data than ever before. That should be good news for providing greater insights moving forward (but see point #1). Still, you don’t always know what you think you know: there are major discrepancies between what customers and business leaders believe about their customer support journeys. For instance:
- 53% of businesses believe their customers are very satisfied with their self-service offerings but only 15% of consumers agree. (NICE)
- 81% of customers expect more self-service options but 40% of businesses think they have enough. (NICE)
- 52% of consumers say chat is their preferred digital offering but only 31% of businesses offer it. (NICE)
Customer communication channel preference are evolving dramatically, especially post-COVID, and customers expect more personalized support than before. If you expect to stay competitive, you’ll need to more adeptly deliver to your customers’ higher expectations in the months and years to come.