EXCEEDING CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS POST COVID-19
Addressing the fact that “business as usual” likely will never return
Exceptional customer service is becoming a staple of competition. It’s now considered a higher priority than product or even price.
By Noah Hawkes, MBA
Coronavirus continues to affect personal and professional life with no clear end in sight. The uncomfortable truth about the post-COVID world does not involve a return to business as usual. Businesses must evolve with and accept an ever-changing environment, one that might not settle into a familiar routine that we would recognize today.
So, how have customer expectations changed in the post-COVID-19 world, and what can businesses do to ensure they remain relevant to their customers? Let’s look at some customer needs along with a roadmap for how to address them in your business plan.
The rise of remote interactions. Online and remote interactions have become a staple of every industry, even in those that mandate face-to-face communication. The medical and educational industries are perfect examples of the rapid acceptance of remote interaction, as many in such industries have transitioned to using tablets mounted on wheeled carts to replace face-to-face interactions for check-in, liability paperwork, and billing confirmations. The in-person retail experience is also decreasing at an alarming rate; there’s no denying it. Remote or online interactions are the norm today and the way of the future.
Today’s customer expectations. You don’t want customers to lose the ability to contact your businesses due to changes to your customer service models. To meet new demand in the post-COVID-19 world of less or no human contact, businesses need to think differently. Displacement between companies and their customers has increased call volumes and online queues beyond anyone’s expectations. Because customers are also often in unique situations, the generic call center experiences of the past simply won’t do.
Exceptional customer service is becoming a staple of competition. It’s now considered a higher priority than product or even price. When you evaluate the cost of doing business, where in the priority of expenditures do you put the customer experience, or is your amazing customer experience worth marketing to the public?
What this means for CSRs
This evolving world and our ever-changing routines, coupled with new customer expectations, carry with them some very important implications for insurance agencies.
Increasing customer loyalty. A study conducted by Microsoft found that 66% of customers said they would switch brands if they felt they were being “treated like a number, not an individual.” This data suggests that if a brand’s personalized customer experience can produce positive emotional connections, the organization will grow and gain customer loyalty, which is desired above all.
Second-tier contact methods. Technology like Google Meet, Apple FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams enable face-to-face communication for every customer or colleague with access to a computer or a smartphone. The education sector has mandated face-to-face remote interaction in many instances, and children and their parents are used to operating in exclusively remote face-to-face atmospheres. Employees have moved to remote working environments, too, furthering the need for virtual communication fluency.
Embrace the tech. Many digital platforms connect remote customers with an organization’s subject-matter expert for on-demand, face-to-face interaction. While on the platform together, CSRs and customers can see the customer’s account on the screen and watch the company expert navigate transaction history and notes, update information, write sales orders, collect payments, and execute contracts. Customers have been quick to adopt customer service trends to create better experiences with little or no learning curve. Competitors know that resolutions will become electronic and a 1-800 number or a trip to the local branch will no longer be needed.
Response times. Because of enhancements in technology, the next challenge to overcome is response times. Do you have enough agents to handle your call volumes? And what is the proper amount of volume you can handle or afford? The simple answer is that it’s different for every company. Some CRMs are more complicated than others, and the time your agents take with the customer will vary based on the reasons they contact you. Next is a piece of advice to make a complicated issue like response time easy.
Do research. Take the time to research your customers’ experience with your company—their issues, needs, desires, and habits—before you set your call-handle times. Ask yourself: Is action quick and easy for the customer? Is it quick and easy for employees? The historic trend of putting a non-expert on the phone to take care of basic issues and escalate harder issues up the chain doesn’t work when customers expect immediate results.
One and done. Customers expect their problems to be solved in one contact. Firms are finding that training and keeping higher quality subject matter experts is more cost effective than hiring basic outsourced phone support to bolster an internal escalation team. Customers don’t want to wait on hold, or be transferred or rerouted, and they don’t want to repeat their issue or complaint. Give your customer a “one-stop shop” for all their needs and be willing to pay for their enhanced experience; they will love you and your brand.
The issue with isolation. Entire cities, neighborhoods, businesses, and even families have felt the sting of isolation caused by COVID-19. Customers desire connection and are still trying to figure out where they stand in this new world. How has your organization kept the human touch alive?
Research shows that 59% of customers think that the companies they deal with have “lost touch with the human element.” This trend is increasing due to a failure to adapt to the decline of the retail environment and an increased need for quality remote contact. As Max Ball at RingCentral suggested in a blog post, a company can “introduce half-baked automation solutions and throw customer satisfaction out the windows to save a few dollars.”
In addition, 71% of customers said they “lose trust when they felt brands put profits above their customers’ needs.” They know when you value closing a sale over truly helping them. COVID-19 has amplified this awareness in your customer. What statements are you making to your customer and what is your motivation for making them?
A final thought
Even though COVID-19 has derailed the in-person side of customer interactions, advanced tools are available that allow better remote experiences that can exceed customer expectations when leveraged correctly. If a company can provide a positive experience in every facet of their communication journey, they will be rewarded with increased leads, positive reviews, higher customer retention rates, and brand loyalty.
A 2015 Harvard Business Review research report, “The New Science of Customer Emotions,” showed that customers are emotionally connected with a brand when the brand aligns with their personal motivations and allows them to fulfill deep desires they may not know they have. Having more personal interactions with customers can accommodate this need and help companies understand them on a more meaningful level.
Don’t fall into the trap of cheap convenience for convenience’s sake. People want to be understood and expect humane interactions in a digital world. Companies that establish genuine relationships in the quickest way possible will prevail. The way your company expresses itself to customers tells them how much you understand them.
Noah Hawkes is director of client services and program operations at The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. He earned his Bachelor’s in Science in Business Management and his Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix in 2005 and 2007. Noah began his Career in 2005 as The Director of Membership for the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce, the second largest chamber in Minnesota. In 2007, Noah moved to Austin and took a position with Culligan Water Conditioning as a general manager. Noah spent 13 years building Culligan’s brand and enhancing the customer experience through expanded opportunities as an area director of sales and eventually an area director of operations in Salt Lake City. Since joining The National Alliance in October 2020, he has helped the organization navigate some of the hazards presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and most recently has worked to enhance customer experience. Noah is a published author, releasing his first fiction novel, Drakin, in 2019.