Post-COVID customer service: Evolve or lose business

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Sooraj Kumarr, senior solutions engineer, Freshworks.
Sooraj Kumarr, senior solutions engineer, Freshworks.

Customer expectations have changed dramatically during the lockdown, and businesses that do not adapt accordingly risk losing customers in the long term.

This is according to experts who were addressing a Freshworks webinar, presented in partnership with ITWeb, on customer service in the post-COVID era.

Customer service guru, author and visionary Prof. Adré Schreuder noted that the pandemic had highlighted fault lines that existed within South African customer service.

“Too many South African companies still saw customer service as a cost centre, and lacked customer centricity," said Schreuder. "The lockdown, during which remote work, cloud and online shopping and engagement quickly became the norm for local consumers, illustrated that advanced digital customer service channels and a customer centric mindset are now must-haves.”

In the new environment, consumers now expect more than ever from their brands – and they want their great experiences across multiple channels. In addition, many companies are looking to new work from home or hybrid models for their customer centre staff, which meant they now needed to be empowered to manage customer service using advanced digital tools.

Many SMBs ignore revolutionary technology such as AI chatbots, thinking these are the domain of large enterprises.

Sooraj Kumarr, Freshworks

Freshworks said a recent survey conducted among South African businesses found that 48% of respondent organisations still viewed customer service as a cost centre; 54% of respondents cited lack of integration between communications channels and internal channels as their biggest challenge in putting together single view of the customer; and 35% felt their organisations provided a poor omnichannel experience. While 46% of respondents had implemented or experimented with AI in customer service, 38% said they lacked the know-how to ensure successful adoption of AI in their organisations.

These results pointed to a need to implement advanced, AI-enabled solutions to improve customer service and enable customer service agents, Freshworks said.

Noting that 76% of customers now search for an answer online before reaching out to customer service, Sooraj Kumarr, senior solutions engineer, Mid-Market and Enterprise, MEnA at Freshworks, said organisations had to move to bots to reduce the burden on agents and speed up query resolution.

He highlighted four crucial steps to evolve support operations: deploying messaging channels to reach every customer, shifting phone volumes to messaging channels, leveraging AI chatbots as the first line of defence, and empowering agents with fast and intuitive platforms.

AI chatbots can efficiently resolve most frequently asked questions and can escalate queries to the appropriate agents, dramatically reducing time to resolution and the cost of resolving queries.

“Many organisations run customer service and other business units in silos, but agents must have integrated platforms that allow them to provide contextual cross-channel support. Organisations need to integrate all business applications – such as helpdesk and order management systems – to give agents the right information at the right time, and they need to be able to access contextual information from across channels to be able to provide a quick resolution to queries,” said Kumarr.

This approach is important for both enterprises and small businesses, he said: “Many SMBs ignore revolutionary technology such as AI chatbots, thinking these are the domain of large enterprises. But when customers expect 24/7 support and responses, SMBs cannot afford to delay customer engagement and potentially lose customers. AI chatbots allow SMBs to improve customer service without the cost of external resources in these tough times.”

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