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How to Deescalate Stress for Customers and Agents in Turbulent Times

talkingThe landscape, put mildly, is tense. After six months defined by economic and social upheaval, all under the backdrop of a once-in-a-century public health crisis, your customers have a lot on their minds. Some are juggling the responsibilities of healthcare provider, educator, parent, and employee. Some are simply just ill at ease during such turbulent times. In fact, a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 19 percent of respondents have faced a major impact to their mental health due to the current crisis.

With customers on edge, it makes any friction in your customer experience more likely to lose their temper. For example, the mild annoyance of being put on hold exponentially grows when customers only have a small window of time to engage with a contact center before the demands of life come calling.

Here are a few signs that the way you connect (or don’t connect) are hurting your customer relationships, and putting them at risk of churn:

Digital Channels Aren’t a Priority

Customers expect businesses to enable a wide berth of channels. The majority of customers have embraced a myriad of tools in their personal lives, and charge businesses with mirroring that behavior. More specifically, convenience combined with channel fluency has driven a significant investment in the role of digital channels among contact centers. In fact, a recent study found that digital channels have proven reliable amid the pandemic, with 62 percent of contact centers seeing greater digital interactions since the pandemic began.

Digital-first contact centers, by nature, emphasize ease of interaction and low customer friction. By the asynchronous nature of digital channels, customers can connect and respond to customer service agents on their own time – often now while multitasking with background noise. It is the way that a supermajority of Gen Z and Millennials and half of Gen X prefer to reach you. Additionally, Chatbots can make it fast and convenient for everyone by deflecting up to 50 percent of customer interactions across chat and messaging, quickly and effortlessly delivering the right information without any hassle. If maintaining a cohesive, omnichannel, and digital-first strategy isn’t high on the list, customers may feel that strain of clunky channel movement and, ultimately, costly delays.

Agents Are Struggling to Adapt

The majority of contact centers didn’t have transition-to-remote experience when the pandemic struck in early 2020. With the aid of modern contact center platforms, however, many of these operations were able to do so with the same access to the digital channels that were driving success in the physical contact center. But just as customers need frictionless, omnichannel experiences, agents need support – they are not immune to the stresses of the current global climate.

Many of the processes that drive agent growth and manage the overall experience have been turned on their head, such as sourcing coaching and feedback or the gamification of productivity. Furthermore, agents, like customers, have unique work-from-home challenges, like raising young children or caring for elderly parents. This can impact their schedules, resulting in the need for greater flexibility in shifts – such as split or add-on shifts that wouldn’t normally be practical with commutes, but are easily accommodated remotely. Agents need equal treatment that is empathetic to today’s challenges. Ensure open lines of communication that can proactively identify if or when an agent is struggling to adapt, and how leadership can better support them.

Touchpoints Are Repeated

Long before the pandemic, first-time resolution was regarded as a high mark in customer experience success. Funnel the customer to the right agent in the right channel, quickly solve the issue, and send them on their way – that was the ideal formula. Though that notion certainly has not changed, the transition to remote contact centers can complicate the processes needed to achieve this goal, particularly if the technology underpinning the agents wasn’t designed with a virtual experience in mind.

In the worst of cases, this results in more customers being routed and rerouted to different agents across different departments, or repeat calls due to long wait queues without scheduling options. The undeniably frustrating experience of repeating the issue from scratch compounds things. Conduct a thorough audit via analytics to ensure that customers are being proactively delivered to where they need to go, so first-time resolution rates can remain high.

Be a Helping Hand, not another Roadblock

Conventional wisdom holds that acquiring a new customer is anywhere from 5 to 25 times more expensive than it is to retain one. When so much hinges on reducing friction – 81 percent of customers say they will switch to a competitor after a single poor experience – experience exceptionalism is no longer a nice-to-have. By embracing a digital-first mindset, contact centers can remove one additional stress from an already hectic environment.