The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a set of unprecedented obstacles for organisations around the world. It has forced companies to rethink their approach to customer experience in order to respond to this time of crisis. 

Opinion leaders believe that after the Covid-19 pandemic, nothing will be the same, and all companies will have to adapt their different strategies to continue to be relevant in their client’s eyes.
Unbabel, the Portuguese startup that allows companies to communicate with their clients in their own native language with a scaleable translation in any digital channel through Artificial Intelligence and a global network of translators organised a webinar on ‘How to minimise the impact of Covid-19 in customer experience and build operational resilience’.
The webinar counted on the advice and opinions of Edmund Ovington, VP of Alliances of Unbabel, Jason Richardson, Global Director Customers Success of Unbabel and Peter Ryan, Principle at Ryan Strategic Advisory.

What do you do when the market slows down because of an unexpected shock or crisis like Covid-19? How do you handle your loyal customers? The answer is you reach out and embrace them and be as attentive and supportive as you possibly can.
One thing you don’t do is let them down from a customer interaction standpoint, be that digital or voice. Any company involved in customer service must ensure that its teams are equipped and empowered to do the best possible job in dealing with customers in a satisfactory way so that the individual not only feels satisfied, but that they have been handled well.
“We are in some very disruptive and tough times as far as customer experience management. As consumers we’ve all become a lot more impatient, and want results immediately. People will be more understanding provided they have a sense that their inquiry is being taken seriously, that they are given an expectation of when it is going to be handled, and that they can expect some kind of resolution” says Peter Ryan of Ryan Strategic Advisory.
Ryan says it is very important for any organisation, no matter what the vertical, to be considering and focusing over the course of the next few months on ways of effectively meeting clients needs at a distance.
“The key is going to be loyalty and cementing that loyalty to ensure that every individual who telephones or ‘web-chats’ knows they are being taken seriously and valued” he stresses.
Edmund Ovington of Alliances of Unbabel said it was not just about the service providers, it is also about client companies allowing work from home, but even at a compliance level in some countries work from home is not allowed for fraud or other reasons.
“I think there is going to be a natural tension which happens in any situation where a lot of previously stringent rules are made flexible and appropriated to make critical tasks function. However, you can’t just let the floodgates open” he said.
Ovington added that finding the right balance would be one of the hardest things for companies over the next weeks and months, i.e., the balance between the naturally healthy function of being truly client centric while operating a healthy business that protects customers, employees and data. “I would not like to be the chief legal officer of company right now” he said.
Peter Ryan, who has been covering the work at home market for years and wholeheartedly believes in it, said that after talking to many organisations they found it was “not as simple as on the computer to do customer experience work”.
“There is a level of compliance that is very important, that has to be met, and which will depend on jurisdiction, industry and different variables” he explained.
Ovington continued, “There will be many companies scrambling but mustn’t let their eye of the ball when it comes to compliance and data protection” he warned.

Home based model

One thing is sure, the home base model of working is growing and will continue to do so. What we’ll see post crisis is the mainstreaming of this working from home model, even though it has actually been around for a long time. The airline JetBlue has been using the model from 2002-2003.
“What we’re going to see is what had been an essentially US-centric model, which accounted for 80% of the home working model, expand internationally. There will be a lot more take-up in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as some of the nearshore and offshore locations, with providers already doing work in Mexico and South Africa” he said.
“Much of it would depend on the internet network in different locations, but when I talk to providers in Central and Eastern Europe, where a few years ago work at home would not have been considered, hundreds of work stations are set up at home. Once you go down that route, there’s no going back” he added.

Gig economy customer service

Gig Economy customer service is another growing trend, with peer interaction between a network of Gig workers.
“My perception right now is that it is talked about much more than it is implemented, with a lot of events and on stage debates in an attempt to do something with Gig” said Jason Richardson.
With ‘swat teams’ in the middle and ‘scale teams’ around the world, Gig workers can provide that final layer of redundancy at the edge, but Richardson asked if it was really being exploited on any scale as was the case with Chatbot three to five years ago.
Then there were generally pockets of innovation with a team trying something out but perhaps only reaching a handful of people. “What I hope is that this will be taken more seriously and explodes” he said.
Adding “I can see companies investing with double digit percentages of their overall spend on that, rather than what they invest right now which is less than 1% spend of overall CX (Client Experience) head count revenue in customer service” he predicted.
Jason Richardson went on “This which excites me because by nature it is organic resilient in a number of ways from an economic perspective to a location perspective, which has the natural work from home and work from phone factor.”

Keeping up morale

For Peter Ryan the reality is that having worked with remote teams for 20 years he thinks that adequate communication is critically important as the team members needs to feel part of the team and “over communication” is a key part of that.
“Some of the work I’ve done as an analyst and how, in terms of team management, that functions regarding work from home has given me some insight into things I would never have imagined,” he admitted.
“One of the biggest problems around working from home for managers — and you might think it would be the management of data protection and security which does come into play — is how you keep morale up, keep people happy by knowing they are part of a team that has now been ‘virtualised’ around the city or country” said Ryan.
Equally, how do you train a remote team? “Traditionally we would bring trainers or agents into a classroom and teach them for three or four hours about a particular service or product that we are supporting. Now we are doing this remotely, so what do we have to do?” asks Ryan.
For Ryan these are really big questions and obstacles, and remote workers tends to have a different profile from someone working in a contact or call centre. These teleworkers tend to be more self-starters, they tend to be learning more on their own and more online.
“They won’t necessarily have that same level of requirement for team building or motivation within a contact centre, not to say it isn’t important, but they will be satisfied perhaps with a virtual team meeting, like the Zoom type platforms we’re seeing today, so there is definitely going to be a shift in how these individuals are managed” he opined.
“The nature of how we are going to get through the pandemic, those organisations that will do better are those who already have had this experience of working with the virtual model for a long time and who will have more ability to perfect it than the ones who are new to it” he explains.

The end of classroom training?

There has been some great examples of remote training and it is becoming more mainstream in day-to-day working. Elementary and secondary schools are already doing it and private schools in Portugal have been operating the Zoom system during the Covid-19 crisis.
“Effectively being able to train an individual using online learning tools, whether an interactive tool like Zoom, or done on a more modulated basis, is a great way of taking people who are already working in their residences and training them up on a particular product of service. It’s got a great track record in terms of the work from home model and companies have been deploying it over the past decade, and they are going to get better at it” says Edmund Ovington.
“It’s pretty amazing when you look around and see schools being able to take classes over zoom, and what it interesting about this natural shift is that those who are currently in university or school, and who are doing tuition from a zoom call right now will, over the next few years, find it second nature. You will organically have this bunch of humans in future who won’t even think about being trained in classrooms, and that accelerates the shift” he said.
As to the mindset of managers, Ovington says it’s going to be tough for them where in a call centre environment, which is a very authoritarian one to some degree in which if workers are not making the calls or doing the numbers in an hour then they are not considered to be really doing their jobs, irrespective of how many clients on a daily basis are kept happy, managers will have to learn to trust.
“I hope that this, by nature, will move us incrementally to a more trust-based world and society where people are judged on their outcomes and that the fact they are far away, in a different environment, and not with the manager breathing down their necks, won’t really impact the way that they are perceived within the organisation. This is fundamentally good for the whole customer experience economy. When people are trusted and empowered that’s when they do their best work and keep customers happy” he concluded.