A blend of empathy and tech will future-proof customer support
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A blend of empathy and tech will future-proof customer support

A blend of empathy and tech will future-proof customer support

Digital and human agents can deliver experiences that delight consumers and business reps and keep them coming back for more


Today, we understandably obsess over the pandemic’s effects on commerce, but customer experience (CX) was already an area of intense study before Covid arose. A pre-pandemic survey by PwC showed that if they could be assured of a superior experience, consumers were willing to accept price premiums of as much as 16 per cent on everything from a plane ticket to a cup of coffee. And they would be more likely to be loyal to a brand.

B2C and B2B enterprises across the GCC region were starkly aware of such trends. As consumers, digital natives looked for the best deal for themselves, but as their employer’s representative in a B2B transaction, they would exhibit the same savvy tendencies – willing to pivot to a supplier’s competitor in an instant because the digital realm had made it easy for them to do so.

CX took another leap forward in the region when lockdowns came into effect. For example, KPMG’s 2020 UAE Customer Experience Excellence report showed the nation’s overall performance on CX had increased by 7 per cent since 2018, based on a range of measured factors such as expectations and empathy. The report also unveiled ‘Customer 5.0’, defined not only by generational proclivities but by the lessons and trials of the Covid-19 pandemic. KPMG expects the ‘new customer [to] be more purpose-driven and demand integrity’.

Stimulus response
While these are consumer trends, we have every reason to believe they will spill over into B2B transactions. But whether B2C or B2B, the enterprise can exert a significant measure of control on customer interactions, from lead generation to sales and beyond to after sales and the opportunity to inspire brand ambassadorship. Those that respond well to the moment will reap ample rewards. Those that falter will likely not have an easy time in the market.

Getting it right means equipping frontline, customer-facing employees with the tools they need to make the right moves in real time. This means the empowerment of everyone in sales, warehousing, supply-chain management, delivery, customer service, billing – anyone who might find themselves interrogated by a customer. Enterprises must build an employee experience (EX) in which every company representative is connected to every facet of the business, and is therefore able to give useful, accurate information to customers – appease them when they are frustrated, reassure them when they are anxious, and solve their problems when things go awry.

Strangely, a recent Freshworks study conducted in collaboration with the Harvard Business Review showed only half of executives believed in a connection between EX and CX. But the pandemic has shown us that public-facing agents armed with superior digital platforms can leverage these tools to provide high-quality experiences for customers. And if their management teams acknowledge their hard work and respond accordingly, this also feeds into EX and produces positive results.

Technology: bane or boon?
For customers, a positive experience starts with an absence of common frustrations, including difficulty in finding the right information, or having to enter the same details multiple times to complete a transaction. These are flaws in digital platforms that have nothing to do with frontline employees. Fix these, and those employees will not start so many conversations with complaints. A comprehensive, omnichannel helpdesk solution staffed with highly trained agents that have 360-degree views of their customers’ journeys will go a long way towards delivering optimal CX.

So, customers want information at their fingertips. They want to provide their personal information, or that of their company, once only and be recognised as a return customer even if they have not made a purchase. They want individualised service. To provide all of these wants at scale is a budgetary, technological, and logistical challenge, as much of this activity must now happen digitally. Even if we were able to tame Covid variants to the extent that we could all return to a mask-free normal, all signs point to a new model of hybrid work and permanently increased volumes of online commerce.

Consumers and businesses expect around-the-clock, omnichannel experiences. This is where advanced technologies such as self-service platforms and natural-language chatbots can relieve customer support teams of significant burdens. One of the best ways to ensure customers are always steered to the information that will help them to help themselves is by enhancing SEO for information-rich webpages. Another is to implement site-wide widgets to ensure customers already within the corporate domain can find their way to useful information.

Bots on standby
Then, on FAQ pages, a ‘Contact Us’ button will deliver the customer to advanced chatbots, which are the ideal supplement for remote teams. Supported by bots, human agents can focus on more complex queries that otherwise could have resulted in poor outcomes. For example, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority’s Rammas bot received more than 87,000 enquiries in its first six weeks of service, drastically reducing the demands on human agents.

The finest examples of digital transformation in the post-Covid era will bear the same hallmarks as those before the time of masks, social distancing, and hybrid work. Success stories are told by those organisations that recognise that automation is not a direct substitute for human agents. Amid the substantial growth we have seen in online interactions, human agency – and its strengths of empathy, initiative, and innovation – must unite with advanced technologies such as chatbots. Together, digital and human agents can deliver experiences that delight consumers and business reps and keep them coming back for more.

Anand Venkatraman is the VP and GM of Freshworks APAC and MEA

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