Jul 26 2021

How SMB Contact Centers Should Adapt to Hybrid Work

Hybrid enterprises can thrive with the right mix of technologies and a focus on the experiences of both employees and customers.

When office doors open once again, many employees will still stay working remotely at least part of the time. Companies have already made significant investments in resourcing remote employees, and workers have grown accustomed to flexibility.

This creates complications for many departments, especially customer service.

Given the frontline nature of that work, it can be critical to business success. There’s a strong link between customer experience, customer loyalty and business profitability, and getting it wrong can have some deeply negative effects. An American Express study found that people who have bad customer experiences tell an average of 15 people. (If they share their complaints on social media, that number can multiply rapidly.) Meanwhile, those who have good experiences are only likely to tell 11 people.

At the root of a good customer experience is a good employee experience. But how can small businesses without the resources of Fortune 500 companies pull this off? And how can they do so in a hybrid environment?

A technology-focused approach to customer service can help small businesses wield the same power as their larger counterparts.

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Leverage the Cloud to Improve Customer Service

In the past, trying to decide on the right customer service tool was difficult because it could be tough hard to kick the tires on new offerings. You had to invest in the hardware and the implementation,  then wait to figure out whether the solution worked for your needs. It was not an ideal situation and it led to a lot of headaches. With many customer service solutions based in the cloud or on Software as a Service, the ability to test new ideas has been democratizing for many companies. We’re moving away from a “buy and try” model and into a world where you can try things out for a fraction of the full cost.

Expand the Meaning of Customer Service

The idea of customer service being something managed primarily over the phone is long gone. Modern customer service support includes fielding questions over email, via chat windows on a website, on different social networks and on company forums . As a result, you have a broader array of tasks to manage. The contact center of yore doesn’t look like the customer support apparatus of today, and there are changing expectations among consumers that can dovetail into the strengths of a hybrid environment. There are challenges to be faced, certainly, — the need to manage Enhanced 911 in this context being just one — but by approaching customer service as a discipline rather than just a phone-based medium, you can get more out of it.

Use Data to Power New Tools Such as Chatbots and AI

Technology is a key to making customer service more effective on a smaller scale, and the emergence of chatbots and artificial intelligence are two key technologies for doing so. Chatbots can help manage simpler requests for customers, making room for dedicated customer support to tackle more nuanced or specific tasks. Customer support representatives can benefit from AI-driven tools, including those that can put the information your employees need at their fingertips on the fly.

WATCH: How data analytics can give your organization a competitive edge.

Data is at the center of both tools, and the secret to putting good information in front of consumers is having good information to work with in the first place. Customer relationship management tools like ServiceNow, Microsoft Dynamics or Salesforce can help maximize access to that information, putting fewer steps between your customer service team and a possible solution.

Provide Employees with Modern Tools

All this technology doesn’t do a lot for the customer if the people offering the support are clearly struggling to keep up. It’s well known that customer support roles are psychologically stressful and can see high turnover. With the pandemic leading to an increase in employee turnover overall in a number of fields — and burnout cited as a key factor — making the experience good for your employees with modern tools such as RingCentral is essential. Keep in mind that the technology experience must be as good for employees as it is for end users.

Any shift in how your customer service is handled can  bring some growing pains along with it. On the other hand, this moment offers an unprecedented opportunity for digital transformation.

Customer service — especially good customer service, the kind you want to offer — is a tough job. As we move to a world of Contact Center as a Service models and hybrid work becomes the norm, it’s worth remembering that you can build top-tier customer service that works for everyone, including your employees.

Just be sure to understand your options first.

 This article is part of BizTech's AgilITy blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #SmallBizIT hashtag.

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