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Managing Customer Conversations During Lockdown #2

Mark Oppermann | Webio

Managing Customer Conversations During Lockdown #2

As the UK COVID-19 lockdown #2 is now upons us, we can take a lot of learning from our initial experience in March and April. Some companies had extensive preparations completed to ensure business continuity, but the scale of the disruption inevitably caught many off guard. Many of our clients had to act quickly to get agents remotely working and engaging with customers within 24hours. Laptops had to be procured, homework spaces identified, and agents retrained  to use new software. Fortunately, Webio was one service that clients were 100% able to use remotely and its messaging focus made it ideal for, let's say, less noise-controlled environments. 

But the stress of this latest lockdown is already being felt by many, and none more so than on those trying to pay the bills and meeting outstanding financial commitments. Credit and collections departments that take some time out now to prepare and plan will be better placed to handle the effects of these shifting requirements.

The pressures on consumers to make repayments during the pandemic have been eased somewhat by the introduction of payment holidays. With many set to expire, the news that mortgage payment holidays are being extended for homeowners financially affected by the pandemic is a welcomed announcement. With the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) also considering a possible payments holiday for people struggling to pay off debts such as credit cards and personal loans the ability to be able to handle a rise in customer payment conversations is key for financial service businesses.

Here is some advice from what we have learned over the last six months from working with clients through the pandemic and helping them manage their customer conversations:

Ensure you have your messaging channels optimised

Messaging channels are vital to the success of handling customer engagement during the pandemic especially taking the pressure off agents.  Being able to interact with customers in the channels they are most comfortable in is nothing new, but messaging channel importance really came to the fore over the last six months. 

We saw messaging volumes skyrocket not just for personal messaging but also for business. WhatsApp volumes globally have now tipped the 100 billion a day mark, eclipsing the 20 billion day peak rate that SMS achieved.  Reports are now coming in that during the first lockdown UK companies were experiencing a month's worth of inbound volume in just two days. WhatsApp was a significant channel for UK businesses in handling this volume.  Many seemed surprised that customers were more than happy with the channel reporting up to 20% increase in customer satisfaction levels, and 2-3x agent productivity.

Adding new channels or upgrading existing ones is not difficult to achieve. We helped new and existing client optimise SMS messaging and introduce new channels like WhatsApp in a short period of time. But it is not just about adding a new channel, it is about optimising them by adding conversational elements through automation, chatbots and AI. Adding conversational capabilities gives you the ability to manage millions of conversations efficiently and effectively.

Tell customers the best ways to get in touch

Sending out proactive messaging notifications informing customers as to the best ways to get in touch is beneficial. Let them know the messaging channels you support.  Add WhatsApp and SMS numbers to 'contact us' webpages, update voice recording to direct customers to webpages or add messaging apps like WhatsApp directly to your website so customers can connect from there. These actions take time to get through the red tape of most companies so we would advise you to get started now.

Shift inbound calls to messaging channels 

By shifting calls to conversational messaging, the goal is to have conversations handled by AI chatbots, at least initially, or for the whole conversation if it is warranted. Conversational AI chatbots can understand the complexities of natural human language, and can be trained to answer questions like "Can I put my payment on hold?" or "can I reduce my payment?" and dramatically reduce the need to engage with live agents. Combining conversational forms and conversational payment links into conversations means that customers can send in completed forms via messaging and only have an agent get involved when needed.

This is a win not only for the business but also for customers who have positive experiences that enable them to quickly and efficiently go about their day and get their questions answered without the need for agent intervention, and gives the contact centre the ability to manage a shortfall in agents, and more importantly manage large spikes in customer inbound requests. Again, putting in place the API connections you need will require you to be prepared in advance, to test, retest and then deploy.

Proactive Outreach with Covid Chatbots

Design Covid chatbots to take the pressure off agents and to take more control over engagement patterns and timings. Deploy bots to get a sense check of where your customers are at.  Are they experiencing difficulties and how can you help? Based on their responses guide the conversation to the next best action. Remember, at scale Conversational SMS works like a chatbot, but one that gives you much more control over the proactive outreach element. 

Let Agents Handle the More Sensitive Conversations

In these times there is a need for some customers to speak with an agent and so it is important that this capability is built into conversation designs. Blending chatbot and agents together give a better customer experience as those customers who when they feel the time is right can have those one-to-one conversations with an agent.  But it is important to note that when an agent is brought into the conversation it is not a phone conversation, but a messaging conversation. This is a key point.  As one agent can handle up to 15 conversations at one time due to the asynchronous nature of messaging and customers are more comfortable as they don't have to talk to an agent. This is how you scale your people to the volumes you might be expecting. 

Conversation Design Start with Well Wishes and Support 

Last but not least. One element of conversation design that is really important is tone. These are stressful times for many people, especially if their income has been affected. So, when designing conversations ensure the tone reflects the times, we are living in. It's nice to know the companies we deal with have an understanding and care about their customers and their needs. This softer approach will result in higher engagement rates and happier customers.

Expect to see a lot of conversation success

These are certainly strange times and many businesses have used conversational messaging as the backbone of their customer engagement Covid strategy. Working with leading brands Webio have been able to increase customer engagement, especially in the area of credit and collections. A large UK and European financing company, with Webio's help, successfully transitioned their agents to home working a messaging over WhatsApp in a matter of hours, with minimal impact on operations or customers. 

One of the UK’s fastest growing consumer credit companies saw engagement rates soar and messaging outperforming the dialler by 3x.  Adding automation and bots gave them the ability to manage thousands of customer holiday requests and payment plan adjustments.  Using chatbots and agents working in unison the efficiencies achieved were significant and remote agents were able to manage the increase in payment conversations with ease.

So, in short, conversational messaging is a real powerhouse and has really come to the fore and shone over the course of this pandemic.  But a key point to note is that messaging is not just applicable in an emergency situation. More and more collections teams are having their eyes opened to just how important a role messaging plays and where it fits into their everyday contact strategies. 



How Shifting Phone Calls To Messaging During The Pandemic
Improved Remote Agent Productivity And Customer Engagement




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