Customer experience (CX) is a determining factor in whether customers are loyal to a brand or not. Over 80% of companies who prioritize customer experience report an increase in revenue. So, how can businesses ensure their CX is up to scratch?
Brands must stay on top of CX trends.
2020 brought huge changes to the business world and impacted customer service and operations across the board. Next year will undoubtedly bring even more fascinating developments. Below are five emerging trends that we predict will shape CX in 2021.
Remember, you heard it here first.
1. Improved CX With AI
The words “artificial intelligence” (AI) conjure images of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his iconic Terminator role, or epic Hollywood showdowns between man and antagonistic machine. But don’t worry, 2021 isn’t going to feature any giant robots wielding machine guns. At least, we hope it won’t.
It’s no secret that AI is transforming the way businesses interact with their customers. Microsoft predicts that by 2025 as many as 95% of customer interactions will be through AI.
Sales and CX teams are using business VoiP services equipped with AI to quickly address customer queries and improve their communication. The transportation industry is waiting in anticipation as automated cars threaten disruption. In finance, financial services companies leverage AI to recommend personalized products and services to individuals. It’s moving fast, and businesses need to keep up with AI developments to stay on top of their game.
AI re-imagines customer experiences and end-to-end customer journeys. The result? Integrated and personalized customer experience.
With AI, brands can be available to their customers at every stage of their journeys, instantaneously. Leveraging AI can help businesses better understand customers and deliver better CX, resulting in higher conversions and decreased cart abandonment.
One of the biggest challenges facing customer service teams is handling an increase in customer support calls, emails, and social media inquiries. Customer service teams can employ AI to handle low-level support issues in real time, and gather initial information for live agents before intervention is needed. This results in lower wait times and fewer frustrated customers.
In a world where good customer experience can make or break a business, AI is a great tool to ensure customers feel their time is valued and stay loyal to a business. Here are some examples of how businesses use AI to streamline CX:
Intelligently routing to the most appropriate agent
Augmented messaging that allows chatbots and human agents to work in tandem. The bots handle simple queries, and the agents can take over when it gets too complicated.
Enhanced support through call monitoring and real time suggestions for representatives.
Two major trends in AI customer service software that will continue to grow in 2021 are chatbots and virtual assistants. Here’s a closer look at how both technologies can automate business functions and boost CX:
Businesses in various sectors have already employed chatbots to better deliver on customer needs and improve the speed at which business can help consumers.
The chatbot market size is projected to grow from $2.6 billion in 2019 to $9.4 billion by 2024. We’ll see businesses using chatbots to cut operational costs and streamline customer service processes. They can’t completely replace humans, but chatbots can:
Provide instant answers to simple customer queries, 24/7
Collect customer data and analyze it to gain insight into customer behavior
Reduce pressure on customer service staff by automating low level support, allowing them to deal with more difficult inquiries
Increase customer engagement and conversions
Virtual assistants allow users to interact with spoken language (Hey Alexa! Hey Google!) and help to relieve pressure on support staff by enabling interactive in-app support for users. AI virtual assistants are rising to new challenges and playing a vital role in automating customer service interactions.
In the next few years, virtual assistants are set to become more customizable, contextual, and conversational.
Contrary to popular belief, virtual assistants aren’t being used to replace humans completely (Blade Runner, anyone?), but to streamline CX while freeing up human agents for important tasks.
2. More Businesses Will Switch to an Omnichannel Approach
Customer experience is becoming complex, with 51% of businesses using at least eight channels for CX alone.
In 2020, many businesses closed up shop and transferred themselves completely online. Many are still adapting to new strategies of providing digital customer service, as well as enhancing their CX to cater to customer expectations in a virtual space.
As we approach 2021, brands need to focus on providing seamless, omnichannel CX to foster brand equity and drive sales.
Consumers demand consistent and highly personalized experiences as they interact with brands on various digital devices. For example, they might start interacting with a brand on Twitter and continue the conversation through e-mail. They’ll expect a seamless and integrated experience, no matter the platform.
A successful omnichannel CX seamlessly integrates online and offline communication channels to form a unified and unforgettable experience from the first to last point of contact.
If a customer base is interacting with a brand through phone, e-mail, live chat, social media, and SMS, as well as offline, a unified customer experience is a must.
In 2021 and beyond we’ll see more businesses further their digital transformation using instant communication to remove friction throughout the customer journey, and we’ll also see businesses tapping into customer data to personalize CX. As businesses plan their 2021 CX strategy, we’re likely to see big changes as brands acclimatize to an omnichannel customer service approach with increased virtual support.
3. Data, Data, and More Data
Businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the power of customer data in driving business outcomes and ROI. With customers expecting personalized, in-the-moment online experiences, the value of real-time data insights is paramount.
At present, predictive analytics helps retailers increase their margins by up to 60%. This number is set to grow as AI reaches greater capabilities.
Brands collect transactional, behavioral, and sensor data to form a customer ID that informs business goals as they move forward. This customer data is crucial to understanding what their CX does and does not get right.
Businesses are gaining deeper customer insights by collecting transactional customer data, analyzing customer behavior, segmenting personas, and more. Once all this data is collected and stored, predictive analytics can help businesses to understand how they’re succeeding or falling short of their objectives.
Businesses are using all this data about their customers to enhance the customer experience. How? By providing feedback in real-time, predicting customer needs, and identifying which customers they might lose. As a result, CX agents can satisfy their customers and prevent problems from arising.
We predict this trend will continue into 2021, as brands continue collecting meaningful data to build an omni-touch, real-time experience that allows customers to feel heard and understood.
4. Customer Service Goes Remote
With the recent advancements in technology, customer service and support have been able to optimize operations online. This has changed not only best practices and strategies, but also what customers expect from businesses.
This trend has a huge impact on businesses, employees, and, inadvertently, customers.
Remote working has plenty of benefits for all parties. Businesses can save significant costs on rent and technology, and hire from a more diverse talent pool. On the flip side, employees can work from anywhere (including their beds) and reduce commute time. No wonder most people who have tried remote work never want to go back!
Adapting to this shift can prove challenging. Remote working teams need to learn new methods of providing effective customer service from their homes or co-working spaces. It’s also essential that they find tactical ways to streamline project collaboration and to share information and customer data.
They’ll need to adapt to communicating in a virtual space, employ automated software to streamline operations, and find methods of staying motivated and on top of tasks.
As customer service goes remote, customer service teams will continue to face challenges when it comes to delivering an impeccable CX without setting foot in the office, but with the right technology, that allows for remote collaboration and oversight, it’s possible.
5. Personalization Will (Still) Be the Key to Success
In 2021, we can expect more from businesses to customize their CX and meet customer expectations.
Today’s consumers expect personalized experiences to be tailored to their needs. Businesses need to focus on providing customers with relevant and valuable information. Customers demand proactive, valuable, and relevant outreach from CX teams, without having to share their personal information.What’s more, over 60% of consumers expect that companies send personalized offers or discounts based on items they’ve purchased.
The customer needs to feel valued and listened to throughout their journey with a business.
Nowadays, customer service teams can communicate with customers in their own digital spaces, through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, and Instagram. Companies will likely increase efforts to contact customers through online platforms to provide order updates, offer support, or send promotions.
There are many ways businesses can continue to offer meaningful CX in 2021 and beyond. Make sure you know your customers’ communication preferences, and personalize the conversations and outreach you conduct. Personalized emails generate six times higher transaction rates, so stop treating your customers like strangers!
There you have it, five customer experience trends to watch out for in 2021. These trends have been driven by rapid advancements in AI and data collection, the advantages of an omni-channel approach, and the global shift towards remote work. In the future, we’re likely to see continuous developments in these areas which will continue to develop and shape CX.
Don’t get too comfortable, though. We expect that by the end of 2021 these predictions will look completely different! Let’s see what the future of CX holds, shall we?
Guest blog post written by John Allen, Director, Global SEO at RingCentral, a global UCaaS, VoIP and customer engagement strategies provider. He has over 14 years of experience and an extensive background in building and optimizing digital marketing programs. He has written for websites such as Vault and RTInsights.
While at times 2020 can feel like a real-life “Black Mirror” episode, it did force many CX teams to transform at lightspeed, re-evaluating how they got their work done and what a successful customer service interaction looked like. According to research conducted by Kustomer in April 2020, 79% of customer service organizations reported that COVID-19 had impacted them significantly.
But 90% of those organizations also believe that customer service is more important than ever in these times of crisis. Many organizations are struggling to understand when they’ll go back to “business as usual”. And the fact of the matter is, they likely never will. The new way of working that 2020 forced upon CX teams will have lingering effects, and consumers are now used to doing business in a whole new way. We’ve outlined the changes and challenges we predict will stick around into 2021 and beyond, and how organizations should prepare to cope with them long-term.
Digital Transformation Is Here to Stay
Practically overnight CX organizations were forced to work entirely remotely. Some agents didn’t even have laptop computers to work from home with, others had slow internet making it nearly impossible to handle inquiries in laggy legacy systems. According to Kustomer research during COVID-19, 39% of CX professionals reported difficulty working remotely, and 23% reported that they did not have the correct tools in place to successfully work in a remote environment.
More than five months later, many organizations have put processes in place and applied technology bandaids to make remote work function. And the good news is, it’s entirely possible to deliver efficient and effective support in a remote environment. According to PWC, 82% of office workers would prefer to continue working remotely, at least part of the time, even after COVID-19 has subsided. And a whopping 73% of executives say working remotely has been a success.
These shifting attitudes are here to stay, and provide many added benefits to organizations. Workers have more flexibility in their schedule and save time commuting, and businesses can potentially garner cost-savings by downsizing office space and cutting back on in-office perks. So while some organizations have implemented temporary fixes to get through this quick shift to digital-first, a long-term technology solution to enable smart remote work is now imperative.
Customers Want You to Show Them They’re Valued
During times of crisis, customer needs change. 2020 has never made that more apparent. Some organizations chose to shift their success metrics away from average handle time, as customers demanded (and valued) longer interactions. Zappos even opened a customer service line that people could call to chat about literally anything … even if it was completely unrelated to shoes. According to our COVID-19 research, CX teams reported that customers valued empathetic service above all other customer service attributes during the pandemic.
This shift in consumer expectations may have boiled over in these strange, isolating times, but customer expectations have long been shifting in that direction. Customers aren’t satisfied with being treated as ticket #12558369, that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible without any real human emotion or interaction. They want to be treated like a valued customer, with real thoughts, emotions, feedback and values.
As AI and automation take on more of the busy work in the CX space, and more consumers shift to online vs. in-store shopping, customer service agents will take on a much more important — and challenging — role. They will become the face of the company, reflecting its values and building lifelong relationships. Think of all of the DTC disruptor brands with cult-like followings — yes they have chic branding, but they’ve also built a community of advocates based on how they treat (and value) their customer base. We could all take a page out of their book.
CX Will Be More Important Than Ever
It’s clear that the “Superhero of 2020” award should go to customer service teams. The influx in customer service inquiries, the immensely challenging questions, the need to provide empathy and humanity during an incredibly stressful time … all were imperative in a strange and stressful year. But good customer service can do more than just solve a customer’s problem. It can also proactively drive revenue.
Kustomer’s recent consumer research looked at data across generations, and one thing is clear: younger generations demand, and value, excellent service. Consumers aged 18-24 ranked customer service as the number one attribute when choosing where to do business (whereas the general population ranked it below price). Additionally, younger generations are more willing than older generations to pay a premium for good service (61% of consumers 34 and younger vs. 48% of consumers 55+), and they are willing to pay more of a premium at that (20% of consumers 18-24 are willing to spend up to 15% more for exceptional service, vs. only 7% of consumers 55+).
This demographic data allows us to take a peek into the future. In the next five or ten years, these individuals will become heads of households, and customer service will determine where they spend their money, and how much they spend. It is imperative to prepare now for what is to come — and exceptional service is no longer optional.
Want our full list of predictions, along with tips on how to deliver exceptional service in 2021? Download the full guide here.
If the events of this year taught those of us in the customer experience world anything, it’s that we can never stop innovating to be more customer-centric. We can’t hope that we will “get by” just a little longer with legacy CRMs and support tickets. We must embrace change and adapt quickly to meet today’s consumer expectations for a smart, omnichannel experience powered by a modern CRM—the key to scaling CX, meeting explosive growth, and adapting to change.
Some argue that 2020 has signaled the decline of ticket-based support systems. Why has the pandemic emerged as the straw that finally broke the legacy CRM camel’s back? The data tells the tale. Recent analysis of e-commerce trends shows a staggering 10 years of growth in just 3 months at the beginning of 2020. And that was just the early stages of lockdown. As chaos and uncertainty took hold, CX teams were inundated with customer calls and support tickets as they struggled to keep up with questions, changing plans, requests for assistance, and the demands of going direct-to-consumer.
But that’s only where the challenges begin. 2020 also forced organizations to accelerate digital transformation by 6 years to adapt to the “new normal” of stay at home orders, remote workforces, supply chain disruptions, shipping delays, and the economic slowdown. Along with this digital transformation, many CX leaders are realizing they need to follow the lead of the direct-to-consumer disruptor brands that are differentiating themselves, and thriving, by delivering a modern consumer experience.
The DTC Disruptor’s Secret Weapon: Intelligent CX Focused on the Whole Customer
As the pandemic took hold, most direct-to-consumer innovators were many steps ahead and better prepared to deal with the curveballs 2020 delivered. These businesses started with the right culture, philosophy, and customer-centric CRM platform. They built their business to connect with customers at scale. A great example of this is The Farmer’s Dog, a company dedicated to delivering safe and healthy pet food, who totally nailed the customer-first approach. Their customer service agents connect on an emotional level with their buyers using whatever channel the buyer selects to educate and foster authentic relationships. This takes a level of insight tickets can’t provide.
UNTUCKit is another great example of a customer-centric brand. They ensure their stellar shopping experience is supported across every customer touchpoint, especially support. Team members have a virtually seamless process for seeing customer history, gathering the right data points, and resolving customer inquiries.
What Makes a Modern CRM?
If tickets aren’t the ticket, what is the secret to direct-to-consumer success today?
Visibility to Care for the Whole Customer
Now more than ever, customers feel they’ve lost control and trust. Zappos and Amazon have set the bar high with proactive, rapid, data-driven customer experiences. Modern CRMs can help brands rebuild that trust through data-driven conversations informed by a view of the whole customer. Agents must have complete visibility across systems to understand the consumer and their entire situation. But with a plethora of data, and a growing number of channels to monitor, we need AI to unlock these insights. Efficiency is the name of the game in customer service, and AI is a true force multiplier, enabling customer service teams to work more efficiently and focus on the customers who need the most help. Contact centers using ticket-based systems, while relying on siloed customer data, simply cannot deliver the type of experience customers demand today.
Omnichannel Customer Experience
Omnichannel support means a customer can connect with your business anywhere, anytime, and with any method—or even with multiple methods or channels. If a customer wants to reach out via email and then switch to chat, so be it! It’s the experience a new generation of consumers expect. This requires companies to break down silos and integrate their data for a picture of the whole customer across channels. Consumers must be able to switch channels mid-conversation and leverage the best channel for each conversation’s purpose. Our research shows that nearly 90% of customers are frustrated when they can’t contact a company on the channel they prefer. That shouldn’t be a surprise—we all know customers want what they want.
Omnipresent, Guided Self-Service
Just as customers expect more tailored and personal communications, they also demand self-service options for immediate resolution. As our new AI e-book explains, AI is being rapidly adopted in contact centers to act as the first line of defense, amplify performance, and create strong efficiencies. The volume, velocity, and variety of customer data today overwhelm organizations without the technology, processes, and operational capabilities to integrate siloed data and personalize communications. AI is transforming customer experiences, and for good reasons.
Happy Agents, Happy Customers
Research shows companies with excellent CX have employees that are 1.5X more engaged than employees at companies with less satisfactory CX; additionally, companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147%. AI is also vastly improving agent productivity and reducing churn for contact center leaders. AI can have a dramatic impact on the customer experience and satisfaction, which in turn makes the employee experience far more interesting and exciting.
AI makes jobs more meaningful and less frustrating by deflecting much of the grunt work and alleviating manual and repetitive tasks agents hate. Agents don’t need to waste time transferring and redirecting customers. Rather, conversations can be automatically classified and routed to the appropriate agent for a speedy and personalized resolution. Not only will this reduce wait and handle times, but it will also maximize team capacity by directing real-time conversation traffic to the right person at the right time.
Realizing the Intelligent Customer Experience
You need a modern CRM to help you execute your digitally advanced, customer-first approach. Leading contact centers have indicated that integrated platforms and data analytics are important in gathering insights into the customer journey. Enter the Intelligent Customer Experience, a culmination of all of the improvements we just discussed.
Intelligent CX means leveraging a modern customer-centric approach and advanced AI to create a smarter, faster, and more enjoyable customer experience. It’s about delivering results fast using the power of AI and data from all channels, whether that be via a call, chat, email, tweet, or all of the above. Your customer service agents will feel more informed since you’ll be empowering them to provide real value, not just closing a ticket or processing a transaction. AI uses context and conversations to make it easy for customers to get help, while allowing agents to provide more personalized service at scale.
We’ve seen dramatic changes since March of this year that have accelerated every aspect of digital transformation. We recently launched Kustomer IQ for omnichannel deflection, sentiment analysis, and intelligent routing. Check out more details here.
Customer Care Delivered in a Remote Environment
The pandemic has certainly upended the notion of the traditional 9-5 office. Companies are racing to adapt to a distributed work model, and technology is the biggest driver in adjusting to operating remotely. The next generation of customer service CRM does more than just manage support conversations. It enables the delivery of the customer experience from anywhere, through remote work orchestration and oversight. Taming the CX frankenstack is another step toward easing the remote transition. Modern CRMs must allow organizations to streamline integration of platforms, data sources, and channels to make remote work.
Collaboration is key to delivering an exceptional experience, so the modern CRM should provide a platform for customer service representatives to work together, to deliver service and support more efficiently and effectively. Collaboration between agents enhances the quality of answers provided to the customer by leveraging subject matter experts. At Kustomer, we believe the collective knowledge of experts makes your customer service organization stronger overall. In fact, we’ve embraced the use of Collaborators, users from other teams outside of support that can view conversations, customer history, and searches. By setting up Collaborators, other team members or departments can help you solve customer questions with internal notes and @mentions, see customer feedback, and more.
The Demise of the Dreaded Ticket
2020 will be the beginning of the end for legacy CRMs and transactional ticketing systems that were built to manage cases, not customers. Personalized support has been a key tenet of the business-and-buyer relationship from day one. Every customer wants to feel like they are known, respected, appreciated, and well-served. They certainly don’t want to be insulted by an interrogation. Traditional ticketing systems will be left behind, as customers expect more and the world continues to converge quickly.
Intelligent, modern CRMs enable true connections to be made with customers in their greatest times of need, by making it easy for agents to come from a place of understanding and context, consistently. This requires unlocking the value of data shared between different teams (such as marketing and customer service), creating new roles to act on the data, and leveraging new and modern technology.
Download the AI for CX e-book to learn more, and take a look at how Kustomer can provide the tools you need for exceptional DTC customer service.
A lot has changed in the past six months, including the way that we all work. As a rising senior at Franklin & Marshall College, majoring in business, I’m finishing my second summer as an intern in the sales operations department. As I reflect on the internship experience here at Kustomer, I’ve expanded my knowledge and stretched my skill set, while also learning to work in this new, remote normal. Here are some insights I picked up along the way.
Diving Into the Sales Operations World
My first summer at Kustomer was a great learning experience. I was finishing up my sophomore year of college, had just switched my major from biochemistry, and was looking for a way to learn more about working in a business environment. Working in sales operations, my job centered around Salesforce administration at first, but has since evolved to include more interdepartmental and substantive work. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on projects alongside marketing operations, customer experience, sales enablement, and sales leadership. The projects have covered a wide range of areas, including tracking pipeline, researching CPQ software, and reassigning sales territory, among others. My time at Kustomer has given me the chance to gain insights and experience in several areas of the business.
Interning in a Remote Environment
When I was asked to return for a second summer, I was thrilled to rejoin the Kustomer team. This time, however, due to the coronavirus pandemic, my second summer at Kustomer looks very different from the first. On the plus side, not having to commute from New Jersey means I get to sleep much later, and I certainly don’t miss the crowds at both Newark and New York Penn Station. I do, however, really miss the one-on-one interaction I had with my team at Kustomer last summer. While working from home and not seeing my coworkers at the office has been different, Kustomer has made it a smooth transition with the help of Slack and Zoom meetings, and I’ve been able to continue to get my work done and to keep in touch with my team and the company as a whole. Other than not being able to go to the office and meet in-person, my internship experience has been similar to last summer. I’m able to work on the same kinds of projects, build upon the same skills, and continue to make similar contributions, while learning new skills and about how the business works holistically.
Being a Part of the Kustomer Community
I very much value the opportunity I have been provided to get so involved in the day-to-day operations of the company as an intern. I don’t think that I would have gotten so involved if I had been interning somewhere else. I have been given the opportunity to truly see what working in sales operations full-time is like, and am much more involved in major projects and tasks than I expected to be going into an internship. This involvement is a huge source of motivation for me.
Most importantly, however, has been the interactions I have had with my colleagues at Kustomer. I’ve been made to feel like part of the team, which was another major reason I wanted to return for this summer. I have learned so much from the colleagues I worked alongside, and admire the vision of the company and its leadership. I felt welcomed from the start. On my first day, Brad Birnbaum, Kustomer’s CEO, invited me and the other three new hires who were starting that day to breakfast. I see this as one of the best examples of the Kustomer environment and the values of the leadership team. Before I had officially started my first day at 9:00 AM, I had not only met the CEO of the company, but had been given the opportunity to talk to him and hear about Kustomer from his perspective. The company as a whole shares this sense of community and welcoming that far exceeded my expectations, even in a remote environment. I’m excited to finish out my second summer at Kustomer in a few weeks, and I am so glad I was able to gather valuable experience and meet so many interesting and special people. I’m excited to see what the future holds for me personally, as well as for Kustomer!
Here we are in 2020, a decade full of opportunities and challenges no one could have conceived only a few short months ago. Our families need us, our friends need us, our countries need us, and hidden amongst these needs is an implicit truth more important now than ever: our customers need us. Imagine the cashier wearing a contagious smile, or the support e-mail which asks how you and your family are doing? These moments of kindness, compassion and empathy are in this day and age a brand’s greatest asset.
We can implicitly understand the importance of caring for your customers, but for several years now, the data has been showing much the same:
A customer is four times more likely to move to a competitor when facing a service related issue rather than a price or product related issue.
From a purely financial perspective, it will cost six to seven times more to bring in a new customer than it does to retain an existing one.
Treating your customers with compassion and good old fashioned kindness are now must-haves, not should-haves. And the uncharted waters of 2020 have emphasized this fact even more. The global pandemic has forced nearly all communications between customers and businesses into a digital interface. That means you can’t go into a store with a problem anymore — the only means of getting your problem solved is through phone, email, chat or social media. Therefore, the main cues a customer service representative uses to understand a person’s emotions (body language, tone, etc.) have been stripped down significantly.
Organizations must take this opportunity to invest in the heartbeat of their brand’s resilience, and taking care of your customers is where you must start:
You are running a pet grooming business, and supply your staff with hedge trimmers and power hoses, how happy do you think the pets and their owners will be? The exact same logic is fundamental in how you support your front line support agents. Ensure they have a full-spectrum, omnichannel view of customer history, enabling them to treat people like valued humans, not tickets. When an agent can see historical conversations, provide support over multiple channels, and see the customer profile and not a ticket, they are equipped to provide compassionate, human-centered support.
Lead by example. Before expecting your employees to provide world class, compassionate customer service and support, you must prepare them and care for them at “home”. Think about things like compassion training, support coaching, platform training, and any other form of investing in your customers’ caretakers.
3. Tone & Language
With human interactions, one can utilize body language, notice visual queues and react in ways simply not possible in the digital realm. For all online or voice support, tone and language is crucial to achieve positive, efficient and
compassionate customer service. When it comes to supporting your agents, who take on challenging and pressure-filled conversations regularly, brands can leverage an internal knowledge base (IKB) , multi-language tools and short or “canned” responses. The IKB offers answers, support, and advice on dealing with any number of customer service scenarios, offering an agent their own repository of self-help in a predetermined language and tone. Multi-language tools such as snippets, in conjunction with shortcuts in Kustomer, offer agents contextual, error-free, multilingual canned responses which are simple to use and provide perfect tone and language, enabling agents to support customers worry-free.
4. Customer (Human) First
Remember that each customer is not a ticket, but a person with needs. How is their day? How are they feeling? Start and end each interaction with a compassionate human touch, and your customers are sure to notice the difference. Just like a smiling cashier, or happy delivery man, these small details can make a world of a difference.
5. Understand Emotions
What is the general sentiment of your customers? The way in which you interact with a customer drastically shifts if, before starting on the conversation, you already know how they are feeling (natural, positive, very angry, etc). With Kustomer’s sentiment analysis, understanding sentiment takes zero human effort and allows for segmentation or prioritization of negative sentiment. “I understand that you’re not so happy right now, I’m here to make things better.” Proactive and compassionate messages like this can make a world of difference.
6. Reporting & Analytics
Once you’ve built up a repository of customer interactions, analyzing and understanding themes and patterns becomes essential for resiliency and customer success. What are your top five contact reasons and how can you create proactive solutions to these key customer challenges? Through these insights, could you begin to develop deflection strategies?
7. Artificial Intelligence
You understand why your customers are writing in, you’ve built better operational/product efficiencies to resolve some inbounds, but will always get questions such as “where is my order?” (WISMO), cancelation/refund requests, etc. With the advent of Kustomer IQ, you can now deflect such repetitive questions and enable your customer to walk through quick and easy self-service. This allows them to receive the fastest resolution and decreases overall inbound demand on your customer service teams.
8. Routing & Assignment
With the remaining inbound conversations, it is important that the customer’s query gets to the right agent as efficiently as possible. It is incredibly inefficient to have humans manually delegate support requests when a queues and routing system can do this quickly and efficiently. This allows managers to focus on other priorities, and strengthen the team’s overall experience. Intent Identification allows you to proactively tag or assign contact reasons to conversations and use this prediction to route the conversation directly to the required team. When done well, this will allow your team to resolve all issues within their scope and mandate, not wasting time rerouting or escalating conversations meant for other teams or departments.
We hope it is quite evident that empathy, compassion and a truly human customer experience will add priceless qualitative and quantitative value to brands and customer experience across any vertical. In this day and age, humans want to be treated like humans, not support tickets. When these practices are combined with a technologically sound support system, organizations will see decreased inbound requests, increased brand advocacy, and provide an enjoyable experience for both customers and customer experience specialists.
Before COVID-19, I often thought about things I would do with my daughters if I had more time, like camping in the backyard or reading an extra story at bedtime. But when I did have the time during one of NYC’s many school breaks, my first thought was, “I wonder what time we’re going to take them to Wito and Wita’s (their grandparents) house.” Then COVID-19 happened, and everything changed. Instead of manifesting some of those ideas into reality, I spent my time worrying about my job security (I am an office experience manager after all!).
My husband and I were so consumed with fear, anger and sadness that we didn’t see our six and two year old daughters’ lives were turned upside-down, too. So, we panicked and backfilled those 10 hours with brain-rotting, eyesight-destroying digital babysitters named, “TV” and “Tablet.” The four of us had spent more time at work or school, daycare and aftercare than at home with each other. Two months later, my husband and I are both grateful and decided to switch our mindset away from worry. Both of us are still employed and it’s more important to maintain our sanity and that of our children, than anything else.
Is it possible to homeschool a first-grader whose number one fan is her two year old sister? Of course it is! Anything is possible, right? Instead of sharing tips that don’t help your family at all, here are a couple of our biggest struggles and reflections as a note of encouragement to anyone who may also still be struggling, partnered or alone, parent or not.
Many, many thanks to the senior management team at Kustomer for allowing me to have these stories to tell, and if you, Maya and Suna, read this, please forgive Mommy for embarrassing you. 😂
We Call It Mess, But They Call It Art
Two year old Maya was proud and excited to show me her permanent drawing on the wall of our rented apartment. I called her “bad for drawing on the walls because [she] should have known better.” It wasn’t until the tears started falling that I realized that I was the one who should have known better. Where was I when she got the marker? Why didn’t I look when I smelled the fresh Sharpie ink from the marker she was so diligently using to draw and fill in a 6-inch circle?
Longer story short, I was M-A-D but I remembered that she was exercising her creativity. Who cares how many Magic Erasers I had to use to clean it? Maya had to practice somewhere and she decided to improvise, which is also a life skill! Now we have markable surfaces for her in every room with pieces of recycled cardboard or brown paper bags, and we spend time practicing other shapes, with washable markers.
It’s Okay to Get (and Be) Frustrated
After almost 32 years of life, it never dawned on me how challenging it could be to look at the time and know it’s 12. I don’t mean the concept of noon or midnight, but simply 12 o’clock. Suna, six years old, nailed the analog clock in our first lesson. She knows it’s wherever-the-hour-hand-is o’clock when the minute hand is on 12. But after two math workshops and watching the same YouTube video about digital clocks three times, I felt my body go numb when she looked at the time in her math book and excitedly said, “Twelve hundred.” Be patient, be kind, and lend a helping hand to your kids (or other creatures in your home) whenever you can find the time.
I think we can all agree it’s been an interesting — and hectic — couple of months. Juggling work and the kids has felt like an extreme sport, right? The lesson here is: don’t stress! Your children will learn new things, even if it’s not exactly on the school worksheet. They’ll drive you crazy sometimes, and that’s ok too! Just try to keep up with the basics, create a flexible routine, read a lot and spend time playing with them (better if it’s outside!). We are all doing the best that we can in these uncertain times. You are making it work, and that’s all that matters.
Remote work can be challenging and hard on us as individuals. Many of us are learning how to manage our home lives and work lives in a time of uncertainty. And while we’re adjusting to the ‘new normal’ of working from home, many of us are also adjusting to working in environments where we are isolated from each other. Together, all of this can take a hit on our mental health. And while often ignored, as you are managing other aspects of your life, it’s important that you prioritize your wellbeing and practice self-care in order to stay happy and productive.
Here are some ideas to help boost your mental health during this time:
Create a Routine
While there are many factors beyond your control right now, it’s important that you keep and establish structure where you can. This includes building a new schedule; including setting your wake up time, core work hours, scheduling breaks and carving out ‘you’ time. Building out your day in a thoughtful way may take time, but test out what feels right for you and your needs. And while it’s important to outline your goals and tasks for the day, it’s also important to schedule breaks and fun activities. Time away from your screen will give your body and mind a well-deserved break. These routine’s are essential in maintaining boundaries between work life and home life, as well as keeping us productive, on track and feeling good.
Stay Active and Incorporate Wellness Into Your Day
Maintaining an active lifestyle may seem tough during these times, but now is the time to incorporate wellness and activity into your routine. If you used to go to the gym before commuting to work, try building out time for an online fitness class prior to turning your computer on in the morning. If you feel comfortable going outside, going for a walk is another great way to incorporate exercise, break up your day and get some fresh air. This is also a good time to try something new as many apps and websites offer free trials and subscriptions to get you started. Yoga and meditation are two practices that promote balance and can allow you to mentally clear your head. No matter what you choose to do to stay active, regular exercise and wellness activities are a great way to boost your mood and keep you grounded when in isolation.
Many of us can no longer rely on regular run-ins by the coffee machine or lunch dates to stay connected to each other. It’s important that while in isolation and working remotely that we maintain healthy relationships with our coworkers, family members and friends. Take time to think about how you can stay in touch with each other and find ways to virtually check-in. Whether that be a phone call, zoom date, virtual coffee or happy hour, staying in touch is vital to combat loneliness. Being able to lean on others and support one another goes a long way during this time.
Recognize Your Needs
We are all different, with different situations, needs and responsibilities. What works for one person may be much different than what works for another. Now is the time where you may need to sit down and assess, what is working and what is not working for me? Do you need to define ‘heads down’ work time? Are you finding you need to make adjustments to your work space in order to be more productive? Do you need to adjust your schedule due to family needs? Making these adjustments to create an environment that supports your needs will positively impact your mental health, stability and productivity.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
During this time, many of us may feel the added pressure to prove we’re being the best employee, family member and friend that we can be. Add in a global pandemic and this can result in added stress and times when we feel overwhelmed. And while some days will be harder than others, it’s important that we recognize these emotions and remember that it is okay to not be okay sometimes. Listen to your body and mind and take physical and mental breaks when you need to in order to make tomorrow a better day.
Try a New Hobby
It’s no surprise that week after week our lives can feel like we’re continuously spinning on a hamster wheel. If you feel like you’re in a rut but find yourself with free time that you did not have before, think about picking up a new hobby. Have you been wanting to learn how to cook a new dish? Are there home improvement projects that you’ve always wanted to complete? Have you always wanted to try brewing your own kombucha? Use the time you normally spent commuting to and from the office to pick up a new hobby or skill. There’s no time like the present!
We are all trying to get used to a “new normal”, and it’s sometimes easier said than done. Try to practice patience and compassion with both yourself and those around you, and prioritize your wellbeing when possible. For more remote work best practices, check out our infographic here.
At Kustomer, we design features based on customer needs, so it’s always been a normal part of my work to be on Zoom calls with users from all across the globe. Now, however, I typically talk to people who are calling from their kitchen tables or tucked into corners of bedrooms. Even though I’m personally working from a glorified closet, it’s been a silver lining to continue to connect with users and learn about their needs (and sometimes meet their dogs and babies). So how do we continue to design great experiences for our users, remotely?
Understanding Remote Needs
Understanding users for any SaaS product has a lot to do with understanding their environments. A lot of Kustomer users are in our product all-day, every-day. What does it feel like to use our product at work every day? What does it feel like to use our product on a large monitor? As part of a small team? As part of an enormous team?
When our users’ environments change, we need to reframe our understanding of needs. There is much less likely to be a large, bustling room with a team that’s sitting together. Certain integrations become more important. Communication is more asynchronous. Users in different countries, and across different industries, may be experiencing the impact of COVID-19 in vastly different ways. Consider the new environment and reframe your understanding of your users as quickly as possible.
Understanding Needs, Remotely
To help with understanding “as quickly as possible”, the design team at Kustomer uses a suite of tools to gather both qualitative and quantitative data. We use UsabilityHub, Canny, InVision, and Zoom, among others, to communicate with our users and gather feedback as we design new features. As much as we miss on-site visits to our customers, these remote-friendly tools allow us insight into our customer needs, even as they change and grow. I have found that more than ever, our users are happy to provide feedback and help us shape our features to align with their goals.
It’s an interesting new reality for all of us, but the more we can learn and adjust to shifting circumstances, the more successful we will be. At Kustomer, we are looking to perfect the customer experience, and constantly searching for others to join us in making that mission a reality. Interested in joining us and helping create excellent user experiences? See our open roles here.
Remote work has long been controversial. While tools that support remote work have been widely available for some time, prevailing attitudes have not been disrupted as quickly. Companies have tried to create balanced policies everyone can agree on, but the issue is complex because each employee is different. Opinions can also differ greatly by department or even by job function. Your sales manager’s personal policy will not be the same as your engineering lead — trust me. All of this is to say that there’s no silver bullet that will put this debate to rest. But let’s be honest, many of us won’t be working in an office for quite some time, so here are a few simple ways to make the most of a week while working remote.
Create a Space to Work
Swapping your commute for the distance between your bed and home desk might seem like a win, but it’s important to not undervalue what a commute provides. A commute signals that it’s time to clock in or clock out. It forces you to plan ahead and keep a schedule. It gets you out of bed at an exact time so you’re not late for that 9am meeting. And once you show up to work, you show up. There’s very little tolerance for napping or strutting around without pants on in an office––not so much while working remotely! This is why it’s so important to create a dedicated home office and routine.
First, dedicating part of your home into an office should not be more involved than it has to be. It doesn’t make sense to buy an Aeron chair and a wall of monitors if you live in a small apartment or are on a tight budget. Refrain from renovating your living room into a corner office. Instead, appreciate that your work-life balance is now a work-life harmony. The two are sharing the same space and must coexist. So if this simply means having a chosen area for your work computer, then great! (But maybe put a potted plant or two down while you’re at it). Your dedicated work space will let you know when it’s time to work and will help keep you organized.
Speaking of being organized, it’s incredibly important to keep your office space clean. We’re living in extraordinary times and if you read the news on a daily basis it will quickly feel like everything is out of control. Your work space shouldn’t feel equally out of control. Maintaining a clean space will help you keep a sense of order and, frankly, it will give you something to do. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the list of available activities has shrunk dramatically in 2020. If there’s one takeaway from reading this, learn to love to clean and thank me later.
Shut Off in the Evening
Most people understand what time they’re going to start working in the morning, but less plan for when they’re going to wind down. Since you now work where you live, it can be harder to know when your work day ends. And it can often feel like companies today are “always on.” Whether it’s a new email, slack message, or even a Kustomer notification, there’s no shortage of applications vying for your attention. And while being virtually available and super connected always gives us ways to be productive, individually we need to recharge. It’s just as important to schedule this time as it is to schedule your next meeting. So before you open up your laptop to start a new work day, have an approximate goal of when you plan to close it.
Share What Works
Lastly, understand that while you’re creating a routine around this new normal, your colleagues are experiencing their own version of the same thing. It’s important to stay connected with them and talk about what is working and what isn’t. Nobody is expected to have all of the answers right now, and for many of us this working environment is very new. But remember that teams are built to solve problems together.
Check out our infographic for more tips on how to successfully work in a remote environment.
The global work environment is undergoing a massive shift, and with recent events forcing the acceleration of remote work, leaders everywhere are scrambling to find ways to maintain and continue building a strong team culture within their organizations during this abrupt transition. Luckily, thanks to modern technology, there are many ways to create an environment of positive behavior, togetherness and productivity even in a remote team.
Of course, with any types of changes, there are a few adjustments that need to be made. Here are some of the ways to not only maintain, but to build a strong culture while transitioning to a remote team:
1. Ensure that your team is equipped with the right tools that match your culture and encourage collaboration
The concept of “the path of least resistance” comes into play in all aspects of life, and building a strong team culture in a remote environment is no different. When I think about some of the work friendships I’ve made in my career, many of those friendships were forged with people who were in the same “new-hire onboarding” class as I was. Those friendships were strengthened if they happened to be on the same team, and even more so if we became deskmates. The same concept applies to remote work. Work relationships are built with those we communicate with often.
When it comes to building culture in the context of a remote environment, the easier it is to communicate and collaborate, the more those behaviors will be reinforced. It is especially important in a remote setting to err on the side of over-communication as opposed to under-communication, as rampant miscommunication and missing information can dismantle trust and culture fast. With a wide variety of instant messaging and video conferencing platforms, along with the internal notes and comments sections of your customer management platform, an environment of open communication and collaboration in remote teams is no longer just a dream, it is a very achievable reality.
2. Create opportunities for remote social interactions
In a remote work environment it can feel as if you should only reach out to a colleague when problems arise or help is needed. During those times, stress levels are high and there can be a buildup of negative emotions towards an individual, especially when all interactions with them are stressful, demanding and require deep thought. Without a foundation of trust and camaraderie, it’s much easier to misinterpret the intention of an e-mail or message.
This problem is often alleviated in an in-office environment since colleagues will inevitably bump into each other during coffee or lunch breaks. In a remote work environment, not so much. This is why it’s smart to have fully optional, but regularly scheduled, virtual coffee and lunch breaks. By encouraging remote team members to bond virtually, and foster a “remote office social life”, teammates can feel much more comfortable asking each other questions and giving honest feedback when it comes to business.
3. Setting clear goals and expectations
While setting clear goals and expectations is important in any environment, dysfunction from a lack of direction becomes more apparent in a remote team. While some remote employees may disappear into the abyss when there is a lack of direction, others may overcompensate and overwork to appear productive, which could potentially lead to burnout. Neither of these scenarios are beneficial for the employee or the employer. It is up to leadership and the managers to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Bound) and hold employees accountable, giving direct feedback if expectations aren’t being met. This allows remote employees to stay connected to the overall mission and goals of the company as well as empower the employee to engage in their work. The happiest employees have a deeper sense of meaning to their work than to simply clock in and clock out for a paycheck.
4. Foster an environment that celebrates wins
While it is important to see reality for what it is and to find gaps and weaknesses in the business, it is equally, if not more important, to find strengths and reasons to celebrate. In an in-office environment, it’s easy to celebrate all sorts of “wins”. Whether you just brought a promising new hire on board, ran a smooth implementation of new software, or helped turn an angry customer into a happy one, news will get around. In a remote environment, employees may often feel isolated and lonely. Negative and urgent news may travel faster than the small wins, but it is crucial to to emphasize the wins. By fostering an environment that celebrates all the wins and allows the cheers to reverberate across communication channels, you encourage a culture of positivity that lifts employees up.
Want more practical tips for working remotely? Check out our latest infographic on how to stay sane and productive while working from home.
As much as we may not want to admit it, we are living in a whole new world, and customer service leaders are having to learn new ways of being successful, from the way they treat their customers to the way they manage their employees.
As your organization makes necessary changes to stay connected and responsive during this trying time, here are some additional ways you can leverage capabilities within Kustomer to stay productive and collaborative:
1. Tap Into Unlimited Collaboration
As part of Kustomer’s Ultimate Package, now available to all customers, Unlimited Collaboration allows you to loop in anyone from any department within your organization to help resolve inquiries more efficiently in a remote environment. Features like Notes, Following and @Mentions let cross-functional teams conduct internal communications and ensure customers get the expedited service they need right now, no matter where they are in the world.
2. Manage With Team Pulse
Another Ultimate Package tool, Team Pulse allows you to see what your agents are working on in real time, enabling teams to manage performance and effectiveness seamlessly. Supervisors can quickly jump to the customers and searches that agents are viewing in real-time as well as adjust queue assignments and availability, all from the Team Pulse dashboard.
3. Expand Your Shortcut Library
Companies are updating policies to accommodate for the coronavirus, and your agents should be armed with the correct information to share with customers. Add in any new policies or FAQs to your shortcut library to ensure your agents have everything they need at their fingertips.
4. Introduce Users to their Performance Dashboard
Your teams may be experiencing an influx of conversations due to customer concerns. Ensure your agents understand their traffic volume, performance, satisfaction, and peak times of interaction, so they can anticipate busier times of day and easily keep tabs on how customers are feeling.
5. Activate Your Social Media Channels
As customers contact you across an array of channels, make sure you’re ensuring seamless communication by having all channels in one holistic view. You can quickly install Facebook or Twitter DMs directly from the Kustomer App Directory, and customers can get consistent attention if they reach out over social media.
6. Set up These Useful Business Rules
Your team doesn’t have to get bogged down trying to keep conversation traffic organized. Business Rules are a great way to automate routine tasks. Here are a few you can set up right now to drive more efficiency:
Send Messages:Watch our video and start sending automated messages whenever you need.
Auto-Mark Auto Responses ‘Done’: A single rule can cover a lot of ground. These conversations may contain a variety of subject lines that all mean the same thing. Create a rule that can automatically mark any conversation that’s titled: automatic response, automated response, auto response, etc. as ‘Done’.
Assign a Specific Team to Multiple Channels: During these rapidly changing times, you may need to shift priorities quickly. Create a business rule that automatically assigns any conversation from specific channels to a designated team, to make sure all customers are covered.
Automatically Tag Conversations: Business Rules can automatically tag conversations based on context, such as any conversations related to the novel coronavirus. Just make sure you’ve added any tags you need to your library, and build rules to apply them.
7. Route Conversations based on Customer Attributes
Cut down on unnecessary busy work by intelligently and automatically routing customers to the most appropriate agent, based on information like language, sentiment or customer history.
Remember, the Kustomer platform is accessible from anywhere—requiring nothing more than standard WiFi and an internet browser. No downloads. No plugins. No premium internet connection needed.
Want more practical tips for working remotely? Check out our latest infographic on how to stay sane and productive while working from home.
In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen invites Dr. Merilee Larsen to discuss the essential and non essential things we need in this time of crisis and how we can be prepared. Merilee is the Assistant Professor at Utah Valley University. Her background is in disaster thinking and education. She has been at Utah Valley University for 20 years and within that time, she has switched from Emergency Medical Services to Public Health. Dr. Larsen has a Masters in Public Health and a Doctorate in Health Education. She is very authoritative on crisis prevention and, during her time with Gabe, she shared some valuable insights for all.
Fear, Hoarding, and What You Actually Need
It has been very clear that the current COVID-19 pandemic has struck fear into the American public and citizens of all nations. The United States has experienced an interesting side effect of the pandemic: excessive purchasing at grocery stores. On that note, Merilee did an experiment with her social media followers. She wanted to determine which items were out of stock and the location tied to that shortage. Dr. Larsen found that cleaning products are out of stock in most places, but results also showed that the Midwest has been buying superfluous amounts of toilet paper. Merilee also mentioned that the excessive shopping and hoarding of items, like toilet paper, is driven by fear. It has become a trend that people participate in because they see others doing it. She states, “I have a friend who went to the store to get paper cups and came home with $300 worth of groceries. And when I said, ‘Well, why did you do this?’ She said, ‘Well, everybody else was doing it and I didn’t know what to do.’”
The solution is not to hoard. Rather, we should be preparing for a 14 day quarantine. Merilee clearly states that we need to have a good food supply. Fruits and vegetables, non perishable items, and a sweet treat to help on tough days. While having an abundance of toilet paper isn’t necessary, she recommends focusing on other toiletries like shampoo or toothpaste and staying on top of prescription medications. By focusing on the daily essentials without hyper focusing on toilet paper, people will be more prepared and less stressed for the coming weeks.
Physical and Mental Health Tips
In her dialogue with Gabe, Dr. Larsen gives listeners a suggestion to promote physical health: we should be washing our hands for at least 20 seconds. While this is simple, it will make a big difference. The disease spreads when “droplets” land on a surface, a person touches those surfaces and then that person proceeds to touch their face. By washing your hands, it is less likely for the virus to spread. On top of that, daily physical exercise is recommended not only for physical health, but especially for mental health. Combined with good nutrition, exercise can help calm a lot of the symptoms of anxiety and depression. In addition, because of the need for isolation and the extended time people are spending with their families, Merilee recommends having a family mental health plan. She states, “Talk over this with your families. Make sure that there’s a plan so you guys can handle being in close quarters together or with your roommates or wherever you’re at. … Have a plan for conflict and … a plan to handle anxiety and depression in your home.”
What is Social Distancing and How is the World Going to Change Because of the Pandemic?
Social distancing, the buzzword of 2020, is avoiding public places and large gatherings. Most states have regulated the size of gatherings or have been placed in a state of emergency. However, when people are required to leave their houses for certain things, like going to the grocery store, the public has been asked to be socially distant. When possible, it is recommended that we stay at least 6 feet apart.
Merilee adds a visual to social distancing, she says, “imagine as if you are holding a hula hoop around you. Don’t let anybody into your hula hoop space.” This prevents the spread of the virus further. Merilee and Gabe also comment on how society will change because of the pandemic. Isolation will probably become a common practice for the flu, the custom of shaking hands might go away and new social norms will appear. Businesses are learning to be flexible, and with technology, employees are becoming a “remote workforce.” Despite all these changes, Merilee is hopeful for the future. One of her final statements is: “I have high hopes for us. I hope that we can — I think we can come out of it, but yes, I think it will change how we are doing things and how we continue to do things.”
To learn more about individual and public health amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.
You can also listen and subscribe to our podcast here:
Full Episode Transcript:
Being Prepared in a Time of Crisis with Dr. Merilee Larsen
Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.
Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi, welcome everybody. We’re excited to dive in. I think this will be a fun talk track today. We’re going to be talking about preparedness during today’s crises. And to do that, we brought on Dr. Merilee Larsen, currently Assistant Professor of Public Health at Utah Valley University. Merille thanks for joining. How are you?
Merilee Larsen: (00:32)
Good, thanks Gabe. Thanks for having me on.
Gabe Larsen: (00:34)
Yeah, I think this will be obviously very timely. It’s a fun talk track. Before we dive in, maybe you could take just a minute and tell us a little bit about yourself and kind of your background.
Merilee Larsen: (00:45)
Sure. Thanks. Like you said, I am an Assistant Professor at Utah Valley University. I have been there for 20 years. I spent the first decade teaching in emergency services. So I have a background in EMS and emergency services and then the second half I have been in public health. So I have kind of an interesting combination of emergency services and planning and preparedness coupled with public health. I have a Master’s in public health and a Doctorate in health education that I got from Loma Linda University. And so my research base is in disaster thinking and in education. And that’s kind of my background.
Gabe Larsen: (01:27)
Well that’s very fitting because that seems to be where we are; the word disaster. A lot going on in the world and we want to dive into it. As we talked a little bit before we jumped on, right? I mean, obviously we have an interesting situation going on in the world today. Many business leaders kind of wondering what’s going on with this virus that’s going around. How can we be thinking about it? And so today we wanted to dive into that and figure out how can we think about preparedness in these times of crisis. So maybe let’s start big picture for a minute and I do want to narrow in a little bit on this Coronavirus. Maybe talk to us about just the basics of it. I think there are some spells about how do you get it, myths about how dangerous it is. Big picture, what’s going on here?
Merilee Larsen: (02:13)
Okay. So the Coronavirus or COVID-19, it is basically kind of a major virus. It can infect both animals and people. We have had outbreaks of coronaviruses in the past. If you think of like the SARS outbreak or, there’s a Middle East outbreak called MERS. Both of those we’ve had. Normally SARS type infections can cause very mild respiratory infections, like the common cold. But this particular virus is crazy. It’s kind of a gangbusters virus. So it’s big. Currently right now, CDC estimates in the United States, we have 300,000 infected as of today. So it’s pretty major. And the reason that’s so big is because it’s new. Nobody’s ever had it before. Nobody’s ever had this kind before. So it is highly transmissible and easy to get.
Gabe Larsen: (03:04)
Yeah. When you talk about the virus itself; anything that jumps out to you as things that… either ways people can get it or ways people can’t get it. I’ve heard some things about my kids swinging on a swing set, boxes coming from Amazon versus direct contact; sneezing, coughing. Any kind of thing you’d highlight there as people think about some of these different things that they’re trying to avoid in order to not get this?
Merilee Larsen: (03:36)
Sure. Well, things to avoid would be direct contact. Once you have it, you have these, basically droplets that you can breathe out or you can talk out or you cough or sneeze on somebody, which is super gross, and it travels through the air. So, most of these respiratory droplets, they just kind of fall to the ground in front of you. But if you’re in super close contact, you’re going to breathe them in or you’re going to get them on your hands and touch your eyeballs. If you’re a kid, you’re going to pick your nose. I mean, and you’re going to get sick. We don’t really know how long they can live on surfaces. Scientists are estimating three to four hours. So is there a little bit of a risk with going to the park or touching things that other people have touched? Yes. There’s a little bit of a risk, but there’s differences. Your Amazon boxes, you’re probably fine. They’re finding that it’s not living on cardboard for super long, but it can live on non porous surfaces. Like stainless steel, still up quite long there, but not on copper. So it just depends on what you’re touching really.
Gabe Larsen: (04:37)
I don’t know all the things that I’m touching. Now I’m thinking about it. [inaudible].
Merilee Larsen: (04:37)
Thank the Lord. Amazon, you’re fine. Prime, we’re going to all be okay. If we can’t get on prime we’re not getting it anywhere.
Gabe Larsen: (04:51)
That’s good, right? Obviously, everything is shutting down. That’s good. Kind of set the level. I know a lot of people read that, but just to kind of set the table. I think the more important thing is where do you go next? Right? So, knowing the times have changed, knowing that we are in a crisis situation, you are hearing things like people making a run for this crazy stuff going on with toilet paper. Right? And that being almost a psychological thing of preparedness. As you think about preparedness and thinking about the times we’re in, how should we be prepared or how can we prepare?
Merilee Larsen: (05:24)
Well, for starters, you’re not going to need this much toilet paper. You’re going to be fine. Everybody’s going to be fine. We need to back off the toilet paper, otherwise you’re going to be very hungry, but you’ll have tons of toilet paper. So we want to try and avoid that whole thing if we can.
Gabe Larsen: (05:43)
Have you seen some of those videos? It’s just crazy, right?
Merilee Larsen: (05:43)
Yes, it’s insanity!
Gabe Larsen: (05:47)
I mean, look, you gotta go, you gotta get what you can get. But, it’s like what is this craziness with toilet paper? But it must be…
Merilee Larsen: (05:54)
I don’t know.
Gabe Larsen: (05:54)
…Our brains that knows we’re panicking and so that’s all we know how to get.
Merilee Larsen: (05:58)
Toilet paper and water. So I hope you’re going to be okay. But, your systems are going to be fine. You can drink water out of your tap. You’re just fine. Toilet paper, you probably need enough in your house for 14 days, maybe, maybe three weeks. I don’t know. I don’t know how much you’re going through, but you don’t need that much. So, if you’re looking at true preparedness and if you’re looking at their recommendation that FEMA is making, you do need food. You need at least 14 days worth of food. So that means perishable and non-perishable and some candy. Everybody’s going to need some candy. So just get some good stuff that you can keep in your house and that you have enough for everyone to eat. Candy and novelty items are really good to kind of break up things, especially if you have kids or if you’re like me and you just kind of need something at the end of the day so you don’t go crazy. Like you just need a little, you need a Twix once in a while. So, some shelter items that are always nice to have on hand. Like if you have a wood burning stove; it’s freezing here in Utah right now, so you might need some wood or something like that. Propane is always nice if you have access to that. So, everybody you need to wash your hands and do it for 20 seconds. Dipping it under the water and pulling it back out, that doesn’t work.
Gabe Larsen: (07:14)
I mean this is obviously, I don’t want to mock it but, this is obviously real. [inaudible] Follow some of the best practices you’re seeing around the 20 second thing, etc.
Gabe Larsen: (07:24)
Right. Sing the chorus to your favorite song; a little “Mr. Brightside,” a little “Touch of Grey,” whatever. Sing the chorus to it while you’re washing your hands. It’s perfect. 20 seconds. Do it when you leave your house and come back, wash your hands, kids too. And then watch your face. Don’t touch your eyeballs. Don’t pick at your teeth, keep your hands out of your face. You’re going to need some household goods. You probably need some laundry soap. You probably need some dish detergent, some paper towels. The big thing that we always talk about is cash. You really need to have or work on having enough savings that if you are out of work for however long this quarantine lasts, that you can afford it. You can afford to pay your utilities, you can afford to pay door dash; because we all know we’re going to use it. Then you just have enough cash on hand so that you can pay your bills for two weeks or more. So you need some stuff if you’re bored. You need maybe some board games, some books, some things to pass the time, which is a big one. If you have babies, you need baby supplies. Diapers, again, don’t hoard. But, you do need enough diapers, wipes and formula for your little ones. And if you have a neighbor that has one, they could always use a little help. Personal hygiene items; shampoo, conditioner, tissues, floss. We all appreciate it, some floss. Prescription medications are huge. If you have a prescription for something, make sure that you get those filled. I recently had to have a prescription filled for my little boy and we waited for three days because they had so many prescriptions to fill. So make sure you’re ahead of the game on that. Talk to your doctor and if you have pets, please get some pet food for your pets at least long enough that if you have to stay inside for two weeks or more that they’re covered as well. So mentally, we also talk about mental preparedness. Talk over this with your families. Make sure that there’s a plan so you guys can handle being in close quarters together or with your roommates or wherever you’re at. And if you have a plan for conflict and if you have a plan to handle anxiety and depression in your home. The mental aspect is just as important as the physical, always, especially in this time. There’s a lot of fear going on right now and we have to help each other and we have to help…
Gabe Larsen: (09:33)
Yeah, it does seem like one of the areas that people, I mean, and I think we’re hoarding different items is as we kind of go into this nervous preparedness or whatever that psychological state is of hoarding. But, yeah, the mental thing is a little bit overlooked. Whether that’s in work or at home. I definitely find that that resonates with me as I’ve talked to different employees. I’ve got obviously family myself and there are ups and downs. Is there anything, I mean you mentioned kind of having a plan. Is there other things from the mental preparedness standpoint? A little bit of exercise, psychological, well I don’t know if there’s psychological help that is available to different people, but any other thoughts on the mental side?
Merilee Larsen: (10:14)
Yes, mental — always, exercise is great for mental health. It does wonders for anxiety and depression. There’s countless amounts of studies and research that’s behind that. So really if you’re feeling an anxiety attack, come on, I would recommend for you to go out and take a walk or a run and that can really help pull back some of those symptoms. Other things mentally is to eat a little better, to choose a little bit healthier food and that can help mental clarity as well. There’s an app called Calm, which is fantastic, that has meditations and things like that on it that are really helpful. And there are a few apps that you can find out there that have chats with psychologists. So if you need to, there’s an option for that kind of thing as well. Now that we can’t really — there are a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists who will do face to face over zoom and that option is out there as well. But I would really tell you to try and get a little more exercise, try and eat a little better. And if you’re feeling it come on, go put some running shoes on and go for a walk.
Gabe Larsen: (11:14)
I like the mental and physical part. And do you have any thoughts as to why — I mean, is that just human nature? I mean, we joked a little bit about the hoarding and the toilet paper and stuff, but is that just the grasping at straws mentality or why do you feel like people went that direction versus maybe some of the recommendations you said, which was a little more food preparedness or a little more mental preparedness. Is that just the human emotion kicking in?
Merilee Larsen: (11:43)
I think it’s fear too. And it’s kind of interesting as I’ve been talking to people and doing a little more research during this time, I have a friend who went to the store to get paper cups and came home with $300 worth of groceries. And when I said, well, why did you do this? She said, well, everybody else was doing it and I didn’t know what to do. So I think we’re kind of following each other and we are very panicked about the unknown. We don’t know what the next six weeks is going to look like. And we’re afraid to go without. And you know, people are choosing different things. We see our neighbors…
Gabe Larsen: (12:18)
Because we all deal with it a little differently, right? Now you did a little exercise. What was that? You did a little exercise where you had different people send to you as they were going around and shopping. What was that?
Merilee Larsen: (12:27)
I did. On my social media I asked my friends from all over the world to tell me what their grocery stores were out of and where they were located. And it was kind of fascinating to see the Island of Tahiti was out of hand sanitizer of all things. And we had — I had friends and it seemed like more in the Midwest toilet paper seemed to go like wildfire. But in other places, it was hand sanitizer and Clorox. So it was kind of fascinating to see what was happening where and where the panic was.
Gabe Larsen: (13:00)
Hmm. Interesting. We’ll have to check that out. As we think about businesses, I want to turn just for a minute. Definitely we’ve got companies with the economic struggles now that this virus is putting on the economy. I mean it’s obviously very real and many people are facing dire and sometimes interesting situations. We’ve got business leaders trying to take care of their customers and their employees. As you think about preparedness, and maybe more on the employee side, is there anything you’d recommend to business leaders — and maybe it goes down kind of that mental preparation and enabling some of that as people are facing things in their personal life and also trying to manage work — that you’d recommend to them as they try to navigate the business side of the preparedness equation?
Merilee Larsen: (13:52)
The business side is kind of an interesting side. This is a side that there’s so many facets to. But really a lot of the top, I would really talk about flexibility. I think too, as a business leader, I would look to see how flexible we could have our employees be. Can we reduce our meetings and our travel? Can we do more on Zoom? But can we still somehow stay connected? Maybe have morning coffee over Zoom or whatever it looks like for you. Being transparent with your employees as well as your customers I feel like that is huge as well. And if you’re having your workers come into your workplace, really stress hygiene and making sure that everyone’s taken care of in the building, but then when they leave so that we’re not just becoming a hotbed of illness and then carrying it out to the families. But really be flexible. Really have your people self-monitor if they’re feeling sick and if they need to, have the flexibility that they can isolate or quarantine at home. That is a great way to help.
Gabe Larsen: (14:54)
And make it a little bit easier both for the business as well as I think for society as a whole. We were talking a little bit about social distancing and obviously that’s become a big buzzword. It is something people are kind of practicing, but I don’t know if I know what it means. I know what it generally means. But, what are the best practices for social distancing that you have in mind? Again, I’m thinking of some people, you know, a lot of businesses are obviously closing. Some are mandatorily staying open to others. You’ve got factories, you got Amazon; people are trying to still manage. Best practices in this kind of social distancing for people who are put in a situation where they may need to be around others and interact with others?
Merilee Larsen: (15:40)
Social distancing is really, you’re trying to avoid large events, mass gatherings. So, imagine as if you are holding a hula hoop around you, don’t let anybody into your hula hoop space.
Gabe Larsen: (15:51)
I like that.
Merilee Larsen: (15:51)
Socially distance. No close talkers. Keep them outside of your space.
Gabe Larsen: (15:57)
Yeah. Is there kind of that hula-hoop, is that about the right distance? I mean, is it 12 feet, six? I think I’ve heard six feet.
Merilee Larsen: (16:05)
Six feet is great, but if you’re in a situation where you’re in a meeting, then maybe just try for that hula hoop distance. Something is better than nothing.
Gabe Larsen: (16:16)
Wow. Crazy times, right? I’m starting to kick off — I went to one conference, this is now weeks ago, but it was just the beginning of it and they kind of, you know, no handshake conference, right? So people were, it was awkward. We were doing this elbow thing and fist bump thing and that was a month before. I wonder how this — assuming things do continue, assuming things improve — how this will just change. Obviously we’ve got the flexible workforce, a remote workforce. We’ve got interactions between people as they talk about different waves, if you’ll kind of get rid of things like social norms of shaking hands? Some people say the world will never be the same, but hopefully we have semblance here.
Merilee Larsen: (17:01)
Well, hopefully, hopefully we can get back. I think it’s going to take a little bit of time though. Like if you look at the last time we used a federal quarantine, the last time we were totally restricted was the Spanish flu in 1918.
Gabe Larsen: (17:14)
Is that right?
Merilee Larsen: (17:14)
Yeah. So, it took a little bit of time to come out of that. But I think I have high hopes for us. I hope that we can, I think we can come out of it, but yes, I think it will change how we are doing things and how we continue to do things. We may socially choose to isolate in flu season normally. And that’s not a bad thing. So this may change the atmosphere of public health, which I don’t hate. It’ll be okay.
Gabe Larsen: (17:44)
1918, right? This definitely is unprecedented. I mean, I’m not that old, but I’ve lived through the 2000s, 2004, 2008. This is definitely different than all of those so it is uncharted water. But, real interesting talk track, appreciate you jumping on and talking through just some of the different things companies and people can do to get prepared in these times of crisis. So, if someone wants to get in touch with you or just learn a little bit more about some of the things you’re thinking about, is there a good way to contact or stay connected?
Merilee Larsen: (18:16)
Yeah, my LinkedIn page is great or you can feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gabe Larsen: (18:24)
Awesome awesome. All right, well, really appreciate you taking the time and for the audience. Have a fantastic day.
Merilee Larsen: (18:29)
Exit Voice: (18:38)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.
A Stanford University study said that productivity increases among remote workers to the tune of an extra day per person, per week. That’s a lot of extra productivity, but how do you do it, and how do you do it effectively? It’s not always a rosy picture. In my first days of working remote due to COVID-19, I know I’ve struggled with communication, cabin-fever, and an uncomfortable work environment. And I’m not alone. Buffer released a study on remote workers and found these top three issues: unplugging after work, loneliness, and collaborating and/or communication. As much of the US moves to a remote workforce, we have no choice but to overcome these challenges. Here are the top 20 ways you can manage a remote customer service team.
1. Close Your Office
If you haven’t already, do us all a solid and close your office now. Social distancing is a pretty important word right now, and if you have a work environment with more than a handful of employees, I’d highly recommend shutting it down and moving remote.
2. Follow Routines
Like me, you probably don’t think you need a routine. You’ll just sit down and do your thing. Bad idea. Working from home has its own set of challenges and, like at work, distractions are all around you. Figure out a routine that works for you and your company and stick to it.
3. Watch Out for Security
With everybody logging in remotely, it’s worth doing a quick check to ensure your security policies and procedures are being followed. With all that is going on, the last thing you need is a roommate who inadvertently opens up your network and machines to potential security threats.
4. Find Your Place Within Your Place
Don’t think you can roam around the house and stay focused or be productive. It just doesn’t work, believe me. You need to create a designated space for work. It doesn’t have to be a whole room, it could be a small section in your kitchen or a corner of your bedroom. It may not be the perfect office, but you do need to have it.
5. Be Done
Yes, you want to be productive and yes, you want to stay focused, but just because you are working remotely doesn’t mean you have to work 24/7. It’s sometimes easy to feel guilty about “not working” while being remote, but be strong. Fill your hours, do your job, and when it’s over, you have my permission to shut your computer and live your life.
6. Execute Weekly SPIFs
You want to keep things fun and interactive, and one way to do that is with sales performance incentive funds, or SPIFs, traditionally used in sales but effective for any team. These can be small gifts or even group recognition. Don’t focus on monthly goals, but rather on short-term wins to drive motivation and engagement.
7. Schedule Break Time
It’s easy to get up and get right to work because you’re not wasting time commuting or skipping out for lunch. Just because you can sit at your computer all day doesn’t mean you should. The only way to make sure you take time for breaks or time for your family is to actually schedule those times in your calendar.
8. Get the Basics
This goes above and beyond, but it’s a nice gesture. For many employees, they may not have the basics for a remote work environment, so offering a small stipend to get a headset or other basic items to perform their job is not a bad idea.
9. Create Signs
Whether it is kids, roommates, or significant others, everybody needs to know what different signs mean. For example, door closed does not mean “bang until open.” Setting the ground rules with those around you so they all know when you are on important calls or in meetings, is a must.
10. Test Your Speed
You can’t work remotely if your internet is slow. Make sure you and your employees have fast enough internet speeds to do the job required. A good rule of thumb: if you can watch Netflix, you can probably do your work. Here is a site to test your speed: https://fast.com/
11. Start Creative Interactions
Don’t be boring. Find creative ways to interact. Could you create a remote team lunch? What about a remote happy hour? These and other ideas help people keep it light and fun.
12. Dress the Part
You might not have to be on camera but you still have to be working. Rolling out of bed and throwing your headset on doesn’t make you happy and, I promise, it doesn’t make your customers or prospects happy either. Pretend like you’re going to work, shower, and put on some decent clothes. I promise it will make the day better.
13. Huddle Daily
If you were not already doing this, shame on you. Every team needs a good 5-10 min huddle each morning to kick things off the right way. You need to keep these meetings small in size and short in time. Focus on quick numbers from the previous day. Highlight three strengths from the day before and one area of opportunity and then ask each person to commit to something.
14. Listen to a Lot of Calls
Remote managers may not have a ton of extra time, but they should optimize the time they do have. That extra time should be used listening to calls and reviewing other types of communication. Know what your people are talking about and how they are talking about it. The devil is in the details, so get into the details.
15. Be Ready to Iterate
If you’re not an expert at remote managing, give yourself a break and iterate every single day. Don’t settle. Find little things you can do better to make you and your team successful.
16. Gamify Your Culture
People want to know where they are and where they are not when it comes to winning, so help them see that. One idea is to create a scoreboard: it doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but it’s a great motivator.
17. Go Video or Go Home
Push to have everyone be on video during any team meetings you hold. Video helps interaction and engagement, so make it mandatory when possible.
18. Get Collaboration Tools
If you’re not already using Slack or Teams, you should be. Find easy tools that allow your team to interact with each other more easily.
19. Communicate as Leaders Often
If you were holding a monthly company meeting to update employees about the business, you may need to make that more frequent. Leadership should plan on communicating weekly to all employees and I’d encourage daily flash emails when needed.
20. Support Your Team With Customer Service Technology
I have to put this one in here, but just because I work for a technology company doesn’t mean it is not important. Having customer service technology that allows you to monitor employee work, access important customer information, and communicate through multiple channels wherever or whenever, will be incredibly important during this time.