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Contingency comms: the key to crisis management

By Antony Jagger, manager of customer solutions at Aptean,

Looks at how businesses can quickly and effectively spin-up alternative communications channels in times of crisis

The unprecedented times in which we all find ourselves have unearthed a whole new set of challenges for business the world over. Many businesses are inundated with customer queries, questions and concerns—some directly related to the global pandemic and some the result of people spending more time at home. For the financial services industry in particular, this is proving especially true. Not only is there a rise in the number of people trying to initiate

 

contact, but businesses themselves are facing additional issues of operating under reduced headcount—the result of higher than normal sickness levels—and, in many cases, a newly remote workforce, with employees working from home to aid the global fight against COVID-19. Simply put, organisations are dealing with increased demand and are having to try and meet this uplift with reduced resources.

In light of this, we’ve seen multiple financial services businesses taking rapid measures to spin up alternative communication channels in attempts to maintain ‘business as usual’ from a customer’s perspective. Combined with a corporate responsibility to keep staff safe, never has it been more important for businesses to be as agile and as flexible as possible when it comes to facilitating effective and efficient communication channels.

So, what are these vital channels and what do businesses need to bear in mind when trying to maximise their usage?

Flexible phone lines

Without a doubt, phone systems need additional capacity. The ability of a phone system to allow the quick and easy addition of new or reallocated users isn’t a given, and something that many businesses hadn’t considered a necessity until now. The boom in home working is putting new strains on phone systems, with the need to redirect calls to geographically dispersed locations now a necessity, as well as the ability to use systems remotely. Where once these features were a nice-to-have, different times call for different system capabilities, and the need for flexible agility will surely appear on the list of specifications for any new phone systems going forward, as well as being built into any updated disaster recovery and business continuity plans.

Reopen the inbox

Now could well be the time to resurrect retired inboxes if there is enough customer demand to do so. With phone lines busier than ever, opening up alternative communication channels is one way to alleviate some of the pressure, but only if this is what your customers want. There’s no point in reawakening old email addresses if they’re not going to be used. Similarly, regardless of whether or not the business wants to use email as a channel of communication, if customers are calling for it, it should be done and done well. Ultimately, it’s about catering to the customer’s needs, not those of the business.

Web chat is becoming more prevalent, too, with the millennial generation almost expecting it as their first port-of-call when contacting a business. If headcount isn’t available to staff web chat functionality, then perhaps the use of AI could help? However, it’s important to remember that increased use of AI results in more complex queries arriving at the frontline, as AI tends to filter out the quick, easy-to-answer questions. What this could potentially mean is even more pressure on an already challenged front-line contact centre, running the risk of doing more harm than good in the long-run.

Virtual face-to-face

We’ve seen an increased interest in virtual customer drop-in sessions, serving as a vital communication channel for businesses operating in critical industries such as production, logistics and financial services. Again, it’s all about catering to meet customer demand and tailoring the communications channels you offer to suit the specific needs of the customers you serve. As with all things business-related, one size definitely does not fit all and it’s important to understand what works for your customer base.

It’s also important to recognise that all channels aren’t equal and you should never underestimate the power of a smile, making face-to-face contact, virtually of course, sometimes a necessity for certain interactions. If you’re already using video-calling and team chat apps for internal meetings and communications, would it be so much of a stretch to extend these to customer interactions if warranted?

Back office efficiency

The need for optimised internal collaboration and communication has never been more important, too, with many businesses now reliant on dispersed teams who are working remotely. This had led many businesses to reassess the quality and effectiveness of their internal communications systems—something else to consider for future technology investments, with efficient, effective systems a must-have if businesses are to have any hope of optimising their external communication channels.

Regardless of the amount of communication channels businesses are able to spin-up and maintain, on the whole, their effectiveness will be drastically limited if the information resulting from all customer interactions, irrespective of via which channels they occur, isn’t recorded properly. Basically, you can have all the channels in the world, but if you’re not logging the information correctly, it’s pretty much a waste of time. The ability to make swift changes is key, putting in place the correct ways and means to not only record the information from all customer interactions but to amalgamate this information. This serves to provide that all-important single-view of the customer upon which customer service excellence is based.

Be agile and effective

Never has the pressure on a business’s infrastructure been greater, putting it to the ultimate test of agility and flexibility, not only in facilitating secure remote working, but to scale-up in record time to meet demand. In this respect, those businesses who already operate with a SaaS model are at an advantage, able to upgrade and update their systems quickly and efficiently, stealing a march on those for whom SaaS is still being considered and who have to undertake time-consuming and resource-heavy changes to deal with this new increase in demand. Surely, in light of the situation in which we all find ourselves, more businesses will be asking whether a SaaS deployment is the only way to go to ensure not only business continuity but optimum levels of service in an environment where the only certainty is uncertainty?

Regardless of unprecedented events, the world of financial services is operating faster than ever, with turbulent economies and markets meaning that challenges can arise from every direction. With this in mind, businesses need to be able to respond to all eventualities, particularly when it comes to customer communications. The ability to spin-up additional communication channels and capacity has never been more important, swiftly updating configurations and making the necessary changes to ensure business continuity in even the most testing of times. With the right technologies and processes in place, financial services businesses can ensure they can deliver during difficult times without compromising on quality, standing them in good stead for a return to normality, whenever that may happen.