Contact centres have been particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Organisations of all sizes and from most industries were required to shift their on-premises call centre operations to work-from-home environments.
This was accompanied by unprecedented spikes in customer enquiries, creating extra pressure on contact centre operators.
The experience of the contact centre sector during COVID-19 is instructive for startup founders looking to keep open lines of communication with their customers and stakeholders as they scale.
The same tools that allowed large contact centres to pivot and adapt during a global crisis can be employed by startup founders to build versatile and resilient customer communications platforms.
People reach for the phone in a crisis
Some contact centres, like those for emergency services, mental health outreach or COVID-19 hotlines, are clearly essential services. But even for more commercially focused outfits, customer communication by phone is vital to maintain trust and loyalty. Our research has shown that customers seeking support and reassurance in a crisis prefer to pick up the phone.
Two in three customers preferred phone contact to other forms of communication during the COVID-19 crisis. Businesses with existing cloud-based contact centres and those that quickly adopted them have been able to meet this expectation by transitioning staff to work from home with minimal downtime.
This experience has led the contact centre industry as a whole to view cloud solutions as more adaptable and resilient, and we can expect to see a wholesale shift to this model in the medium term.
While prioritising access to customer support via phone is important, it’s also critical to remember to provide customers with an omni-channel experience to enable them to engage with your brand via their platform of choice. Customers today expect to connect with brands using the same channels they use to communicate with friends, from SMS to Snapchat.
To build separate, siloed customer communications solutions to manage each of these channels is a mistake. It leads to a fragmented picture of customer behaviour or sentiments, which impedes your ability to respond to customers in a way that builds loyalty and trust.
Cloud-based solutions that allow customers to contact you over multiple channels are a better option and platforms that integrate customer data, habits and preferences from They can be scaled to accommodate upticks in inbound customer inquiries during difficult periods, and can be expanded laterally to include new communications channels as they emerge.
Regardless of whether they contact your business by phone, in-app chat, or via a social channel, your customers expect to connect to someone who can help them right away. Building a cloud-based contact solution can facilitate the kind of experience that customers expect
Cloud contact solutions are also easily scalable to accommodate growth, allow for frequent iteration and testing, provide deep data and key business insights to make better decisions and they’re more reliable than legacy systems.
Rapid changes will benefit organisations and customers in the long-term
The pandemic accelerated deployment of customer care strategies informed by conversational AI, designed to make more productive human agents and happier, longer-lasting customers.
When customers are reaching out, it’s because they need help that they can’t find on your website or app, such as tech support, or enquiry about an order that hasn’t arrived. At this point, customers are usually irate and expect an immediate response, keeping them stuck on hold will taint their experience and directly impact your business’s reputation.
Twilio’s recent Customer Communications Report found that after a poor communication experience, 38 per cent of customers will switch to a competitor or cancel orders or services, 66 per cent will tell a friend about their experience, and 41 per cent will stop doing business with the company altogether.
While providing unsatisfactory service to customers is never intentional, the limitations of fragmented, on-premises contact centre systems can make it difficult to keep up with evolving customer expectations.
With a cloud-based framework, however, you can create an experience that anticipates customers’ needs and provides unrivalled service. You can gather data about your customers from multiple sources and provide a tailored and personalised experience every time.
What does this mean for startups?
For early-stage companies like startups, customer loyalty is especially important. You do not have decades of brand-building to rely on, and negative experiences with one company can easily send a customer to a competitor.
To survive and stay competitive, start-ups and smaller businesses should absorb the lessons from the experience of the contact centre sector through the COVID-19 crisis.
Startups have a crucial advantage over more established operators when it comes to deploying future-proof cloud-based customer communications solutions. They are not encumbered by the sunk costs and legacy systems that make transition to such a system so difficult for larger, older organisations.
Customisation, adding new channels, integration of new systems with your existing system, and budget are all necessary considerations when deciding to engage a cloud-based contact centre solution to manage customer communications.
Customers of startups are early adopters who use more digital channels than most other consumers, but who also expect a 360-degree, always-on customer experience. Impress these customers by delivering a superior experience and you will win the loyalty of an influential market segment who will evangelise your product. Lose them, and they will move on to the next company.
The difference between these two scenarios will be how well you build, maintain and manage your customer communications architecture.
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