According to an international survey conducted by Spitch, a Swiss company specializing in the development and implementation of voice technology solutions, call centres largely failed to deal with the huge number of incoming calls during the pandemic.
The company collected opinions of customers in Switzerland, Germany, UK and Italy. Some interesting similarities were noted, against the backdrop of country differences explained by the degree of maturity of various markets. Due to the lockdown and the massive introduction of remote working, the customer care divisions have been overwhelmed with calls and inquiries, e.g. regarding cancellations of trips, medical and work appointments, as well as changed daily routines for banks and insurance. Have companies been able to cope with the crisis, trying at the same time to guarantee a good level of customer experience?
At the international level, during the pandemic, users chose Internet as the first preferred channel to receive assistance (48% of respondents); the contact centre (38%) came a good second, while e-mail (25%) and voice/text chat (23%) were a little less popular.
In all countries, the level of customer satisfaction was deemed insufficient: 47% of respondents perceived a decrease in efficiency due to the large number of interactions, in addition to the 29% who considered the experience "totally disappointing".
The main problems included queues and very long waiting times (53%), the need to call several times (32%) and receiving incorrect, confused or incomplete answers from the operator (26%).
On the other hand, consumers demonstrated understanding towards the brands that had to deal with a totally new and unexpected event. 56% of the respondents retained a largely positive attitude to the companies, even if almost half of them would not exclude turning to a competitor should the situation remain unchanged.
These difficulties are mostly connected with an emergency context and psychological reactions to it, although consumers remain sensitive to the lack of innovation and improvements by the companies to the level of service. In fact, users see voice technologies as a fundamental booster in managing peaks in calls thereby reducing the waiting time – and also in providing day-to-day customer service. A sizable share of customers thinks that a strong contribution could come from voice-driven smart IVRs – the so-called “call centre robots” – which are increasingly used by innovative companies. 48% of the respondents happened to interact with these virtual assistants during the COVID emergency, and almost all of them experienced a satisfactory level of service. Among them, 45% interacted (at least once) with a contact centre using only automatic self-service systems. This remarkable percentage is contrasted by a 37% of people who have never talked to a virtual assistant.
In this perspective, customers provided very clear indications regarding the desired characteristics of the automated systems: in all countries, people underlined (1) the elimination of queues/waiting time, and (2) the correctness/precision of the answers (66% each). The main obstacle to overcome, according to respondents, was the idea that a machine was not able to understand human language. This opinion was common to all countries: 73% believe that the understanding of the requests should be improved; and 72% – that it is essential to have the possibility to transfer the call to a human operator when things get complicated. The omnichannel approach, in which customer needs are remembered and successfully met regardless of the chosen communication channel, was appreciated by 34% of respondents.
Another requirement was for the voice bot to talk with a pleasant and "natural human" voice (17%). This was almost as important as security of communications (18%).
"This exceptional emergency highlighted that the old-style customer service approach is no longer sufficient to be able to cope with a sudden influx of calls: contact centres – and human operators – have been subjected to pressures never felt before: We clearly saw that customers are starting to lose faith in brands that are unable to deliver on their quality of service promises. People will not tolerate further worsening in the level of customer service” – comments Alexey Popov, CEO of Spitch. "The benefits brought by automated speech technology systems, based on artificial intelligence and machine learning, will play a fundamental role: the survey results confirm that they are already highly appreciated by users. Besides, they help cut costs and provide relief for human operators, who will always be needed in the most complex and delicate cases".
Proven benefits to companies and customers brought by digitalization in the context of managing Covid-19 emergency are highlighted by Alexey Popov in this video https://youtu.be/B5rEZ5N5HQY