Insights|The Human Touch: Empathy and Emotional Intelligence Are Still Essential for Customer Service

The Human Touch: Empathy and Emotional Intelligence Are Still Essential for Customer Service

As COVID-19 has so aptly demonstrated, there will always be moments of truth, where a customer needs to engage with a real person - a human - who has the necessary emotional intelligence and empathy skills for customer service

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empathy in customer service
by Martin Wilkinson-Brown July 14, 2020 - 3 MIN READ

A new Sitel Group proprietary study, COVID-19: the CX Impact study, underlines the value customers across the U.S. and the U.K. still place on being able to speak with a live agent when facing a moment of truth.

Made up of two international studies of consumers in the U.S. and the U.K. in March and May of this year, our white paper captures not just the mood of the moment, but it highlights the emerging customer behaviors that are set to develop into full-blown trends in the months to come and in doing so force many organizations to recalibrate how they deliver on customer experience (CX).

Coronavirus customer volumes

When the effects of the coronavirus first took hold, businesses across the globe experienced surges in customer contact volumes. This surge, combined with the fact that most organizations were being forced to partially close their contact centers in line with social distancing or quickly transition on-site staff to remote working, created a perfect storm.

Pre-COVID-19, our data from March shows that while one-in-three consumers had submitted some form of complaint to a brand’s customer service department, 54% of issues had been resolved within three days of the initial contact. Just 13% of consumers had been forced to wait more than a week for a resolution while 16% claimed their issue is yet to be resolved. 

However, in May as the virus started to make its presence felt, even though more consumers were moving to self-service channels in the hope of resolving issues more quickly (35% versus 27% in March) and fewer consumers were engaging with brands specifically to lodge a complaint, 21% of respondents who had had to complain to customer service said their issue had never been resolved.

The moment of truth

The pandemic stress-tested even the most resilient organization’s ability to deliver on customer experience. It has also highlighted the importance consumers still place on being able to engage with a live agent when it matters most, further demonstrating the importance of the human touch, emotional intelligence and empathy when it comes to customer service.

These moments of truth, where a direct interaction between an agent and a customer adds value to both the brand and to the customer relationship need to be both cherished and prioritized.

Even as consumers move away from voice as their channel of choice for interacting with brands – just 23% of respondents prefer reaching for the phone, down from 28% in our 2018 CX Index – the human touch is still an invaluable element of CX.

Whether the conversation is via email, chat or on the phone, 87% of consumers we polled in May still feel connecting with a live customer representative is the best way of resolving a critical issue. 

Audit your existing customer journey

This customer need for human understanding and emotional reassurance in the moment of truth is why organizations need to assess and audit their existing customer journeys to understand where there are gaps in agent training, where there are inconsistencies in service across different channels and to understand where self-service innovations such as chatbots or conversational IVR can be deployed to reduce direct contact volumes and ensure whenever an agent speaks with a customer it is adding value.

Leverage intelligent analytics

For instance, as soon as the coronavirus was declared a pandemic and governments started to impose restrictions on moment and business operations, we initiated a speech and text analytics program across over 180 of our own and client captive contact center operations around the globe. This real-time analysis provided the clarity and understanding clients needed to create self-service content, to update knowledge bases, to reconsider existing services or products in light of COVID-19 and guarantee consistency of expertise and of service for customers based on the questions, queries and issues they were most likely to have, whether they were posed via phone, email or online chat.

Learn more about Sitel Group’s COVID-19: the CX Impact study and find out more about how coronavirus is changing consumer trends.

written by Martin Wilkinson-Brown Chief Marketing Officer
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