COVID-19 didn’t just force businesses to social-distance their people and switch to remote operations. It was the catalyst for creating an entirely new and dynamic environment in the workplace. Even when employees return to the office, many of the operational changes made to prepare for the pandemic will persist.
Hybrid workplaces, for example, where some of a team works remotely or from home while others work on-site, are going to remain in place for a long time. Spaces will instead be reserved with intent, assigned to match current tasks or duties. Paperless communications between team members and with customers will also prevail. They are much cheaper than paper documents, easier to manage and track.
It’s why many are calling today’s landscape the “new normal.” It’s here to stay, even as the pandemic fades into the background.
How the New Normal Improved Communication
Even though many remained distanced or isolated, it was important to stay in regular contact. For over a year now, collaborative projects have been conducted on social and video-conferencing platforms like Zoom, Hangouts, Blizz, and others.
Instant messaging and support channels became more critical than ever, with employees checking in through services like Slack, Talkspirit, and Skype. Customer service also shifted to real-time communication channels, whether through online and IM chat or over the phone.
Invoices, bank notices, statements, and other official documents previously delivered offline became paperless. Many businesses implemented rendering software to generate digital files and store them in the cloud instead of filing cabinets. Now they can access all the documents online and automatically deliver them to customers.
Technology has been instrumental in the new, digital-heavy world, and for a good reason. It has provided a foundation for open communication, and it’s also improved contact considerably. That will continue to shape the way employees communicate with one another and customers alike.
Here’s how the remote climate, and our “new normal,” will continue improving communication in the years ahead.
1. Support Is Always-On
While not every business venture will have support personnel operating a communication channel or hotline 24/7, technology makes it easy to cover the basics. An AI or machine learning assistant can monitor and manage simple communications through something like an online chat tool. An AI won’t be able to pass on discussions to a human representative after business hours, but it can answer basic questions, provide advice, and direct customers to other sources of assistance wherever applicable. Moreover, it’s always on and always ready to engage.
Besides, if integrated with a rendering tool, a CRM can generate and send online messages based on triggers. For example, when a customer asks a popular question, they will receive a relevant standard email response to solve the issue. This additionally improves the quality of online support.
2. There’s a Steep Learning Curve
Remote communication has always been important, but with physical and face-to-face interactions out of the picture, it changes the game completely. Businesses can no longer rely on tried-and-true interactions to woo customers or provide support.
Swapping to a remote-first environment happened quickly, but it doesn’t mean everyone was ready for the change. It takes time to adapt to new systems and strategies, and the same is true here. There’s a surprisingly steep learning curve to the new normal, but it’s forcing organizations to invest in better communication services and channels.
Employees are now trained specifically for remote platforms and gain experience with them. Companies are also getting the opportunity to trial new engagements, whether through social media, online chat tools, or beyond.
3. Remote Is King
Understandably, everyone is still keeping their distance even as the pandemic is slowing, and vaccinations are rolling out in record numbers. COVID-19 may be going away, but then again, it may not, and there’s always the possibility that similar viruses may appear. It means that remote, or remote experiences, are now King.
When the shift happened, almost overnight in some cases, brands that had already established remote communication tools were in a better position than all others. They had the infrastructure, technology, and solutions in place to make the pivot. Everyone else had to scramble to get those things in order.
Over time, many found a groove in the new normal as they made more optimizations. Yet, there’s always been this sentiment that it’s temporary and that, eventually, we will return to the old way of doing things. Over a year later, it’s apparent that’s not true. Remote communication and collaboration processes will continue to be the focus, so they will continue to improve out of necessity.
4. Optimization on the Rise
Planning and development have always been major components of any successful business. Nothing there has changed, but the remote nature of the new normal meant planning had to be more detailed, more targeted, and, as such, required more of an investment. Companies, for example, were forced to choose what platforms to use for customer communication, where to devote the most resources, and where to cut back.
The strategies have been adjusted and optimized with time, but it means these companies have a viable script to follow now. They know what’s working, what isn’t, and where they should be making improvements. Compared to the old way of doing things, they also know where they can make cuts, such as when there’s a costly method in place that’s not providing a return for the customer or business.
It fuels events like turning to Twitter or Facebook exclusively to provide support over a proprietary platform or channel. Or, instead of using paper-based correspondence, like snail mail, companies can shift to a paperless strategy to cut costs and improve sustainability.
Well-thought-out and incredibly nuanced customer service plans have bubbled to the top and will be a huge game-changer going forward. It’s a “watershed moment” that’s driving digital transformation in the customer service world.
5. ‘Happy’ Is Difficult
Consumers have much higher expectations now than they ever did in the past. They’re more difficult to please, and that’s even before considering how many generations have their hands in the market. From Traditionalists to Generation Z, each has a unique perspective, and they all have different support and experience requirements.
There are several other factors affecting customer satisfaction and sentiment in the market, too. The rise of mobile and on-demand experiences, social media networks, online reviews, better access to information, and fierce competition all play a role.
People expect more, which means it takes more to develop a successful communication and support system. They want secure transactions with easy identity verification. They crave the always relevant and up-to-date messages, quick order shipment, and tailored communications.
While some may look at this as a bad thing, the reality is that it’s good, especially for consumers. Businesses are constantly looking to innovate, and amid the pandemic, that’s never been more important.
6. Hardware and Software Improvements
To support remote opportunities, the technology behind these strategies has had to improve considerably. Everything has been upgraded, from reliability and security to user-convenience — like UI changes to make navigation simpler and faster. Automation has also gained pace.
Businesses have switched to multi-functional automated products that cover several needs at once. They automatically render, deliver, and track customer communications across channels. Such software tailors customer messages and experiences based on real-time activities and events.
The more improved and powerful the foundational technologies, the better the systems overall. Omnichannel strategies are a huge part of this, as businesses have started to provide cross-platform support that carries over between platforms, apps, and services.
Yes, this benefits the commercial world, allowing employees to engage better, collaborate, and communicate across distances. However, it also trickles down to the customers, both contextually and physically. Support teams can now provide their customers with better experiences than ever before.
Where poor networking devices might have brought an online chat or video conference to its knees in the past, the need for better systems — due to remote requirements — has likely changed it. Most companies have upgraded hardware, software, and reliant technologies to keep up with current events, and customers will also benefit.
It Doesn’t End There
An always-on support, technological improvements, better optimization, and a major focus on remote and experiential services have contributed to better customer communication. However, these are not the only factors influencing the future of customer support and communication channels.
Customers want to know a business cares about them, which means future engagements must consider this. From simple verification, like shipment address validations, to personalized engagements, the communication platforms of tomorrow must offer these difficult yet unique experiences.
The new normal provides an excellent opportunity to make these adjustments.
A TIP FROM INKIT:
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About the Author
Devin Partida is a freelance writer who covers topics related to ecommerce, retail and BizTech. Her work has been featured on a number of industry websites, including Retail Dive and the official magazine of CES. To read more from Devin, please visit her professional portfolio page here.