How COVID-19 Ushered in the Next Revolution in Customer Experience

March 3, 2021

Teleperformance is a global leader in customer experience management, with more than 330,000 employees across 170 countries covering 265+ languages and dialects. The company is one of Unbabel’s strategic business service provider partners, and leverages our language operations solution to provide always-on, multilingual support for its customers.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020, global customer experience management leader, Teleperformance, had to figure out how to transition the majority of its employees to remote work. For Danny Kuivenhoven, Head of Digital Transformation at Teleperformance, this was just the beginning of a year that would require unprecedented agility and problem-solving for both the company and its customers. Ultimately, it created lasting change in the Customer Experience (CX) industry.

We asked Kuivenhoven, with his unique birds’ eye view of the industry across markets and industries, to describe the biggest transformations ushered in by the pandemic and predict what the future will hold for the industry at large.

What major trends do you see emerging in customer service right now?

The events of the past year have changed so much for all of us in the CX industry—two important catalysts being the rapid adoption of work-from-home models and the massive acceleration of digital channels. In large part, these are changes for the better; the pandemic has taught us all the importance of having a robust, agile and secure remote CX environment. The broad adoption of work-at-home CX delivery models provides greater scalability to our clients (since it’s much easier to scale up or down in this type of elastic model). And the surging demand for digital channels is causing organizations to accelerate their transformation efforts, which will ultimately ensure better, more integrated end-to-end experiences for customers.

Can you share an example of how these transformations played out in real time?

Take the food delivery and e-commerce spaces, for example. All of a sudden, demand exploded and many of these companies had to significantly expand capacity, while moving to a remote model. It was a massive undertaking compounded by the sudden need to grow their workforce. We partner with many of these companies around the world, across all regions, and saw a dramatic spike across all of them. For the most part, the global community experienced the same challenges, lockdowns, and shifts in buying behaviors—but internet access for work-at-home teams was more challenging in some markets than others. This required creativity and ingenuity on our part to resolve, and that persistence led to new policies and best practices that will certainly benefit both our clients and our workforce in the future.

What does resilience mean to you in the context of customer service?

Especially after 2020, I think “resilience” means agility and adaptability. We need to remember that even once this global pandemic eventually passes, companies are still vulnerable to other disruptions like natural disasters, transit interruptions, or civil unrest. COVID-19 helped all organizations better understand where their strategy and solution gaps reside, and what needs to be corrected to ensure greater business resilience in the future. 

Why is agility so important for customer service?

Agility is important because all industries experience seasonality and/or intraday volume spikes. So it’s critical that they maintain an agile model where they can quickly scale capacity up or down as traffic fluctuates. Again, this is one of the most valuable benefits to a work-from-home model, as it enables the greatest degree of flexibility.

What’s something that has become essential for optimizing customer service centres and decreasing costs?

The use of bots and digital automation have become critical to helping organizations scale capacity by deflecting simple inquiries and collecting basic customer information prior to connecting them with a live agent. Bots are certainly not new, but they became especially useful for scaling during the pandemic to meet sudden surges in traffic.

What’s the hardest aspect of building a multilingual customer service operation?

Traditionally, the most challenging aspect was finding qualified talent in the required locations and with the necessary skills. Today, however, with the wide adoption of work-at-home CX solutions, we can source a multilingual workforce from anywhere in the world—completely eliminating that barrier.

How do you balance empathy and humanity with the challenge of scaling customer service?

At Teleperformance, we strongly believe in carefully balancing our high-tech solutions with a high-touch methodology. At our core, we see ourselves as a company of “people helping people.” So everything else—all of our technology, policies, and efficiencies—must help support that goal. That’s why we apply things like AI, digital assistants, machine learning, and workforce management tools to ensure that our agents have all of the context, tools and training they need to deliver seamless, positive, and meaningful customer interactions. Technology was never meant to take the place of our live agents, but instead to streamline the experience for the customer while providing live agents with greater context – so they can deliver even better live interactions.

What do you predict is coming next for customer service? What is an ideal future state?

I think we’ve entered the next revolution of customer engagement. Today’s clients expect the highest quality of service for the right price, requiring the least effort on their part. I predict that advanced technical capabilities will help our employees exceed these expectations by providing the right tools, data and insights. As humans, we’ve evolved throughout our history from working with our hands, to using our heads (brains), and now working with our hearts. So an ideal future state would include exceeding both client and customer expectations by ensuring passionate, engaging and exceptional interactions between end-users and their favorite brands.

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