2020 has been characterised by many predictions about what the world will look like after the Covid-19 crisis. It remains to be seen which of these bold forecasts on issues like the future of work, travel and retail will actually emerge. I am confident that one field that has changed and will continue to, is customer service.

Covid-19 has radically accelerated the demand for digital customer service. This year we have seen unprecedented volumes of consumers scrambling for information and assistance on digital channels. There are a number of reasons why more customers are seeking assistance online, including closed physical branches and stores, overwhelmed call centres with long wait times and pure desperation from anxious consumers looking for answers.

In 2021, large organisations like retailers, banks and telcos must be ready for the increased demand for digital service and heightened consumer expectation for responsive service on social media.

Serve customers on their channel of choice

With physical stores shut and call centres overburdened, social media emerged as a critical channel for engagement. Across age groups, people have been reaching out to brands on Facebook and Twitter. Millennials have displayed a growing preference for the ease of the asynchronous text-based interactions. While older consumers have sought an alternative to the often long and frustrating wait times that busy call centres require.

Identify your most important conversations

Find the customers that require your attention and action. Not every mention of an organisation’s name on Twitter demands the attention of a customer service agent. Trawling through thousands of tweets and posts each day is a waste of time and is unlikely to assist your agents’ morale to deliver friendly service. Instead, organisations need to implement tools that identify the most important customer interactions.

Prioritise your customers that need service first

Answer your most valuable conversations first. If you’re able to identify the social media conversations from within all of the noise, you then need to be able to identify the ones that matter most. Prioritising customer interactions allows your agents to serve the customers who matter most. For example, a premium subscriber who is threatening legal action or calling on others to cancel their subscriptions requires urgent intervention over a customer looking for an non-urgent and ordinary service request.

Respond quickly and resolve queries

Ensure that your team is equipped to respond rapidly to customers in need of support. But remember that responding quickly is not enough, resolving the query is key. Every angry social media mention online is a reputational risk to an organisation. Even more so if it remains unanswered. Consumers are perceptive to your responsiveness and helpfulness on social media and aren’t afraid to call brands out on their performance.

The human touch is still key

Consumers demand empathy. AI and machine learning is valuable but cannot replace the human connection. Some organisations have opted for bots on their digital channels, such as Whatsapp. But this can backfire as their robotic and limited repertoire often frustrate customers looking for specific information that bots can’t always resolve.

In addition to having trained people running your digital channels, they need to analyse your data as well. Machine learning is not yet adept at identifying sarcasm, slang, tone and multiple languages in the complaints you receive – humans can do this accurately. And, if analysed at scale, can ensure you don’t interpret a sarcastic “thanks” for a long wait time as an expression of gratitude.