Six things we can learn from the Victorian COVID spike about customer experience

Customer Experience
Reading Time: 5 minutes


If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that empathy needs to be part of a modern customer experience. Think about it: People are scared, fearful, and anxious right now. 

Take the sudden spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria a few weeks ago. Even though, at that time, South Australia had zero community transmission, the interstate coverage of this spike created heightened anxiety, with lots of people suddenly seeking out information all at once. 

We saw an immediate spike on our client SA Health’s website, too. Zoe, our COVID-19 virtual agent which lives on SA Health website, was swamped with queries as soon as the Victorian spike was announced. Without this virtual agent to shoulder the load, many people would be left waiting and wondering—a terrible ‘customer’ experience at a time when tensions are running high.

Which is precisely why we worked with SA Health to launch Zoe so quickly (six days, in fact) in the first place: we knew people were dealing with fear and anxiety, and we needed a way to get people critical, authoritative, and reassuring information at a time when getting through by phone would be difficult. 

And because so many clients and contacts, from government agencies to telcos, were telling us that customers were more frustrated and anxious than ever before, we knew we had to design Zoe with a little bit of personal touch, and with an understanding of how people might be feeling when they land on the website and start talking to her. 

A virtual agent like Zoe is just one example of how companies can better serve people during these unprecedented times. So, we’ve put together a list of cornerstones to help you get CX right amid the pandemic. Because with some simple changes to CX, you can pleasantly surprise (or at the very least not lose or annoy) stressed-out users and customers.

1. Invest in a 24/7 option

In a pandemic, customers demand answers whenever and however they seek them. While some companies are able to operationalise customer support teams for 24/7 support, others turn to technology, such as a virtual agent employee. When built and deployed with the customer experience in mind, virtual agents have a number of distinct advantages for 24/7 support:

  • No off hours, meaning customers can get answers any time of day, from any device or location.
  • Trainability. Your most effective employees and common support flows can be used to train a virtual agent to be accurate, conversational, and deliver a satisfying customer experience every time.

It’s unreasonable to expect any employee to be well-trained on every aspect of customer service or every product offering — let alone manage people’s heightened emotions. But a virtual agent? They can help agents deliver the best service to the customer much faster. They can quickly determine upfront what the customer is looking for and provide insight to the agent on how to take action, including the most relevant tips, articles and insights. 

Clevertar’s virtual agents, for instance, are programmed with your unique scripts, meaning they can answer FAQs around the clock, reducing the burden on your customer support team and freeing their time so that they can help other consumers with more specific and complex needs.

This matters because answering a question multiple times, like when you have to speak to multiple people at a bank, negatively impacts the customer experience. Customers should have to answer only once. Plus, virtual agents with a face and a name can be customised to significantly reduce this stress/frustration point with the customer. 

2. Do not ignore the increasing demand for chatbots

These days, most people expect to find a chatbot option when they go to a website, particularly millennials. For service and support, many prefer it, because it means they don’t have to call or email. According to research from Forrester, nearly 50% of consumers already engage in automated conversations with chatbots. 

IBM estimates that 80% of “routine questions” could potentially be answered by a chatbot. Live, assisted, and automated chatbots have the potential to meet the new demands of the “new normal” more efficiently and effectively than other customer service solutions. The question is, are you offering this service or sending customers to a competitor?

3. Personalise and customise the customer experience 

If I’m a customer that’s already in a heightened state of stress and anxiety, the last thing I want is to be treated like “just another number.” And while we know that the best customer support agents are empathetic, helpful and knowledgeable about the company’s products and services—that they can connect with the customer through relation and interaction—their time is limited, and staffing them can be cost prohibitive in times of great customer service demand. 

Yet, automation doesn’t mean the end of personalisation. On the contrary, virtual agents are flexible and customisable to provide a personal touch to the customers. They can provide technical assistance, sales-related information, and other necessary details in a personalised way, tailored down to the customer’s profile or any information they’ve already provided. 

Virtual agents can also be programmed with different types of styles for conversation. For example, they can initiate and continue the chat in a technical or friendly way, or can communicate with the customers in a helpful or humorous way as needed.

4. Personify your brand in a pandemic 

Think: convenient customer service automation with a human face. Staying with the virtual agent example, you might not think a humanised, friendly, and personable chatbot makes a difference in terms of CX, but it does.

It’s a subtle way to embody your brand while signalling to your customers that you care about making this interaction as good as it can be, even if it’s not strictly in-person or human-to-human. 

At Clevertar, we render our virtual agents in high-resolution 3D, with more than eight characters, styles, and appearances to choose from. Or you can create a custom persona to suit your specific needs, including the ability to put your virtual agent in your company uniform. You can view all our features here.

5. Avoid website abandonment by giving customers exactly what they want 

Seems self-evident, doesn’t it? Too often, though, customers can’t find what they want, usually as a result of companies making assumptions and failing to empathise with people’s needs. 

But it matters. Findability is a critical part of UX: when customers can’t find what they want on your website, it creates opportunities for them to go straight to your competitor. 

In a pandemic, this is even more critical. Since 2010, buyer journey abandonment like this has gotten worse across all industries (and abandonment already averages 70%). Specific problems include websites that are hard to navigate, difficulty getting answers to simple questions, and finding basic details about a business. 

Do you have a COVID-19 FAQ or dedicated landing page? You might want to start there.

6. It all comes down to having real conversations with your customers

If all empathy took was understanding words, then delivering better experiences would be pretty simple. But conversation goes far beyond syntax; emotion, intent, sentiment, and other “intangibles” all factor in. People trained in empathy and the importance of putting customers first are certainly best at delivering this kind of conversational experience. 

For those times when a human isn’t available or is overwhelmed by other calls, automation technology can be built to mimic this quality of conversation. 

In terms of virtual agents, two key technologies make this possible:

  1. Natural Language Understanding, which goes beyond understanding words to deduce what a customer actually means. It’s key to understanding the intent of a customer and what they’re trying to accomplish by engaging with your business.
  2. Synthesis, or the ability to synthesize language and engage customers in a way that’s natural and human-like. If you engage with a potential customer and your bot converses like a computer, people will treat you like a computer. They won’t ask rich questions or seek complex answers that could lead to deeper engagement. In other words, if you interact in a simple way, customers will treat you that way in return.

Conversational systems built using these technologies really can power complex conversations that leave customers feeling cared for and satisfied. 

They’re also capable of providing fast and accurate information, which is great for consumers, who can avoid the long contact centre queues, and great for contact centre professionals doing their best to maintain CX while managing a surge in cases.

Which is what it comes down to in “these trying times,” right? Finding ways to navigate adversity and respond to changing customer demands while still strengthening customer relationships.  

The brands that can find a way to do this not only during, but long after the coronavirus pandemic, will be the ones we’re still talking about ten years down the road.

If you’d like to learn more about Clevertar’s intelligent virtual agent platform, you can watch our free webinar on how they work, or book a demo.