Customer expectations in Australia and New Zealand have increased by close to 60 per cent since February, ranking higher than the average in Europe (57 per cent), according to a new research conducted by Freshworks, the customer engagement software.

While customer expectations have shot up, 54 per cent of leaders in Australia and New Zealand reported a decrease in customer service budgets compared to 2019. This is a stark contrast to the global average, where customer service budgets saw a 56 per cent increase this year.

The study polled 1,500 global customer experience leaders, including 200 in Australia and New Zealand. The research aimed to determine how COVID-19 has impacted customer service teams across Australia and New Zealand, Europe, the US, UK and South East Asia.

In line with increasing customer expectations, overall contact volumes have also risen. In Australia and New Zealand, contact volumes have increased by close to 60 per cent, with customers favouring telephone calls (79 per cent), live chat and messaging (74 per cent) as well as social media (74 per cent).

The top three challenges faced by customer service leaders in the ANZ throughout the pandemic have been: operating with reduced staff (41 per cent), tracking productivity and performance (38 per cent) and making process changes on technology platforms (38 per cent).

With dwindling teams, a lack of budget and increasing expectations, customer service leaders are being squeezed to improve service with fewer resources and are increasingly turning to technology to support teams through the crisis. The top tools used in Australia and New Zealand amid the pandemic were: chat and messaging, self-service customer portal, collaboration tools, customer-facing AI-chatbots and cloud-hosted customer service software.

When asked, 44 per cent of customer service leaders worldwide chose live chat and messaging as the most important tool to maintain service levels through the crisis.
For most, normalcy is not expected to return until mid-next year.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have seen our reality altered, however, some things don’t change: customers remain the lifeblood of many businesses,” said Sreelesh Pillai, General Manager at Freshworks Australia.

“Among rising customer expectations and often decreasing budgets, technology has emerged as the leading driver of maintaining quality customer experience. This faith in technology is reflected in the investments we’re seeing in live chat and messaging, customer service platforms and automated chatbots.”

Steve Nuttall, Director, Fifth Quadrant said, “During the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, when contact centres faced the twin pressures of a non-functioning phone channel and a huge spike in call volumes, organisations turned to chat and bots to fill the void. COVID-19 is accelerating the trend towards AI powered customer interactions and is a wake-up call for organisations that don’t have the capability in AI and chatbots.”

Micheal Olsen, General Manager of Operations, Fitness Passport, said, “No-one wants to speak to an agent if they can help it. Having an easily decipherable knowledge-base and the bot really works here.”

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