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Latest 20 Apr 2020 | Customer Service | 9 min read

Automation CX - The Key to Handling COVID-19 Volume Spikes

Four weeks of data taught us that tomorrow looks nothing like yesterday.

It’s been three weeks since we wrote our first piece on how contact center volume surges are shifting due to COVID-19. Since then, we’ve also seen additional leading platforms joining the conversation, like Intercom and Zendesk, broadcasting the importance of focusing on the most common customer queries and putting automation in play as a measure to reduce agent workload. 

One of the truly staggering things is to see how quickly reality is shifting all around us and how quickly what we thought was a momentary surge has since become the new normal:

The evolution of customer query volume as we move into the new normal

Overall Inbound Volume - COVID


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It took us three weeks to reach a new realm in inbound volume. We saw a 100% increase between Feb 24th and March 16th. What we thought was an initial surge that would eventually flatten as time goes by, has quickly turned into the new normal. For some brands this means they need to completely rethink their entire care strategy while trying to shift contact centers to WFH mode with reduced staff in many cases.

When the crisis began, the most affected brands were Airlines. The majority of customer queries were tied to trip cancellation, refunds, and general flight status inquiries. This was led by a new reality where borders were quickly closed by governments as a means to help and protect the general population. What followed was further industries with surges in customer queries all due to different reasons, all off the back of government announcements and measures. 

What industries have been affected?

Not surprisingly, the next two industries to follow were Retail and Financial Services. Each industry has its own common customer queries and reasoning, but we began to see a clearer and clearer picture of how volume shifts as reality shifts to a new normal. 

So how and why have different industries been affected by the new normal?

The surge in customer queries in the retail industry

Retail Volume - COVID

This is an example of how one retailer's volume of Daily Active Customers changed in a heartbeat. What this graph shows is the normal level of activity for the retailer up until March 16th. Since then, this brand has seen a 11x increase in Daily Active Customers in just 4 weeks’ time. It comes as no surprise that, due to social distancing, the most common customer queries that caused this surge were all related to deliveries - from status, to delays, and returns.

With the new normal meaning our shopping habits have adapted to be 100% online, deliveries have been placed center stage as one of the most important services. With a surge in online shopping, deliveries have seen a huge increase in demand, and, as a result, so too have the support cases related to it. 

The surge in customer queries in the financial services industry

Bank Volume - COVID

One of the many unfortunate aspects of the new normal that we’re facing is people losing their jobs, taking pay cuts, and struggling with cash flow. As a result financial services - e-lenders, mortgage providers and traditional banks - have seen a massive increase in volume as a result. 

This is a prime example of a new normal, while the initial lockdown period has caused a massive spike in volume (5x), the weeks that followed have shown volume stabilizing at ~3x the normal volume.

The main drivers of these conversations are mortgages and loans. While e-lenders have been accustomed to volume through online channels, traditional banks with a presence predominantly in brick and mortar locations have seen an increase in volume related to branch opening times as well.

"What we thought was an initial surge that would eventually flatten as time goes by, has quickly turned into the new normal."

How did we leverage this data to solve these spikes in volume?

As I wrote in our previous piece, the answer is automation. Focusing on the common cases driving the vast majority of conversations, we’re able to tap into common customer intents and layer automation on top as a measure to reduce agents' workload. In some cases, the automation is able to fully contain the simple conversations, allowing agents the time and attention to focus on cases that require more detailed responses.

Some examples of common automated experiences: 

Being in the unique position we’re in as a company, we have the unique ability to provide data-driven value to our customer base. Focusing on industry-lead cross-company data, our incredible team of strategic consultants and bot experts have been able to build vertical-based experiences that we’ve deployed quickly to our customers across these industries. 

Scan the QR codes below using your smartphone camera to check out the experiences for yourself:

Airline bot:

Airline Bot QR Code


Retail bot:

Retail Bot QR Code


Financial Services bot:

Financial Services Bot QR Code


On the importance of utilizing data AND common sense: 

While we can’t stress enough the importance of data, and how it leads the way for each decision we make as a business, we cannot ignore one key aspect, which is employing simple common sense. One of the main reasons why we were able to stay ahead of the curve was the fact that we exercised this muscle at each point along the path. We were able to predict and forecast how new measures are going to affect each of the industries before data indicated volume had surged. This allowed us to build and consult ahead of time and make sure our partners have the right tools in place when the waves hit. 

Using the same lateral thinking, we can see similar surges happening in a number of other industries. We predict utility and telecom companies are next to see a huge spike in inbound customer queries. If you want to hear why and how we’re working behind the scenes to create a solution, reach out, we’re here to help.

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