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Though it seems like a twenty-first century concept, would it surprise you to learn customer journey mapping first appeared as a concept in 1998? As a tool within the broader practice of measuring and improving customer experience, it helps companies chart how customers use the myriad channels and paths that comprise their interactions with the company. By analyzing the routes and touchpoints, understanding the majority of customers’ expectations, and enabling them to attain their desired outcome, organizations can build an ideal experience.

Despite its age and popularity, though, few companies actively maintain their customer journeys. This is especially true in extraordinary circumstances. Yet they should be! Per Wikipedia:

“(A customer journey map) not only identifies key interactions that the customer has with the organization, but it also brings user’s feelings (emphasis added), motivations, and questions for each of the touchpoints.”

In the face of a pandemic, customers’ feelings are going to be all over the board, but some generalizations can be made. Though they might have more at-home time on their hands, they are still impatient for answers. They may be feeling lonely and experiencing anxiety. Even sleep might not bring relief.

Now more than ever it’s important to be there for customers in need of help. And that means making adjustments to their experience, especially in their customer service journey.

Set expectations

The customer contact center might be straining in this new world as a result of higher customer volume. Live interactions–calls and chats–might be taking longer due to heightened customer emotions. Add to that agents being unavailable due to sickness, caring for others, or limited productivity due to challenges from working from home.

To mitigate customer frustration as they begin their journey for help–by telephone, chat, or the customer service website–be transparent on this issue. Let them know that customer service is currently struggling, and that patience is requested. If their issue isn’t critical in nature, suggest they try again later. Many companies have already made this simple change, and it’s a small thing to prevent customer frustration as well as make agents’ jobs easier. Where and when those expectations are set, take the opportunity to also remind customers of any online assistance options that are available.

Update knowledge base articles

The world changed rapidly in the last few weeks. It effected a lot of plans customers might have had–like canceling a trip, using those soon-to-expire loyalty points, canceling that subscription or trial, or returning that item that just wasn’t right. Now those customers are worried they might have missed the window to take action.

The good news is many companies have recognized the extraordinary times we’re in and relaxed those policies. Customers now have time to address their concerns without fear of loss. Most companies document their policies and procedures in searchable knowledge bases. To that end, articles that outline and explain what were the “normal” policies should be updated to reflect the current situation.

Chatbot conversations

Similar to the knowledge base, always-available virtual agents also need to be updated. The solutions a chatbot offers typically come from the most current information available in a knowledge article, so that update is automatic.

What’s more likely is that questions related to policies have jumped in popularity. Is the chatbot prepared? Make sure these types of scenarios are prioritized as among the first questions the chatbot asks. If new topics have emerged as a result of COVID-19, fast-track their availability.

Proactive communications

During the pandemic, companies have continued to communicate with customers. Typical topics include precautionary steps they have taken to protect customers and employees and ways in which they are supporting the fight against the virus and relief efforts.

Use this engagement as an opportunity to also proactively notify customers about the state of service. If the contact center is experiencing high volumes, set expectations on wait times. Remind customers of the availability of self-service options. Include links to the relevant knowledge base articles that provide greater detail of any policy changes that would be of interest.

Log the changes

As the end of uncertain times is unknown, it’s important to track the modifications made to the customer service journey for two reasons.

First, it might be that policies must further be modified if the current situation lingers beyond what might have been originally suspected. All those places along the customer journey that modified a policy or set an expectation must be changed again. By keeping a log, it’s easy to return to those places and make updates as needed.

Second, we may not know when, but we know normal will return at some point. That same list now helps locate the places to revert back to their original form.

In both scenarios, it’s a good idea to go back and audit the customer journey post-updates. This ensures nothing is overlooked and the journey continues to support the desired experience.

Charting the best course

For companies striving for the best customer experience, they recognize the journeys that comprise it are not static. They change as customer demographics shift, new product and service are released, competition enters the market, and other factors. We can now add pandemics to that list.

As many companies have already demonstrated, a large scale disruption to business doesn’t mean business can’t continue. A key to that is keeping customers informed and satisfied to the greatest extent possible. By modifying customer service journeys to reflect the remarkable times we are experiencing, the best possible customer experience is maintained.

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