How to respond to current developments in online customer support

Pearl • 7 minute read • 08/04/2021
Online customer service
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Countless organisations are struggling with an increase in the number of questions that come in through online channels. “What happened to my order?” is a question many overworked customer service agents see on a daily basis. COVID-19 has had a significant impact on what customer service means nowadays and how we go about it. In this article, we’ve listed the latest trends in the field of webcare and we’ve thrown out a life raft to help you keep afloat of the increasing volumes.

The effect of COVID-19 on customer service

The pandemic has affected many different industries, and customer service is no exception. In fact, this industry has the hardest time in times when physical stores close their doors and web shops flourish. Online customer service is struggling with higher volumes and more complex questions. In addition, a new target group has emerged that is not used to online customer service and may be less tech-savvy than millennials and Gen-Z generations. This target group shopped mainly in physical stores and is used to human and personal interaction.

In addition to increasing volumes, more complex questions and new target groups, many contact centres were also hit hard in a different way. The pandemic and a consequent recession forced many contact centres to close, downsize or cut back on staff. Conclusion? With less, more must be achieved. The pressure is on! Without implementing any measures, this will undoubtedly lead to longer waiting times, lower customer satisfaction and an even higher pressure on staff.

Harvard research shows that, because of the pandemic, consumers in general have become more anxious and conversations are now more likely to escalate. Conversations labeled ‘difficult’ increased by a whopping 100%. Waiting times have also become longer on average by no less than 34% (

That’s a tricky situation! But is optimisation worthwhile? Absolutely! The survey shows that 84% of customers are willing to spend more money for good, personalised customer service. 80% of the respondents prefer good service to personalised marketing.

Give your customers the attention they deserve by automating processes

It may sound contradictory: giving customers the personal attention they deserve by automating processes. Customer service employees may undoubtedly agree that most of the incoming questions can be answered in a standardised manner. Service agents often spend most of their time on these repetitive questions, while they hardly have time to properly support customers with the more complex questions. Which leaves room for more efficiency!

With the help of chatbots, it’s much easier to deal with frequently asked questions. And these virtual agents can also do the preparatory work for the service agents. For example, they can obtain order numbers beforehand, so that service employees can start right away with working on the question.

However, don’t forget that, for your customer, a personal approach is key! Empathy in the service process is crucial, especially in these uncertain times. Provide this service especially for the customers who really need it. For a simple question like “When are your opening times?”, the customer doesn’t really expect a lengthy, empathetic response. The customer who subsequently has questions about the damaged pumps she received the day before her wedding, however, deserves extra attention of course. And you’re better able to give her this attention if the chatbot handles most of the frequently asked questions beforehand.

Is this a trend you need to keep an eye on? It sure is! Research firm Gartner predicts that by 2022 no less than 70% of consumers will have a daily conversation with chatbots.

The shift from open social media platforms to closed channels

It’s actually a well-known phenomenon, the customer is angry and can’t wait to vent on social media. With an open platform, the customer has the opportunity to express their opinion and thus gain the attention of a lot of followers. At that moment, as an organisation, you have no choice but to address this immediately before the situation escalates out of control. Fortunately, today we see that customer inquiries are increasingly being asked and dealt with via closed channels. Messaging channels such as Facebook Messenger, live chat and WhatsApp are playing an increasingly important role in the customer service landscape.

Be where your customer is

In recent years we’ve seen a shift from single channel to multichannel and from cross channel to omnichannel. Nowadays we refer to this as ‘no-channel’. Information flows are more fluid via customers’ preferred channels and these preferences depend on time and location. Communication channels in 2021 are limitless. Information from one channel can be used to communicate with the same person, even if they are communicating with you through another channel.

Exactly what are these preferred customer channels? Research by Newcom shows that WhatsApp is currently the most used messaging platform. As many as 12.4 million Dutch people are using this popular channel. Of course you also have to check carefully as to where your specific target group is. TikTok and Pinterest are growing very fast at the moment. Are these also channels where your target group can be found on a daily basis? Make sure you’re where your customer is!

Is video chatting the new trend?

The accelerated digital transformation caused by the pandemic has accelerated the development of video chatting. Banks have been using video chats for some time now in order to provide their customers with more personalised financial advice. Where, pre-corona, there was still little interest for this platform in the e-commerce industry, it is now increasingly being embraced as a customer service channel within this sector.

Service agents can use this visual channel to monitor the customer if technical problems arise. For example when going through an order process or a malfunction report. But also services that are less effective online can now be provided with the help of video calls. Consider, for example, styling advice. “Does this dress look good on my figure? Do you have a sweater that matches these shoes?”. An extra set of eyes can be helpful for some customers while shopping!

Service employees also reap the benefits of video calling. A picture is worth a thousand words, but a video is worth a thousand pictures! Is a product damaged or does it have a manufacturing defect? Let the customer show the product on video and you can make an accurate analysis of the problem in no time.

The emotional connection you make with your customer with the help of video chatting is many times greater than other online channels and problems are many times solved faster by the clear visualisation.

What does customer service look like post-corona?

In these corona times, we’re seeing new audiences online, higher expectations, huge volumes and new technologies that make automation and better visualisation possible. The customer service landscape will never be what it was! The average customer service employee will see their role change as a result. Their work will become more challenging and certainly more meaningful — and will become an indispensable link within organisations! The customer service employee will be expected to be a “jack of all trades”, at home in all markets and able to make all the difference, in a most professional way, with the help of top service.


  • Give customer service employees the space to be able to fully focus on customers who need more attention. You can do this by using chatbots to answer repetitive questions.
  • Provide a clear online environment where all the customer questions come in and can be answered.
  • Make sure that your service employees can also take on the role of consultant, IT expert and salesperson. Curious as to what the biggest challenges for customer service agents will be in 2021?
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Pearl Vink
As a driven writer with a passion for heavy metal, social media, marketing and events, I enjoy writing interesting, thought provoking content for OBI4wan. It makes my day when I hear that I inspire organizations and their customers with interesting articles, a nice conversation, a stimulating newsletter or a convincing social media post.

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