By Oliver Bareham, Director of Customer Experience, FourNet
Higher bills, lower wages, less money to spend and more stress, hardship and vulnerability.
These are the major impacts of a growing cost-of-living crisis for which we currently see no light at the end of the tunnel.
The war in Ukraine, the pandemic, Brexit, the broader geo-political situation have all caused the cost of living, food, energy, fuel at the pumps and inflation to soar. And with it, our own day-to-day concerns.
There’s immense worry about the future and intense hardship for millions of people up and down the country. And it’s not just Britain that’s suffering, millions around the globe are facing similar issues.
In the UK in July 2022, 91% of households reported that their cost of living had increased in the previous month, up from 62% in November 2021, when costs had already begun to rise.
The economic instability is affecting businesses, impacting employees and the unemployed, putting strain on public services and the NHS, and is having knock on effects for our mental and physical health and relationships.
Vulnerability on the rise
Even more people have emerged from the pandemic in a vulnerable personal situation, be in financially, physically or mentally.
A report by the Money and Pensions Service, The UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing 2020-2030, points out that:
- 5 million people have less than £100 in savings to fall back on
- 9 million people often use credit to pay for food or essential bills
- 22 million people say they don’t know enough to plan for their retirement
- 3 million children aren’t getting a meaningful financial education
All customers are at risk of becoming vulnerable, according to the Financial Conduct Authority’s report, Guidance for firms on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers | FCA, but this risk is increased by having characteristics of vulnerability.
These could be poor health, such as cognitive impairment, life events such as new caring responsibilities, low resilience to cope with financial or emotional shocks and low capability, such as poor literacy or numeracy skills.
Leaving aside households and consumers for a moment, the mental wellbeing must also be considered of employees and customer service agents who may have to deal, whilst at work, with the problems of those for whom the cost-of-living crisis is hitting home most.
With more consumers struggling to pay their bills, greater pressure is placed on collections and debt management teams. Understanding those issues, knowing your customers, and using the right tools and strategies will help to relieve some of that pressure.
Using tech for good
And that’s where technology can assist both the employee and the customer and reduce costs for companies which may also be facing financial difficulties.
At FourNet, we work with some of the most critical organisations in the UK – from central government departments to fire, police and ambulance 999 services. We make sure that the best technology from the best-of-breed vendors is available to ensure the most efficient tools and ways of working enhance the customer journey and customer experience.
This helps the customer service agent, and the potentially vulnerable consumer.
According to a survey by outsourcing and professional services company, Capita, 71% of customers are stressed about their finances, 62% avoid communicating with companies to whom they owe money, and 52% want to self-serve online.
Customers also want companies to be there for them and to communicate using whichever method the customer prefers to get in touch – whether it’s phone, webchat, text, email or self-service options, at a time that suits them.
FourNet’s state of the art Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS) solutions mean that our tech really can be used for good to help vulnerable and cash-strapped customers as the cost-of-living crisis impacts households on a day-to-day basis.
Our tech, for instance, delivers conversational artificial intelligence (AI) and sentiment analysis which can sense the mood and wellbeing both of the customer and the employee, in real-time.
It hunts for words and phrases which might raise a red flag to a supervisor – such as “job loss”, “suicidal”, “desperate” or “illness”, all of which might indicate financial or mental health difficulties. It can sense when voices are raised or can spot anger or unhappiness, which might mean internal escalation for the customer or enhanced training or counselling for the agent.
Artificial intelligence in a real-world crisis
AI-assisted service offers an opportunity to provide timely and effective support to every agent while the call is happening. AI can provide the agent with suggestions about next best action, pull up relevant information from the knowledge base, make suggestions based on customer history and use sentiment analysis to warn when a conversation is going off track.
Real-time sentiment analysis can flag a supervisor remotely who can break into the conversation or whisper coach the agent. These tools have a positive impact on first-contact resolution as well as customer experience.
Natural language IVR (Interactive Voice Response) can be viewed as a chatbot that customers communicate with through voice, rather than typed text. It can be used as triage to decide which customers should be directed to an agent – perhaps the most vulnerable, based on their profile, their requirements, circumstances and past outcomes.
Intelligent Routing utilises AI to automatically send inbound customer communications to the right place, so that the best resource to deal with that customer query is allocated, thereby ensuring higher rates of First Contact Resolution and that vulnerable customers are dealt with swiftly, reducing their stress.
This can happen on any channel, whether phone, chat, text, email, or social media messaging. Not getting to the right resource the first-time, results in agent handoffs which can require the customer to repeat themselves, all of which has a significant negative impact on the customer experience.
Our data analysis and predictive modelling solutions help to signal vulnerability, so that organisations can more quickly and accurately identify vulnerable customers in the future.
AI powered Quality Management allows employers and contact centres to analyse and track agent performance across 100% of customer interactions. Insights and data can be used to inform general and individual training programs, as well as compliance monitoring and personnel leadership potential.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) uses digital agents or ‘robots’ to handle repetitive, rules-based tasks with high accuracy and consistency, for example: assisting agents with change of address requests, ticketing processes, document reviews, and validating customer account information. RPA allows human agents to concentrate on more complex tasks, such as vulnerable customers, while also reducing mundane tasks for agents, improving their mental wellbeing.
Listening to your customers
Call recording solutions give you the flexibility, security and ease of use, to impartially listen to the voice of your vulnerable customers, which will ultimately help organisations to meet their needs better, as well as improve the quality of the agents handling the calls.
Tech has moved on in leaps and bounds over the past few years, in large part due to the pandemic. Now that a new and growing financial crisis faces us all, tech could, if used correctly, play a major part in reducing the personal wellbeing cost on each of us.
If you’d like to know more about any of the solutions above, please get in touch by clicking the button below.