Five digital tactics to beat service overload

COVID-19 has severely overwhelmed some organisations’ infrastructures due to the sheer number of people moving online or getting in touch through digital channels.

If your organisation is experiencing service problems like slow response times or outages—online or offline—how can you act in a smart way with User Experience (UX) and utilise your digital channels to help reduce the impact on customers?

Here are five practical ideas to help you manage this crunch period online.

1. Use all your available digital channels

Many organisations use social media channels just for occasional marketing activity. However, if your website is unresponsive or your call centres are overloaded, customers will turn to them to understand more about what’s gone wrong, even if those channels have been dormant for months or longer.

Now, more than ever, every digital touchpoint needs to be in sync with your messaging and latest updates, and be appropriate to each channel. This will also help to make your experience feel more joined-up and consistent as people move from one channel to another.

Social channels are also an excellent communication channel during the coronavirus response, because they will likely keep working no matter the load. Millions of customers viewing your updates on Twitter, all at once? No problem. And because people will actively seek out your page or feed to find these answers, there is far less need to focus on newsfeed visibility techniques or paid promotions.

People will also be more familiar with social channels, more familiar than they are likely to be with your website. Simply put, they use social channels much more. You can take advantage of this behaviour and reduce the need to update your website. Remember, your website, whilst important, is a part of your total customer experience, so use social channels to support customer communications.

For example, if you only have one Twitter feed, use Twitter's perception as a “live, up-to-the-minute” channel to tweet about service issues and updates, and to address immediate questions. Use Facebook posts for slightly longer term content, such as alternate ways to get in touch if phone lines are overloaded.

Also, don’t neglect the power of other social channels in a crunch, even visual channels such as Instagram. Every channel has value—and customer reach.

Finally, leverage your email lists if needed. These are solid and reliable ways to reach customers on a semi-regular basis (don’t overdo it) with important updates about service availability, mitigating actions you are taking, and FAQs.

2. Place temporary messaging as close to the issue as possible

If customers are struggling to use your service, they need appropriate messaging and support—placed as close as possible to the place and time where they are struggling.

For example, if users are unable to log in online, an appropriate error message should be placed on the login page. Don’t expect they’ll have read your carefully-crafted email or noticed that small message on your homepage. What if the user is unable to book your service (e.g. a home delivery) more than five days in advance right now? Tell them right next to the date selection feature, as well as up-front at the start of the journey. This is a great UX move at any time, but particularly when customers are facing critical issues using your service.

The time it takes to change those error messages or add temporary notices — changes which may involve developers changing things inside your systems — will be paid back by all your users understanding exactly what is going on, rather than guessing if there’s a temporary glitch or thinking they’ve done something wrong.

As for the content of that messaging, if there are appropriate mitigating actions — for example, an alternate way to accomplish a goal, or more information on what’s not working — then consider providing a link to more information and support.

Photo showing 'Caution wet floor'

Ensure you signpost any barriers your users may face when using your surface (photo credit: Witthaya Prasongsin)

3. Incentivise off-peak interactions and online-offline balancing

Ideally, all your customers would get the same level of service whenever they need it. Obviously, in unimaginably busy times such as these, that may not be possible.

Instead, how can customers be encouraged to use your services in off-peak hours? Is there an improved quality of service that can be offered, such as reduced waiting times, higher chance of successful goal completion, or a more personalised service? What about promoting support options that are asynchronous and can be addressed off-peak, such as sending a Tweet or submitting a contact form that will get a response within a set number of hours? Without being seen to penalise those who persist in using your service at their preferred time, could there even be a financial incentive for off-peak usage?

What about load balancing between online and offline? In the urgency of many organisations' response, it's easy to focus on single channels rather than looking at the whole of your available channels.

Is your IVR system (the voice menu system you get when you call many organisations) configurable to direct people to specific online solutions depending on their choices? Might you even incentivise people to move the other way — phoning up instead of using your website, if your website is straining under the load? With digital offerings, all this flexibility is eminently possible.

4. Shift from platitudes to practical in communications

Already people have been inundated with dozens of emails about how various organisations “care about their needs” during the coronavirus situation. Not only have people started to become numb to these types of communications, but, as always, their online needs remain highly practical.

For example, “How can I defer my mortgage payment?” is infinitely more important right now than “Bank X is here for you”. As we’ve seen in thousands of usability testing sessions over the years, and still holding true now, people simply want to get things done. So given how quickly people scan emails and web pages for relevant information and actions, make sure you state up front in your communications what’s on offer, and get to the point as quickly as possible.

5. Degraded service? Address the elephant in the room

If you are suffering service outages or similar severe disruptions to the customer experience, everyone will already know. Given the sheer number of things competing for your customers’ attention every day right now, this leaves precious little time to address any issues head-on when customers look to you for resolution.

So, when you have the digital opportunity to put messaging in front of them, address the issue directly and provide practical remedial actions they can take. “Our service is busier than usual; we appreciate your understanding” is abstract and clichéd. “We currently have two-hour wait times; quieter periods are 2-4pm and 9-11pm.” is specific and directive.

Embrace the challenges 

Addressing all the nuances of customer experience in this uncertain time is not easy. If you need us, our team is fully available. We’ve changed some of our processes to provide quick turnaround consulting on an as-needed basis for organisations with urgent needs during the coronavirus response.

To discuss, reach out at any time to hello@nomensa.com or +44 (0)117 929 7333.

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