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Looking back at 2021: Navigating customer support through a pandemic

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Nigel Piper

Dec 20, 2021

As we approach the end of 2021, I’ve been reflecting on how companies have managed to keep their customer-first approach despite the difficulties of working during a pandemic. 

Last year, when the pandemic hit, businesses around the world quickly learned the importance of being highly digital, and those that were digital-first certainly had a head start in responding to customers’ changing needs. 

Businesses that had set up their structure with all customer-facing teams closely aligned were able to make well-informed and fast decisions. The combination of digital tools and processes, and well-aligned teams set companies up to quickly feed data into marketing, communications, education, product and digital responses to customers. 

Small businesses are embracing digital tools

In 2020, being highly digital was considered a ‘new way of working’. In 2021, it’s simply how many businesses now operate and will continue to do so well into the future. 

The benefits of this move to more flexible, remote-style working was evident in recent research conducted by Xero. It revealed that digitally-enabled small businesses were significantly more resilient throughout the COVID-19 crisis, and outperformed their peers in most performance metrics. The research also revealed that the pandemic significantly boosted technology uptake.

From a customer experience perspective, I’ve always believed that customer support was moving towards a new age of focusing on digital content and self-service information. The pandemic simply accelerated this timeline.

A proactive support experience

Small business owners often do it all – customer service, social media, accounts, logistics – on top of their day-to-day business. They’re increasingly time-poor and more and more are relying on technology to help solve their problems. It’s quicker, more personalised, and is available at any time of the day or night.

With this in mind, we’re starting to see a shift from old fashioned reactive customer support to a model that predicts what customers’ needs are. Businesses like Xero are empowered to evolve their customer support frameworks. Instead of providing only reactive one-on-one support, highly evolved customer support platforms not only have nearly every answer available with the click of a mouse, but they harness technology such as machine learning to help answer their customers’ questions, before they even know they have them. 

Education outside our core business

The pressures and stresses of the pandemic prompted many customer-facing organisations to delve more deeply into what other areas their customers needed support. Additional paperwork, grant applications, and figuring out government restrictions all added to the day-to-day load that small business owners constantly carry. 

For us, this means developing new resources to help business owners navigate completely new hurdles, including understanding and applying for government support schemes, creating business continuity plans, and looking after their wellbeing. Customers and partners can choose from courses, programmes, live webinars and classroom events.

Xero customer experience in 2021

2021 has certainly seen its share of challenges for the customer experience team, including hundreds of our support staff working from bedrooms, garages and dining tables around the world for more than 12 months. But I’m proud of our team and how they’ve overcome the challenges of working through the pandemic. Some highlights in the customer experience space this year include:

  • Xero customers visited our digital customer support platform, Xero Central, more than 20 million times.
  • Not every query will be resolved online, and for the 5 percent who had more complex questions in 2021, our team gave expert and personalised advice to these customers.
  • Our team continues to make thousands of  outbound calls to customers that need phone support.
  • Xero customers and partners completed more than three million online education experiences.

As we look towards 2022, I’m excited about the opportunities we have to continue to evolve our customer support model, and provide even more value to our customers and partners. In the meantime, I’d like to wish you all a very happy holidays.

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