The role of communication through technology in customer service

Wednesday, 8 July 2020 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


In any emergency situation, be it local or global, entities must have a backup communication plan, either with technology or otherwise, in place for the benefit of their customers 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, technology started playing a significant role in keeping our society functional particularly in a time of lockdowns and quarantines. Two crucial factors were observed in this process. Firstly, there was a dire need to increase internet use drastically. Secondly the usage of internet became more purposeful and professional.

The usage of these technologies to provide an effective customer service creates a long-lasting impact beyond COVID-19. While it is proving to be a major challenge for organisations, the customer service volatility around COVID-19 can also serve as a facilitator for the digital transformation in your customer service experiences. In the words of Winston Churchill: “Never waste a good crisis!”

The countries worst hit at the beginning of this epidemic, have seen dramatic increases in digital activity. For example, China’s overall ‘online’ penetration increased by 15-20%; and Italy’s ‘e-commerce’ sales for consumer products rose by 81% in a single week, creating significant supply-chain bottlenecks. Sri Lankan customers are also changing rapidly. Over seven million Sri Lankans are developing relationships with brands in the digital arena today. One of the leading banks – NDB, claimed that their overall digital channels usage has increased by 55% during COVID-19.

Everybody will agree with the fact that ‘reliable connectivity’ is a key part in today’s business. The importance of this too was felt in the global health crisis by many entities, several of whom immediately requested their staff to ‘work from home’. Building the necessary infrastructure to support a digitised world and stay current with the latest technology will be essential for any business or country to remain competitive in a post-COVID-19 world. At the same time digital readiness that harnesses the power of technology can further augment customer service today.

Communication is the key 

Customers expect ‘promises’ given by entities to be ‘delivered’ through their actions. Hence, customers want service providers to be ‘precise’ in everything they do during a crisis. Make it a point to proactively announce the changes you have made in your business activities that may impact the customer. During a crisis situation do not expect the customer to ‘assume’ the actions you have taken on behalf of them. It is your prime responsibility to provide the necessary information to customers via the appropriate channels including emails, SMS, social media, and dedicated webpages, etc.

For example, Central Bank had given a direction to offer a moratorium to the customers of financial service institutions. Every customer may not necessarily know its real indications, applications and implications. There are customers who are seeking relief through the rescheduling of their loans. Some of the customers who can afford to continue with their instalment payment regularly may not need this benefit at all. Therefore, there is a responsibility on the part of the financial service institutions to educate each category of customers with relevant information well in advance. Proactive communication will save a lot of time and give staff the opportunity to carry out more productive tasks rather than repeatedly answering the same query from different customer. 

Case 1 – Digital communication is vital

A customer had taken a temporary overdraft facility from a bank for Rs. 12 million against a fixed security valued at Rs. 15 million. By the end of March, he had already withdrawn about Rs. 11 million. Subsequently he had issued a cheque for Rs. 400,000 to a third party with the notion that there were enough funds left in the account to honour this payment. However, to the customer’s dismay the cheque was retuned with the endorsement ‘refer to drawer’. When the accountholder contacted the bank the response from the officer concerned explained: “We have acted based on a circular received by the Central Bank to freeze the facility at that point.” 

Although the bank may have had done the right thing by following the instructions received by the authority, since the customer was not informed about it prior to issuing the cheque he had to face the embarrassment of his cheque bouncing. The bank officer offered the excuse that they had no way of communicating with the customer since curfew was imposed and the postal service was not functioning. Furthermore, these were announced in the news and the officer expected the customer to have some awareness about it.

Learning: In crisis times such flaws are expected, but service providers should not take them for granted. With the use of technology, the bank had ample opportunities to communicate the customer about the changes they have made to the facility. When dealing with technology, entities must explore the possibilities of creating value to all relevant stakeholders. Never ‘assume’ that customers are aware of things that only interest the service provider or put them at ease. The customer convenience should be given the utmost priority when providing solutions with the use of technology.

Case 2 – Always remember to follow up

There was a message on my mobile phone from Waters Edge during the curfew on 4 June, which asked ‘Why not try out Signature Thuna Paha Lamprais for lunch today?’ They had given the contact number for placing the order. I contacted them on the said number at 9:43 a.m. and I was greeted by a pre-recorded message that asked me to leave a message or call later. I did not bother to leave a message and my understanding was that they may be opened after 10 a.m. Nevertheless, we decided to have alternate plans for our lunch.

Almost an hour later, I received a call from Waters Edge. “Sir, we are from Waters Edge home delivery service and I am responding to your missed call. What is your requirement today?” Moreover, he politely explained the variety of lamprais options available, existing home delivery service and the time that we need the food to be delivered home. All these made me change my decision and went ahead ordering lamprais from Waters Edge for lunch.

Learning: Customers responding to an offer or even for any clarification must be considered a privilege. Respond to all customer calls that are recorded. Never take the stand that ‘if the customer needs it, he will call back again’. Maintain smooth, uninterrupted connection and communication during times of uncertainty. Demonstrate the fact to the customer that you seriously care and are ready to offer help. In the process understand that your call centre, email, social media or online community are particularly accessible mediums for a prompt and reliable service delivery along with assistance to the customer. 


In any emergency situation, be it local or global, entities must have a backup communication plan, either with technology or otherwise, in place for the benefit of their customers. This comprehensive plan should go beyond simply making just tiny changes to marketing messages. The plan, that looks after the best interest of the customer, should be extended to customer service teams, frontline customer interface officers, delivery staff, website and social channels, etc.  These communications must be a company-wide effort where everybody’s mind-sets are attuned to take personal responsibility and work with a sense of belonging. Furthermore, understand the fact that only the ‘process’ can be automated through technology. In order to build relationships with the customers there has to be a human intervention.

(The writer is a sought after ‘service excellence’ specialist in Sri- Lanka. Over the last 25 years he has conducted nearly 3,000 inspirational and educational programs for over 750 organisations in 11 countries. His work can be seen at

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