How the Covid-19 Pandemic has Accelerated Use of New Technology for Staff and Customers

There’s no doubt that business changes have been hugely accelerated by the pandemic, especially in increased use of tech to enhance business communications with staff and customers.
The Moneypenny Group, which includes VoiceNation and Ninja Number, provides a host of technology-enabled services and handles 20 million calls and chats annually for more than 21,000 businesses across multiple industry sectors. We’ve been ideally placed to observe these changes, both within our own organization and also among our clients, who range from realtors to plumbers, small independents, and large corporations, many of which are franchise operations.

Looking close to home, we, like many businesses, initially had to close our offices during lockdown and rapidly adapt to our staff suddenly having to work from home. While the new way of working suited some of our staff, others struggled to combine it with childcare or with inadequate home offices. For franchises that typicallyhave a wide geographical footprint – a strong culture and good communications are fundamental to ensuring employees feel part of a bigger picture. As a company we already used Workplace from Facebook which enabled more frequent communication with staff with 97% of our 1,000 staff using it monthly, leading to greater efficiency and better communication of our distinctive culture. It enables people to still feel very connected to work, even if they are not physically present and it has helped us keep our staff attrition rate low.
Tools like Workplace are also a useful way of gaining employee feedback which carries as much weight as customers’ and by welcoming suggestions for improving the business, franchisors can promote a sense of entrepreneurialism among franchisees. Equally, by creating a culture of idea-sharing, franchisees can demonstrate that they value their
employees’ opinions.

One downside to the new way of working was that our managers found that while productivity actually increased during lockdown, they also had to tell people to ‘go home’ as they found it difficult to switch off at the end of the working day. Technology can facilitate acts of kindness, so for example our in-house video team put together personalized birthday films for staff. We’ve always offered pick and mix style employee benefits, and we’ve introduced apps for everything from healthcare and pensions to physio and childcare vouchers, and the staff make choices through a bot, which means a speedy and seamless process. We also use bots for staff to vote for charities, party choices, or to simply find out how they are feeling etc. Many of these new tools will
be useful as our staff continue to return to the office.
Externally, we’ve been able to use our expertise in communications technology to help thousands of businesses during lockdown, many of whom hadn’t considered outsourcing their phones or
Live Chat until they had to leave their offices and close down their reception, and who struggled to divert their phones and adjust to home-working. A classic example is a company that had been using one mobile phone when its offices closed, with all inbound calls diverted to it. The mobile was shared between staff on a shift basis

How the Covid-19 Pandemic has Accelerated Use of New Technology for Staff and Customers and transported between their houses. The client didn’t have a telephony system in place, or at least one that could be adapted quickly enough, until Moneypenny stepped in to help.
We introduced new products and services that helped clients manage the rapidly changing business environment and kept them trading during the pandemic. These included a new Moneypenny app, integration of Microsoft Teams with telephone systems, and an online Covid self-screening bot for clients, so that businesses in sectors such as property, leisure and hospitality, could manage
visitors’ and customers’ safety more efficiently before any face-to-face activity.
It wasn’t just adoption of new technology that changed during the pandemic though, as the way businesses use tech also changed, and certain trends were vastly accelerated. For example, Live Chat had been increasing before the pandemic, but use of it surged during lockdown, doubling since March 2020.

Another trend that became even more important during the pandemic was in the use of data to inform rapid product development and delivery, to improve customer service and to develop marketing campaigns. Franchises with quality data, be that from survey data, phone call recordings or focus groups, already have insights that can improve customer sentiment and grow the bottom line. It just needs to be used and there are a number of tools available for this. Franchises can track customer satisfaction by measuring their Net Promoter Score (NPS), encourage online reviews via platforms such as Trustpilot, monitor key words and sentiment in Live Chats and use social listening tools to monitor, analyze and respond to mentions about them on social media.

And, as well as listening to their audience, franchisee management teams must also listen to employees as those on the front line are usually the first to hear from customers and have the deepest understanding of what makes them tick. Working together to assess the data, youcan celebrate the positives and scrutinize the negatives in order to improve the customer’s experience. We’re democratizing communications technology for thousands of businesses, tailoring our products specifically to what a business needs; in fact 90% of ourclients would never have access to this communication technology on their own, but we are providing them with access every day. Outsourcing provides a means for smaller franchisors and franchisees to use tech-led services such as AI-powered telephony that would normally be outside their reach, which creates even greater organizational agility and competitive advantage.
I believe the future for business is about embracing and harnessing technological advancements, enabling staff to deliver seamless customer engagement, which means using data to make informed decisions.

For example, we discovered that despite a boom in the use of social media to contact businesses, the telephone remains the most important communication method for customers to connect with businesses, so the customer  service offering should include many alternatives, from phone and email, to 24/7 Live Chat.
Looking ahead, over the next decade, technological advancements like AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP), will have the most significant day-to-day impact and AI is already playing a massive role in the workplace, with ever faster innovation.
We are developing communications technologies including AI and deep learning technologies to increase the efficiency of our teams who handle calls and Live Chats for thousands of companies
in the US. For example, we are working with tech giants including Microsoft, Nvidia, AWS, Google, Twilio and Jabra to enhance the customer communication experience for both employees and clients.

AI is embedded within our organization, but we believe the future is for AI to augment humans, not replace them, allowing them to have better conversations. Marrying tech and people is the gold standard, so we only use AI technologies that improve the customer experience, or create a more efficient service. AI and Deep Learning is therefore being used to help the Moneypenny Group scale.

NLP enables better conversations using technologies from Huggingface and Nvidia, allowing us to develop solutions that provide an understanding of intent and sentiment and can propose best actions for our staff to use within Live Chat, for maximum efficiency.
Some may fear that use of this new technology will replace people and jobs, but I don’t believe that has to be the case. Just as the World Wars led to changes in opportunities for female workers, so new businesses and the hybrid office/home working system will provide increased employment opportunities. For example, we recently opened new offices in Atlanta following rapid growth of 40% year-onyear and a 15% increase in employees since March 2020 and many of our new starters have transferred from declining sectors – such as hospitality, and high street retail.
We believe companies need to prioritize tech investment as the long term benefits in terms of increased productivity will far outweigh the initial outlay. The challenge will be in convincing them to do this for the long term, when their finances have been badly hit by lockdown, but communications tech is becoming ever more affordable and needn’t break the bank.

Eric Schurke, CEO of North America for Moneypenny is responsible for overseeing and building the strong growth plans for Moneypenny and VoiceNation in the US. With over 16 years of industry experience, Eric has led his team to provide the highest level of quality answering services to thousands of businesses worldwide. His expertise in workforce optimization and strategic planning has created an innovative and reliable atmosphere.