We are now in the midst of month six of the COVID-19 pandemic. With each day, our lives incrementally differ from the ones that we lived pre-March. From casual interactions like greeting the mail carrier on the street, to setting appointments with your bank, the in-person touchpoints that once filled our days are no longer present. This lack of in-person social interaction has left a void in people’s lives and is having a noticeable impact on wellbeing.
As demonstrated through the third tier on Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” love and belonging are crucial to the mental and physical wellbeing of a person. Connection with others is a form of self-care. But as a result of social distancing, an increasing percentage of our connections have gone digital and, while convenient, conversations over text are by nature less human. This is why we have seen a spike (of 44% by some estimates) in video conferencing and phone calls during the pandemic – people are seeking out human communication and are longing to speak with others.
Our voices carry an irreplicable sense of humanity, and they service one of the most tangible aspects of our shared experience. From an intimate conversation with a loved one, to a phone call with a service provider, human interaction through voice conversations helps us retain a piece of the normalcy from our pre-COVID-19 lives. The need for human connection is amplified when there is an increase in anxiety, such as that being created from the pandemic and current social unrest. What is ordinarily a stressful situation, like calling an insurance company to discuss health concerns or life insurance, becomes even more tense when both the customer and agent are under extraordinary stress. In that conversation, the expression of empathy and understanding creates a connection and sense of comfort that cannot be replicated by a text chat or a bot.
And while phone interactions serve as a form of catharsis right now, the emotional offloading that can happen from customer to agent during a customer service conversation can build up and be draining for the agent. In fact, Cogito’s customer data shows that prompts for agents to display more energy have increased by 38% in the last few months; similarly, prompts to display empathy have increased by 8%. Customers who are calling in do so with an increased sense of urgency, frustration and anxiety. More than ever, businesses must not only provide a customer with a resolution to their inquiry, but also do so in a manner that builds trust with the customer and builds confidence that the company will be there when they are needed most.
Thus, developing sincere, emotionally intelligent relationships in customer service interactions is of the utmost importance as we remain physically distant. Empathy is a powerful tool in establishing trust and loyalty; it provides the sense of humanity that people seek out not only in their personal, but also their commercial relationships. AI coaching technology like Cogito recognizes the need for sustained, emotionally intelligent behavior and can provide the guidance necessary for agents as they work to cultivate human connection in upwards of 30 calls per day. The substantive, albeit brief, connections that result from such calls provide a much-needed pick-me-up for customers and agents alike.
In this time of elevated anxiety and social distance, the phrase, “it’s so good to hear your voice,” rings more true than ever. As we look toward increased remote learning, distributed workforces and more uncertainty in the post-COVID-19 world, it will be crucial for businesses and individuals to experience the overwhelmingly positive benefits of a good conversation.