Afterpay used Uber to get laptops out to staff and quickly remodelled its operations to help people worried about whether they could pay off purchases as the repercussions of COVID-19 took hold.
Head of service delivery Yvonne Gilmour told a Zendesk event that the buy now, pay later company had “prioritised people” - both its own and its customers - as Australia grappled with the pandemic.
“The heart of our organisation has always been customers and people,” Gilmour said.
“The world changed overnight, and suddenly we had folks who were reaching out to us that didn’t before, so we were able to flex our channels to make sure people didn’t wait too long and to make sure that we could keep operating globally.
“It’s a terrible situation but certainly for us our team has never been stronger. We all feel very connected and the tools that we’ve got at our disposal just make that really easy to deliver service for our customers.”
Gilmour said the company reacted quickly to the pandemic, establishing a “war room” to lead its response and shift to remote operations.
“We use a number of external suppliers so it wasn’t just a case of our own staff [needing to change],” she said.
“We have people that work for us around the globe and we needed to work in partnership with their teams to make sure that everyone could get their kit and get on the road.
“We started out using couriers and of course everyone in the globe was doing the same thing, so our adaptability meant that we leant on Uber and we were booking Ubers - sticking laptops in the Uber and sending it to people’s homes.
“We also had to negotiate with our suppliers. We’ve got a team in Manila, for example. They don’t normally work from home, but we were like, ‘We want you to work from home’, so it was mobilising all that kit to get people ready to go.”
Uber was used for delivery capacity more formally by other companies during lockdown, including by Woolworths for grocery deliveries.
The company used Zendesk to power an “internal knowledge centre” hub and to prioritise assistance to customers most in need.
“We had a surge in people that were panicking about whether or not they could pay for their shopping, so we had to adapt our channel approach and our internal processes to make sure we prioritised people that were maybe feeling stressed about the financial situation and the uncertainty,” Gilmour said.
Afterpay also switched on extra communication channels.
“Throughout this COVID situation we’ve been integrating daily new channels so that people can speak to us. We’ve recently brought onboard Instagram and Twitter,” Gilmour said.
The company had also tried to help retailers where it could.
“What I’ve been very proud of is the ability to support the retail partners that we’re in relationships with,” she said.
“When the warehouse teams can’t work, the stores can’t sell and they can’t return goods, we’ve been able to be there as the middleman to say, ‘We’re all in this together’.
“We want to be the choice for our retail partners [to] help them when times are tough. They can lean us and our support teams.”
Gilmour said she expected customer experience (CX) changes made during COVID to become permanent.
“The world of CX has changed and we’ll never go back,” she said.
“I think customers have been very empathetic to us and accepted that we’re going through change, but I know in the future probably more than ever people will expect 24x7 service anytime anywhere, so it opens the doors to us to think about that kind of channel connectivity and being close to the customer when they need us.
“Certainly I can’t see us all swarming back to work in huge contact centre spaces. I think that age is gone.”
Gilmour also believed remote work arrangements would become more permanent.
“We’re all forced to work from home at the moment but the reality is many people won’t want to choose to go back to working in an office space,” she said.
“The great opportunity we’ve all got is to embrace that and the flexibility that comes with it.”