A business or economic crisis can erupt at any time and may root from anything; strained political relations that result in war, a devastating natural disaster, or a tiny virus that leads to extended periods of global lockdowns.
In times of a crisis, customer service is one of the worst-hit departments. Team leaders and agents alike are at the forefront of dealing with spikes in customer service requests for refunds and cancellations, additional information, and more. Intercom surveyed 400 support leaders on the impact of COVID19 and found that 47% of support teams saw an average increase of 51% in customer requests compared to their normal volumes. The survey also showed that customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores have declined on average by 28%.
Companies everywhere have slowly begun to accept that although the present COVID19 pandemic is here to stay, its effects on customer service can be minimised by taking a few timely steps in the right direction. Here are some tips for you to continue to deliver high-quality customer service.
Preparing your Team
Simon Lord, a checkout supervisor, joined Tesco, 7 years ago for a stress-free life. He found his everyday interactions with customers to be one of the most rewarding parts of his job. Little did he know that one day, he would be on the frontline for the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
Although many client-facing teams are trained to handle unhappy customers, during a crisis, all emotions are heightened. Today, customer care agents, who themselves are battling the fears and risks of COVID19, continue to serve customers that exhibit feelings ranging from stress and panic to frustration and anger.
Unlike seasonal demand, crises are unprecedented with little time to respond and with no definite exit period. Simon explains, “Food retail is used to peaks in demand, with Christmas being the obvious example. Christmas, however, is fixed and finite: 2 January always brings with it a return to calm.”
Whether your business is classified as an essential service or not, consumer behaviour is largely universal in a situation like this. And, so is this line from airline safety instructions: put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. In other words, you must prepare your team and business before you start reaching out to customers. Here’s how:
Ensure a safe working environment
For employees to perform optimally, they need a sense of security. Many businesses that can have chosen to adopt the remote working model. Consider allowing your employees to work from home, but with guidelines that help maintain productivity and beat social isolation.
If telecommuting is not an option, provide team members on contact centre floors with adequate masks, sanitisers, and disinfecting wipes to mitigate the risk of contracting or inadvertently spreading a contagious illness like COVID19.
Create internal guidelines
The chaos that ensues post the onset of a crisis is all too familiar. To reduce that, key decision-makers need to publish internal guidelines on a platform accessible to all customer-facing employees. This document should include:
Ensure your client-facing team is aware of on-ground operations
The best way to devise the right strategies for customer experience (CX) is by looking back on your own customer service interactions. With work from home becoming the new normal, I was recently on the lookout for a portable wifi device for backup connectivity. I called the customer support number of a well-known telecommunications provider. The agent was great. He was friendly, polite, listened patiently and even catered to my questions in the regional language. He ticked all the boxes but one – he had absolutely no idea of the ground reality.
I had called to ask if the nearest store to me would be open and if I could purchase a new connection. He couldn’t help me, and I went on to choose another service provider instead.
Having the right answers is essential at a time like this, and customer service teams must be aware of what is happening at every touchpoint in the regions they cover.
Mirror a multilingual ground force
If your business has a presence in locations that speak multiple languages, you probably agree that hiring local, native language speaking employees goes a long way. However, with many businesses temporarily or even permanently closing on-ground operations during a crisis, customers are limited to the language options, if any of the centralised contact centre.
Ensuring that you continue to provide multilingual customer service to customers is not only essential but also quite simple to implement. Simply integrate the Translate By Humans app with your customer service tool to begin responding to your customers in their native language.
Create saved responses for FAQs
You may already have a fully functional knowledge base with answers, demos and resources. However, situations change rapidly in a crisis and answers need to be contextually relevant to the present day scenario.
Create a common document where agents or their managers can list common questions at the onset of the crisis. Review the document periodically and highlight similar questions. Involve the right individuals from your organisation, craft responses that best answer those questions, and share them with your team. These can be related to refunds, store information, shipment updates, etc.
Creating a set of answers will make it much easier for agents to respond to customers, reducing response times and increasing CSAT scores. Ensure your answers link back to your company’s crisis response statement and that actual correspondence is personalised to suit their needs.
Go the extra mile
If your company can lend a helping hand to your customers, don’t hesitate. Brands around the globe are deferring payment orders, giving away limited-time subscriptions to products for free, offering services at discounted rates, and more. While this in no way determines your strength in customer service, a gesture of goodwill is always remembered.
Note: Translate By Humans is currently offering complimentary translations for any COVID19-related documents. You can drop a note at email@example.com with the subject line’ COVID19 Request’ to avail this service.
Reaching Out to Customers
Once you’ve prepared your CX team and put in place a revised workflow, it’s time to begin your client-facing activities:
Publish a Crisis Response Statement
Just as your employees need to know what to expect in an emergency, so do customers. Create a page or a blog post that clearly outlines how your business is impacted and what may change for the customer. Include the following:
Ensure that you share the link to this information through your social media channels and through an email to your subscribers. Continue to revise and update the information as and when required.
Update your social media channels and email footers
Add a link to your crisis response statement in email footers so that they reach everyone your team communicates with. Pin the link on your social media feeds or add it to your profile bio/description.
Change timings/information on Google
Many customers will perform a quick google search to check if your business is open or for contact information. Edit your business listing to ensure it is up to date.
Use language that demonstrates advocacy
Tethr conducted a study of approximately 1 million customer-service calls of over 20 companies from a wide range of industries. All the calls took place between March 11th (when the Coronavirus pandemic was declared) and March 26th.
They found that low performing representatives were 27% more likely to convey their helplessness to customers and openly attribute it to existing policy frameworks. They were also 38% more likely to redirect customers to other team members as compared to their high performing colleagues.
You can’t change policies overnight, but you can train agents to personalise customer service and not hide behind company policies. Moreover, agents can practice advocacy by lifting customers’ spirits and reassuring them that they are on their side. Simple sentences like “we’ll get to the bottom of this and ensure your problem is solved” is enough to calm a customer and remain loyal to your brand.
Translate information related to the crisis
Depending on your business and its reach, you should consider translating information related to the crisis to make it accessible to all your existing and potential customers. This helps get the right word across, is more inclusive, and can evoke a better response.
Communicate the response you’d like to see
With your customer service likely overwhelmed in an emergency, it is completely acceptable to be vocal about how customers can help ease the pressure so you can keep serving them optimally. Recently most airlines have been receiving calls, emails and messages, asking for refunds, cancellations and date changes, around the clock. To ensure everyone is attended to, CX teams have had to prioritise based on the date of travel.
#9Wupdate: We are experiencing extremely high call volumes at our Contact Centre for change and cancellation requests. If your flight is beyond 72 hours, we recommend you connect with your travel agent or click here: https://t.co/20kKu5Hqsu to submit your request via email. (1/2)— Jet Airways (@jetairways) February 28, 2019
Similarly, I received a text message from a local grocery store mentioning, “our shelves are stocked for you….know more about safe and clean shopping”, followed by a link. It was an important message to receive after the initial mayhem of empty shelves. Informing customers that they are working towards their safety is a welcome measure that will likely deter customers from shopping elsewhere.
Promote self-help platforms
Although human interaction has no real alternative, self-help platforms like a knowledge base or help centre can take some pressure off of CX teams pressed for resources and time. According to a Zendesk report outlining the impact of COVID19 on the 23,000 companies they provide services to, there has been a 65% increase in visits to self-help resources since February 2019!
Ensure you regularly update your FAQs, translate them for global customers, and link them to your crisis response statement.
Just Keep Swimming
Even though a crisis may seem never-ending, the curve will flatten, economies will be rebuilt, and hope will be regained. But while you’re in the midst of it, you and your team must keep swimming with the common goal of building resilience and emerging stronger.
Once the future looks less grim, take some time out to review your response, track important metrics, update information and reconsider your choice of customer service tools.
Reflect on the past and begin preparing for the next big challenge; we’re talking about customer service, after all!