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Customer Service in Times of Turmoil [+Checklist]

Dealing with the Human Side of it All.

 The unexpected emergence of COVID-19 is requiring that organizations move at unprecedented speed to serve their customers with the quality they have come to expect, and to care for their employees in ways they never considered.

With compassion.

Organizations are realizing that their contact centers are the single most important point of contact they now have with their customers…which is shining a very strong spotlight on how those employees engage with their customers. Until now, the process, protocols, and KPI’s were the real areas of focus. Yes, the agents were important, but let us be honest; generally, they were secondary to the numbers.

Organizations are now coming to understand that their contact center employees, the front-line agents, are the ones that holding the keys when it comes to keeping their customers happy and retaining them through this turmoil.

How best to ensure they can?

By using Empathy. Both within the organization as well as externally with customers. After weeks of social distancing and self-isolation, everyone’s emotional state is becoming much more fragile. The uncertainty, isolation, and frustration of sharing space with the same people for an extended period of time, and the ongoing fear that our lives will never be the same, are the realities that must be considered, with kindness and compassion.

A resource to consider: Developing Empathy – Checklist

Providing a positive and emotionally sensitive experience to all will likely result in a more positive perception of your organization, which may translate to more loyalty thereafter, whereas, using a purely business approach, or acting in ways that are perceived to be uncaring, will likely produce more complaints than usual.

As noted in a recent Accenture study (Jan 2020), during times of crisis, contact centers are crucial. Customers prefer live interactions when they want answers to urgent and complex issues:

 57% of customers ranked call support as their initial channel preference, due to the ability to ask,  explain, reason, or negotiate with customer service.

 58% more customers prefer to solve urgent issues by calling for support, than using other channels.

However, most organizations are not set-up to handle sudden increases in customer expectations for prompt and compassionate live agent interaction.  This is further complicated with the additional complexity of having to do so with agents that must now work-from-home.

What to do?

Agents must start to empathize with customers while answering their questions as quickly and accurately as possible. With all the pandemic-related business closures and the shift to online ordering for everything from groceries to work-from-home supplies, people are increasingly anxious that their orders may get lost in all the chaos.

Further to being compassionate, there is also the need to be proactive, by using outbound messaging of all types…the benefit of being overly communicative has never been higher. Everyone is looking for reassurance that what they need will be addressed or delivered…and they want to know by when.

Be transparent: with your customers about what is going on internally to your organization, and how it will affect them (or not!) is the new imperative. By managing expectations, you will address some of their needs while potentially reducing the risk of significant demand being placed on your contact center agents and customer service/support teams.

Be informed:  by ensuring that agents have all relevant information at hand when a customer calls, it will further help alleviate the stress and strain of this situation. Having customer info readily at hand (along with their orders, file status, change requests, etc.) will further enable them to personalize each conversation. While operating in a work-from-home setup, this information should be proactively provided to the agent. Keep in mind that customers are now adding digital channels to their communications and your agents will need to interact with those channels as well.

Be empowered:  your agents have now become the most important interface with your customers. They need to be able to act independently and provide the right kind of problem-solving on their behalf… this means enabling them to make the right decisions, along with the authority to do so, so that they can resolve that customer’s specific issue on the spot.

The reality is,  during this chaotic time customer expectations continue to morph very quickly. Who knows how long it will take for the world to return to some form of normalcy…or if it ever really will?

Maybe, this is the new normal.

Both from a societal and work perspective we have adapted to this new reality in record time. Increasingly, experts predict that the work-from-home approach may become more prevalent because so many companies have now become equipped to operate in this way. With the built-in operational flexibility and business continuity that WFH provides, along with the increased agent productivity, motivation, flexibility, and satisfaction it delivers, there may be no turning back.

Lesson Learned: No matter if this change is permanent or temporary, empathy helps improve the experience for all involved – not just during exceptional times. The companies that have put this into practice will benefit the most. Those that have not, will see the effects on their businesses, sooner rather than later.

Support your customers the right way, with empathy and compassion, and they will be your customers for life.

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