Like many travelers, my fiancé and I held out as long as we could before canceling our flights to a much-anticipated vacation to the Caribbean. The E-mail guidance from the airline instructed us not to call in until 3 days before the flight and to visit the company website for more information. I went on the airline’s website to see how to cancel our flights and if we were eligible for a refund. After multiple clicks through the airline website; no chat assistance available; and combing through the COVID fine print, I was surprised that I couldn’t find the answer to my questions. Finally, I called customer service and was placed on hold for 2 hours before reaching a representative, who then had to put me on hold to talk to their manager to resolve my question.
My experience is not unique. COVID-19 has sent companies around the globe scrambling to provide service and information to their customers. And while one could argue nothing has disrupted our daily lives as much as COVID-19 has in recent times, we cannot deny that this pandemic has not been the first major disruptor, nor will it be the last. Many companies have Business Continuity Plans for natural disasters, but many do not. For those that do, I wonder if they’ve placed the customer at the center of their plans? Customers will remember the companies that did right by them and reward them greatly once the crisis is over.
What does ‘doing right’ by their customer mean? Let’s discuss some points that will demonstrate to your customers that you are going above and beyond for them.
When a customer calls or chats in, it is most likely because they are having a problem with your goods/services or had a poor experience interacting with a self-service tool. Understanding the customer’s pain can make all the difference. Even if you are unable to resolve their issues, customers are more likely to walk away with a positive impression if they feel heard and understood. The need for empathy is heightened during a crisis. This is a scary time for your customers; the impact this is having on their lives could be catastrophic.
Self-Service Ease of Use
Contact centers can be expensive, so companies have gone to great lengths to divert customers online and provide them with tools to resolve their own issues. COVID-19 revealed the gaps in self-service tools.
I mentioned my own experience with having to jump channels and eventually call in. Channel jumping rates should be a KPI closely watched by any CX practitioner. Identifying the gap or pain point in your self-service tools is as easy as monitoring and tracking the customer journey until the point they opt to call in. While there may be other pain points along the customer journey, the point at which they opt to call in is a good place to start identifying issues or shortcomings.
During a crisis, it is even more important to ensure self-service tools, like a company website or customer portal, have all the information needed in a clear concise manner.
News of COVID-19 is changing almost daily. The communication sent out yesterday or the information on your website right now may no longer be accurate. Proactively communicating with your customers can also reduce the need for customers to call in. Make sure that you are providing detailed next steps and that your proactive communications answer some of those follow-up questions.
Back to my airline example, the reason I had to call was that I hadn’t received a clear message and the website did not contain guidance for my destination as the country had closed its border.
Lifetime Value vs Short Term Profits
Customers will remember the companies that stood by them and went above and beyond to support them.
The focus shouldn’t be on Q1 or Q2 profitability, but rather how to ensure customer loyalty after the crisis. We now see airlines offer full refunds; restaurants offer steep discounts; and banks waive overdraft fees, which normally cause customer frustration and increase business profits. This shows how much companies value their customers and are willing to stand by them in times of crisis. If you stand by them, your customers will stand by your business when the crisis has passed.
Don’t forget about your employees. More engaged employees provide a better experience to your customers. Keep employees engaged through clear and transparent communications. Employees may also be personally impacted by a crisis. Keep them up to date on important business decisions and include their feedback to demonstrate that you hear their concerns. This empathy and caring will be reflected in how they treat your customers.
In addition to communication, providing employees with the tools and skills needed to do their job is paramount. In a crisis, this need is amplified. Employees want to know what the company is doing to help them. What tools are made available to ensure they can still resolve customer issues? Is information disseminated? Do your tools allow for work-from-home? How much authority has been given to front-line employees, so they do not have to put customers on hold to get the authority to act?
Time is of the essence. The longer your customers and employees go without understanding your continuity plan, the less forgiving they may be. These are troubling times for everyone. Remembering these tips to keep your customers and employees at the center of your COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Plan will ensure your customers remember you when the crisis is over.