Is your customer support team ready for COVID-19?

12th Mar 2020

Customer service representatives are on the front lines of the response to COVID-19. At my local Walgreens, team members are dealing with toilet paper shortages and answering questions about which household products kill the coronavirus. Meanwhile, airlines are managing flight cancellations and companies including Zendesk and SXSW are cancelling conferences and events. 

Customer support teams have to manage surges in ticket volume; rethink cancellation and return policies; and ensure that their teams are sending a unified message to customers - all while facing the possibility that offices may be shut down and team members could be quarantined. 

If companies get it wrong, they could end up hurting long after the virus threat has passed. More than 50% of customers won’t do business with a company after a bad experience. By contrast, companies that navigate this well could drive customer loyalty, increase sales, and build better, stronger relationships with their customers. 

If you’re scrambling to respond to COVID-19, don’t worry. You’re not alone, and there are concrete steps you can take to prepare your team - and ensure your customers continue getting the top-notch service they deserve. Managing Editor Neil Davey has already addressed this critical topic, and we've identified seven additional ways you can prepare your customer service team for a global health crisis. 

1. Develop a business continuity plan for your customer support team.

You’ll have a hard time supporting your customers if you can’t keep your customer service team healthy and productive. So first things first: how can you ensure your team members will stay healthy - and your team will stay operational - even if things get worse?

If you don’t have a remote work policy, add one now. Enabling people to work from home will increase the likelihood that your staff will actually stay healthy. At Peak Support, which provides customer service outsourcing to high-growth companies, we have a 100% remote model. This significantly limits our team members’ potential exposure to the virus.

Of course, for large companies with legacy on-premise call center software, this is much more of a challenge, though providers like Avaya do offer cloud-based options. Start planning now. If remote work is truly not an option, follow the CDC’s guidance for employers to limit the virus’ spread.

2. Communicate transparently and proactively. 

The whole world is trying to figure out how to adjust to COVID-19. Don’t let your customers wonder what you’re doing and how you’ll continue serving them, especially if you’re in an industry that is acutely feeling the impact of COVID-19.  Be proactive about sharing updates on the changes you are making to ensure you can keep supporting them in the coming months. Here's a good example from Slack.

Proactively communicating with your customers also carries the added benefit of reducing inbound questions to your customer service team, allowing them to focus on critical needs and requests.

3. Listen closely to your customers. 

Customer needs and journeys normally shift slowly over time. While you’ve probably already made some guesses at the questions and concerns your customers will have regarding COVID-19, don’t assume those things are correct or static. As your team works with customers in the weeks and months ahead, pay close attention to shifts in what customers are concerned about and adjust your planning and resources accordingly.

4. Use positive language. 

When your support team is feeling pressured, it’s common to default to using negative language such as, “I can’t get you that product until next month.”

While that may be true, it can cause increased tension and concern for the customer hearing it. Try using positive language instead: “That product should be available next month. Would you like me to order it for you right now to make sure it’s shipped to you the moment it’s available?”

This small shift in language can result in calmer conversations and happier customers.

5. Consider expanding your team. 

If you’ve been thinking about expanding your team, you may want to do it now, to give you a buffer if a significant number of team members fall sick. If all your team members are currently in one physical location, you may want to add staff in a new location to further reduce your risk. 

Customer service outsourcing is one way to do this quickly. If you’re new to outsourcing, check out Peak Support's ebook on How to Outsource Customer Support.

6. Expand self-service options. 

It’s likely that your support team is going to receive the same questions over and over in the coming months. You can reduce the strain on them and improve the experience for your customers by leveraging self-service options, such as an FAQ or knowledge base with tutorials. Proactive communication to customers (as mentioned above) also helps with this.

If you’d like some inspiration, take a look at what Maersk and Delta have done. Maersk’s COVID-19 page acknowledges the impact of the virus on supply-chains, but conveys a clear sense that they’re working closely and proactively looking for solutions to help affected customers. Delta’s coronavirus page functions almost like a news aggregation site, pulling together messages from Delta’s leadership team, changes to flight plans, and best practices for healthy traveling.

7. Use COVID-19 as an opportunity to drive customer loyalty and growth.

Is there a way your product or service can help your customers deal with the challenges caused by COVID-19? If this sounds too mercenary, think of it as a way to support your customers and spread a little joy in an chaotic and frightening time.

Consider these examples:

Whether there is a clear and direct way for your organization to help or whether it requires some creativity, COVID-19 represents a huge opportunity for you to demonstrate care for your customers in tangible ways.  

In conclusion ... 

COVID-19 represents a considerable challenge for the entire planet. No one knows how the next few months will play out and whether the virus will be contained or will become endemic (regularly infecting people, like the common cold). There are still many questions about how the virus works and how to best combat it.

However things play out, it’s a pretty sure bet that COVID-19’s impact will continue to grow over the next few months. Don’t be caught unprepared. Take action promptly to make sure your customer service team is ready and the impact to your customers is as small as possible.

Replies (2)

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By Rachel Cruz
19th Mar 2020 05:59

People and businesses may be prepared for disasters, but not like this global pandemic we are facing right now. That's why it's important that companies have business continuity plan in place. In my workplace, global clients of Cloudstaff are assisted by staff remotely working at home to ensure uninterrupted operations. Employees have shifted to remote work as part of the company's effort to ensure workers safety and well-being and productivity during this challenging time.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Rachel Cruz:
Hannah Steiman, Chief Operating Officer, Peak Support
By Hannah Steiman
19th Mar 2020 10:20

Thanks Rachel! Absolutely, business continuity plans are critical. I'm glad to hear you've been able to seamlessly transition to working from home.

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