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Mediterranean wildfires: Supporting customers through a crisis


With the Mediterranean wildfires claiming the lives of over 40 people so far and leaving thousands more distressed and in desperate need of evacuation, Martin Brown – CCO at FM Outsource – discusses how customer service teams can upscale and maximise their level of support during a crisis.

27th Jul 2023

The ongoing wildfires across Algeria, Greece, and Italy are causing distress and disruption for many, with more than 40 people having tragically lost their lives so far, and a further 19,000 people having been evacuated from Rhodes over the last weekend alone.

Among those evacuated are thousands of British tourists that had to say goodbye to their holiday plans to prioritise safety. And as increased volumes of customers face difficult circumstances, it’s important that travel companies handle the repatriation and cancellation process in a speedy yet sensitive way.

Utilising various channels

Ensuring that customer service is accessible should always be a priority, especially in such a difficult and fast-changing situation. In the case of the crisis in the Mediterranean, it’s important that various channels of communication are opened-up and available for customers, including telephone, email, SMS and WhatsApp, so that customers can use whatever is available to them wherever they are.

Technology that merges multiple channels together can be particularly helpful in this case so that customers using different platforms can receive a single effective reply, instead of numerous responses from different advisors.

Ensuring that customer service is accessible should always be a priority.

As with all crises, when it comes to using customer service technology, a triage system is key. Integrating a quick reply feature, webchat automation and effective use of AI on digital channels can help customers get quick answers to basic questions, such as when they can expect their refund.

For more complex cases, using voice of customer (VOC) technology can be particularly useful, especially in identifying genuine distress and alerting representatives. Sometimes it is these customers, rather than those communicating across various platforms at scale, that are the most vulnerable and need the most help.

Putting the customer first

From the initial communication of the cancellation, customer service representatives have a responsibility to ensure that customers feel supported. The tone of voice used in communications is important; a warm, friendly, and empathetic tone can enable companies to convey their care and concern, ensuring that customers feel valued and understood.

Demonstrating patience and understanding is also key, helping advisors to diffuse understandably tense situations and reassure customers – even turning a frustrated customer into a satisfied one.

Scaling up operations

During a crisis, it’s vital that businesses can quickly scale up their team’s capacity to respond to the increasing number of important customer enquiries. It’s advisable that customer service teams have partners that are ready to step in during a crisis and can then scale back down again when the situation becomes manageable.

During a crisis, it’s vital that businesses can quickly scale up their team’s capacity to respond to enquiries.

Outsourcing can be a particularly useful tool in a crisis, with providers able to be onboarded into an existing team quickly to support colleagues and customers through challenging periods. This can involve rapidly familiarising themselves with existing systems and technologies or introducing their own to best manage the situation.

Additionally, increasing opening hours is essential. Simply shutting off communication lines after 5pm or on the weekends creates a snowball effect and can cause frustration. It also allows the number of contacts to build up, resulting in it taking days or even weeks to filter through.

Final thoughts

Providing customer support through a crisis, like the travel chaos in the Mediterranean, can be daunting for businesses. If handled badly it can have serious implications when it comes to their reputation and customer retention.

Many travel companies have been quick to repatriate customers; however, it’s likely that the fallout of the crisis will continue for weeks or even months, with the list of necessary refunds and reschedules only growing.

Having an effective support strategy in place is paramount; by making some smart operational switches, businesses can ensure that customers receive quick and helpful responses that provide the reassurance and support they need at a difficult time.

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