Caring for your customers during COVID-19
While the COVID-19 crisis continues, businesses and consumers alike are adapting to the new normal, reacting to the changes caused by the lockdown to how we work, live and shop. Two trends are driving the current situation:
- People understand that the pandemic is going to impact our way of life for some time, with full or partial lockdowns likely to be extended for many months
- The service and experience that companies provide are vital, not just to their existing reputation and revenues, but for the future. Essentially, businesses that show that they are supporting their customers - especially the most vulnerable - will be best placed to recover when the pandemic eases.
Given these trends, how should companies best ensure that their customer service enables them to thrive? In many ways it is about following the same golden rules as in the past, but with a recognition that the pandemic and lockdown are causing additional pressures for customers and staff. I believe it is about focusing on five areas to create loyalty:
1. Demonstrate understanding
Consumers are worried and unsettled and they are looking for reassurance from the businesses that they deal with. Whether this is supermarkets avoiding overcrowding through queuing systems or banks offering mortgage interest holidays, consumers want companies to put themselves in their shoes and respond accordingly. This means greater listening to consumers and acting on their feedback – how can the service be improved or changed to meet differing requirements under lockdown? As my colleague Taoufik Massoussi discussed in a recent post, Voice of the Customer programmes must evolve so they focus on collecting and sharing actionable insight, rather than simply collecting data on Net Promoter Scores that won’t directly help meet immediate consumer needs.
2. Build trust
Building on the theme of reassurance, in troubled times consumers want to deal with businesses that they trust. They want to know that their order will arrive safely, that delivery dates are accurate and that companies are committed to providing the service that they require. Trust starts with the basics – responding quickly, accurately and consistently to queries and providing the right information to consumers.
When it comes to customer service, teams are obviously currently under enormous pressure, with contact centre agents working from home and many businesses rightly prioritising their most vulnerable customers. Consumers understand this, but still need access to information 24x7. So ensure your self-service systems are kept up to date with information as things change and that you are being honest and accurate when it comes to telling consumers how long it will take to respond through channels such as email and social media. For example, if you are only able to dispatch a reduced number of orders due to social distancing in your warehouse and/or staff self-isolation explain this clearly so that customers not only understand but can be reassured that you are following safety guidelines.
3. Show that you care
Now especially, consumers want businesses to go the extra mile to focus on the greater good. Anyone seen to be profiteering from the crisis will face a very public backlash – as will companies that don’t treat their staff well or protect their safety. In many ways, this accelerates an existing trend, where consumers look to engage with brands that demonstrate a purpose that goes beyond profit. So look at how you can give back, such as through working with the NHS, charities or simply supporting vulnerable customers in your activities. This isn’t just a moral imperative but will demonstrate to consumers that you share their purpose, increasing current and future engagement.
4. Communicate strong leadership
Building a strong customer service culture starts at the top, and business leaders must step up and communicate with both consumers and staff. That means regularly getting in touch, explaining the strategy, showing that you are listening and that you are committed to helping people to make the best out of the situation. What it doesn’t mean is sending out empty emails full of soundbites or failing to listen to the concerns of staff or customers. Now is the time for CEOs to show that they really are customer-centric and that they are building their business around what consumers require.
5. Be transparent
Which brings me to the fifth point – being transparent. With the situation changing rapidly, everything can feel or is in a state of flux. That means any initiatives that you launch might not have the impact on customer service that you expect and will need to be fine-tuned or even stopped completely. Be open and honest – admit your mistakes and explain how you are going to try and improve things, rather than just hiding failures quietly. Consumers understand that at times like this honest misjudgements can be made – they will be more inclined to forgive and support your business if you face up to them and show you will learn going forward.
No-one really knows how the COVID crisis will impact the world in the medium and long-term. However, whatever the results are, those businesses that put the customer first and focus on understanding, trust, care, leadership and transparency will be those best positioned to thrive moving forward.