The COVID-19 pandemic forever changed the way the world does business. Initial changes were obvious; safety enhancements, curbside pickup, and a fortified online presence all became standard. As time moves on, though, it’s clear that these changes are likely to stick around long after the pandemic eases. Customers themselves have changed – there’s a higher expectation for quality customer experience than ever before. Fast, accessible interactions are now the norm.
With these changes in mind, here are five customer service tips to keep in mind for this pandemic and the next:
Offer 24/7 Support
We live in a 24/7 world. Gone are the days when businesses shuttered their metaphorical doors at 5 PM. Instead, customers expect access to goods and services on their terms. The pandemic shifted much of our purchasing behaviors online. People are used to browsing options from their smartphones, hitting “add to cart,” and moving on with their days. If your company isn’t offering this level of access to your inventory and service offerings, customers will click over to the competition instead.
Simply offering a digital storefront isn’t enough, either. To really meet customers where they are, you’ve got to maintain some level of customer service 24 hours a day. Should a person struggle with an order or have questions about your offerings, they should have the option to always speak with a real, live human being about their conundrum. A virtual receptionist can help with this – after all, the pandemic has certainly taught us all the value of a healthy work/life balance. Such a service can really bolster your customer experience without adding more work to your own plate.
It also helps to open up all lines of communication. Many companies got on board with live chat support during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no longer enough to offer an 800 number and wash your hands of other platforms. Instead, be ready to answer customer questions over social media, via email, and via instant messenger. While this degree of support might seem like overkill, you risk alienating customers by opting out of their preferred communication methods.
Manage Customer Expectations
Pandemics have a way of adding pressure to almost every step in the supply chain. COVID-19 illustrated just how many facets of modern life can be impacted by global shortages of staples like toilet paper. While there might not be much that a customer service representative can do to address these shortages, they can help keep customers alert to changes. By managing customer expectations, you set everyone up for success.
Managing customer expectations starts with honesty. Tell your customers what’s going on as soon as possible, even if you don’t have all the answers quite yet. This helps set realistic expectations from the very start. If you promise next day delivery, for instance, but then fail to deliver on time, you’ll reap nothing but bad feelings from your customers. Conversely, by keeping customers abreast to the challenges you’re facing due to the pandemic, you set everyone up for success.
Lead With Empathy
There’s nothing like a global pandemic to stress people out. Our collective stress levels reached new heights in 2020, but the impact of COVID-19 could be felt for years to come. With scary headlines being published each day, there seemed to be a heavy toll taken on all of our mental health. Patience grew thin, especially as the wait for a vaccine stretched on and on. In some cases, people took their frustrations out on customer service professionals.
While it can be difficult to remain calm in the face of such frustration, it’s important to meet upset customers with empathy. It’s impossible to know exactly what a person might be shouldering or how the most minor of disappointment is impacting their psyche. If you’re hoping to maintain quality customer service during a pandemic, it’s critical that you work from a place of optimism and kindness – especially when things get tough. You just never know how much of an impact a little patience and a smile can have on someone’s day.
Measure Customer Satisfaction
Assessment has always been an important part of the customer experience. Understanding the needs of our customers can help us tailor our service offerings to deliver on expectations. During a pandemic, many companies go lean. Scaling back and doing things with a skeleton crew often meant throwing assessment tools out the window. Simply fulfilling orders was a challenge in itself. Understanding our impact on the customers became less and less of a priority.
If your organization shifted into lean mode during the pandemic, it’s time to rethink this response. While it’s certainly tempting to scale things back during uncertain times, seeking customer feedback is one of the most valuable strategies we have to improve service offerings. Even when times are hard, it’s important to measure customer satisfaction and develop a plan to deliver on expectations. Make no mistake: customer feedback will likely be harsher during a pandemic. When supply chains are strained and you’re working with a team that’s been cut in half, the customer experience may indeed suffer. But to shy away from feedback just because it’s negative? That’s a recipe for disaster that will last far beyond the end of the pandemic.
Re-Evaluate Your Offer
What worked before the pandemic may no longer be appropriate. Everyone’s needs and values shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that will likely hold true for future pandemics as well. New demands from customers warrant a reassessment of your product and service offerings.
Look to the hospitality world for an example of this in action. Many restaurants faced economic hardship during COVID-19, particularly during stay-at-home orders. Instead of folding under the new conditions, many establishments opted to shift to a delivery and takeout model. Some of the greatest restaurants in the world – once reserved only for in-person dining – shifted to a delivery model to stay afloat. Their food served as a comfort to people missing the option to dine out and kept their brand at the front of the minds of customers during a particularly challenging time.
Regardless of which industry you operate in, pandemics offer the chance to adapt to new demands. That might mean shifting your product offerings, partnering with an answering service, or scrapping old policies and procedures that no longer serve your organization. By listening to customers and staying agile, we can survive in the face of uncertainty.
Ultimately, the customer experience isn’t about special perks, it’s about acknowledging the value of the customer by putting them first whenever possible. Creating little moments is critical to fostering the meaningful relationships with customers that keep them coming back again and again. By respecting the time and individual needs of each customer, you bring humanity back into the conversation. In an isolating time, that’s often all that’s needed to forge long-lasting connections with customers near and far.
Virtual Receptionists Specialists, with numerous years of experience handling calls for various industries. Specializing in Medical and Wellness call flows and providing training on call handling experience. Simone resides in Virginia.