The COVID-19 pandemic has provided countless lessons in customer service. Many companies have risen to the challenge of this “new normal” by prioritizing clients, while others have crumbled, generating bad reviews and anger on social media.
One thing has become clear: during uncertain times, companies need to care for their customers — and ideally go above and beyond to do it.
“Particularly in times of crisis, a customer’s interaction with a company can trigger an immediate and lingering effect on his or her sense of trust and loyalty. As millions are furloughed and retreat into isolation, a primary barometer of their customer experience will be how the businesses they frequent and depend upon deliver experiences and service that meets their new needs with empathy, care and concern,” suggests McKinsey & Company experts.
If you have yet to prioritize your client care and the experience provided, here are some ideas to consider.
Dedicate more time to customer service
When something disrupts your day-to-day life or your business operations, your customers will have questions. For example, if you operate a hotel in Florida and a hurricane is heading toward the coast, your phone will likely start ringing with customers requesting cancellations or rescheduling their stays. The customer service you provide can be the difference between retaining these customers for better times or losing them during the crisis.
More than a third of customers (35 percent) have canceled their service or stopped shopping with a brand because of long wait times. Customers have reported yelling to customer service employees, complaining on social media and even crying when talking to representatives.
To prioritize clients, you need to increase your customer service bandwidth.
This could mean getting another phone line or moving an employee from the floor to the customer care department. You should also hold an emergency customer care training to catch up employees on how to handle the developing situation while staying on brand and keeping the client at the forefront.
Make sure your rules and policies prioritize clients
Most companies develop policies to protect their finances and prevent customers from taking advantage of them. These policies may need to be evaluated under special circumstances. If you want to retain customers in the long run, you may need to make exceptions to your rules now.
For example, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Ticketmaster quietly changed its policies so it only issued refunds for cancellations, not for rescheduled or indefinitely postponed events where people wanted their money back.
This is an example of what not to do. The move frustrated customers who needed refunds (many of whom had unexpectedly lost their jobs) and felt they were cheated by the company.
United, however, has prioritized clients in making policy changes. As of Sunday, August 30, United has eliminated all ticket change fees for domestic flights through the end of the year. Scott Kirby, United CEO, told USA Today:
"Following previous tough times, airlines made difficult decisions to survive, sometimes at the expense of customer service. United Airlines won’t be following that same playbook as we come out of this crisis. Instead, we’re taking a completely different approach — and looking at new ways to serve our customers better.''
Your customers will appreciate short-term policy changes meant to help them — not you. Not to mention, any short-term losses will pay off in long-term customer loyalty.
Leverage partnerships within the community
Instead of closing your doors during uncertain times like a pandemic, look to your local business community. How can you collaborate to prioritize client needs, even if you aren’t operating on a full staff? For example, Scott J. Corwin, attorney and president of Scott J. Corwin explains how he does this in his law business:
"If we are unable to obtain an excellent result to settle a client’s case, I partner with other attorneys who have dedicated their practice to litigation and trial. We work with and partner with these other law firms and lawyers. We share the work and the costs of litigation to achieve the best result for our clients. We put their interest ahead of our own.”
As a business owner, you need to build a strong network of partners to get referrals and grow your brand. The value of this will last long past the challenge you’re facing now. Make sure your customers are taken care of by asking for support when you need it.
Get on the phone early and often
Clients want to hear from you. In a March 2020 survey from 4A’s, 43% of respondents said it’s reassuring to hear from brands they know and trust. Another 40% said they want to hear how brands are responding to the pandemic.
Don’t forget to talk to them.
Sometimes prioritizing clients simply requires your team to pick up the phone and have a conversation.
During an uncertain time, like the pandemic, build this into your or your client care’s weekly routine. If you have a large set of clients, set a certain amount of calls for each team member to make each week until you reach everyone.
The time it takes to pick up the phone and call is well worth the long-term benefits of clients that feel heard and reassured.
Communicate with your customers
Client care is ever-evolving, but during a crisis, there’s only one thing that matters: prioritizing your clients’ needs ahead of your own. Talk with them directly. Update policies in a way that benefits them. Put more people on your customer care staff if needed.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to start here.
If you’ve been struggling during the pandemic, now is still a good time to prioritize clients and connect with them. Showing that you’re in this with them will benefit your business for years to come.