This week we feature an article by Paul Selby, a product marketing director for ServiceNow Customer Service Management. He shares tips and examples of how both companies and customers can adapt during a worldwide crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. An open letter to companies—and customers—on how to navigate the challenges of these extraordinary times. […]
This week we feature an article by Paul Selby, a product marketing director for ServiceNow Customer Service Management. He shares tips and examples of how both companies and customers can adapt during a worldwide crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Forbes and CustomerThink.
To say we live in interesting times is an understatement. Social distancing. Quarantines. Toilet paper panic buying.
To put it bluntly, things are not normal out there. COVID-19 is impacting people on myriad levels and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. During this challenging time, we must adjust our behaviors both as customers and companies, working together to get through it. That includes how we interact in the realm of customer service.
Companies: Behind the scenes you are undoubtedly doing everything you can, with whatever resources you can muster, to address and mitigate the spike in volume you may be experiencing. Assure customers they will be assisted as quickly as possible and allow them to leave voicemail messages, send emails, or use social media channels that enable future follow-up.
If your business has been hit hard, set clear expectations on customer service telephone lines and provide updates on websites, such as this notice on the Airbnb website:
Wait times are longer than usual right now. Due to COVID-19, we’re currently receiving a high number of requests and working with reduced staff. If you have a reservation that is more than 72 hours away, please consider contacting us later so we can help those who are traveling or hosting soon. To change or cancel a reservation, go to your trips page or hosting dashboard.
Also consider adjusting policies, in light of this extraordinary situation, to help reduce inquiries on certain topics. For example, Farmers Insurance is reducing car premiums by 25% automatically.
Despite your best efforts, some customers will still have unreasonable expectations. Extend that same patience, kindness, and understanding to your agents on the front lines.
Customers: Know that contacting customer service is going to take longer, especially with hard-hit companies like hotels and airlines.
Recognize that companies are doing their best to respond, but might be short-staffed or still piloting a hastily-started work-from-home program. Remember there are other customers who also need assistance. When you do reach a representative—even if it takes hours or days—continue to demonstrate grace when the agent apologizes for the wait.
In general, expect everything—be it ordering something or getting the answer to a simple question—to just take longer.
Companies: Many organizations are facing the double whammy of increased customer service volumes and potentially fewer staff. Now is the time to double down on self-service. While now may not be the ideal time to launch something new, you should make sure existing tools and programs—knowledge bases, chatbots, communities, and automation, for example—are all operating well and providing up-to-date information.
If new self-service solutions can be added and supported through existing channels, then add them. Remind customers waiting on telephone lines and in chat queues of these instantly available resources.
Take a look at the American Airlines COVID specific page they’ve created. It not only has a video from its Chairman and CEO, but the page has outlined its updated policies and also provides a lot of self-service information to help travelers cancel a trip on their own.
Customers: Start your search for answers online. Most companies today offer a variety of self-service options.
These tools are available around the clock and provide solutions to most common issues. When you use them, it provides a faster resolution for you—and frees up a live agent to address other, more complex issues.
Companies: What superpower can you apply to help customers deal with the crisis? This is not an opportunity to peddle your wares but a chance to keep society moving forward.
Many companies have already answered this call:
Customers: Realize these companies will be taking a hit in some form to provide these products and services to everyone in need. Take a moment now to thank them. When the pandemic has passed, continue to support them.
If you have the time and knowledge, help provide answers on companies’ online customer service communities. And don’t forget to help out in your own community. Consider donating blood and volunteering your time to help others.
Humans have contended with pandemics throughout history. Each time, we’ve adapted and survived. Let’s recognize the unique period we’re in, take a breath, and work our way through it together.
Paul Selby is a product marketing director for ServiceNow Customer Service Management. Previously Paul held product management and customer service and technical support management roles at several software companies, serving all industry segments and large enterprise to small business and retail customers.
For more articles from Shep Hyken and his guest contributors go to customerserviceblog.com.
Read Shep’s latest Forbes article: Radically Personal Customer Service Unlocks Customer Love
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