Traditionally, the sales and customer support departments of businesses operate on a fundamental goal – revenue and ROI. The pandemic, however, brought about a new reality, a reality many businesses were unprepared for. It forced a shift in focus from revenue to survivability. Customer service and customer support went from resolving general product issues to managing a full-fledged crisis, pacifying and helping customers stay calm. Operational models and processes are being redefined to adapt to a new, indefinite reality of lockdowns and social distancing. Amidst all of this is the mental and emotional challenge that leaders, employees, and customers have to face collectively.
“It’s so important to mindful of a few things before making any response right now. You can create an emotional compass for your team to view as an “emotions checklist” before putting out content,” says Sarah Evans, founder of Sevans Digital PR. “Think about:
1) those who have lost their jobs, have reduced income or are furloughed;
2) people who are ill or have sick loved ones — it’s very scare;
3) those anxious or worried about current health and economic conditions.”
In an attempt to understand the changes that businesses are implementing, we spoke to some of our clients who acted quickly and redefined their sales and customer support processes. Here’s a quick summary of key changes they made and have fared much better than competitors who were in denial and who are still grappling with the situation.
Implementing a Remote Workforce Model
It was obvious that remote work would be inevitable, but simply getting employees to log in from work is not enough. You have to implement a workable model, for which you will need:
Laying Out a New Strategy with New Goals and Focus
A crisis requires an apt response. Your first step would be to lay down a contingency plan. Things you need to address would be:
- The new focus on helping customers stay calm and pacifying them.
- The next three-month plan on how the business plans to remain sustainable.
- The new communication strategy – such as avoiding the pandemic narrative in managing customer issues.
- What lies ahead for employees.
- How employee performance will be measured in this new situation.
- Current goals such as pushing forward with a new campaign, a new lead generation process, etc.
Setting Up a Remote Work Process or Work-From-Home Policy
For remote work to be successful, you will need to come up with a work-from-home policy that addresses:
- Working hours and timings.
- The use of certain software or solutions to keep track of productivity and accountability.
- Collaborate with software solutions providers for flexible licensing
- Provide training to employees where needed
- Provide equipment such as laptops, backup PCs or internet devices if needed
Sarah adds that she’s seen great success with her clients using the remote work model.
“Not only is my company remote, but several of our clients are, too and they continue to do great things. A few examples of what I love and learn from them:
1. The INK team has always been remote and their model is one I want to emulate more of. They are very specific about how they structure and run their meetings and are never wasteful of team members’ time. They’ve also spread their workforce out around the world, so there’s always someone available.
2. Turbine Labs was one of the first companies to move everyone remote in order to protect the health of those around them and their community. While no strangers to remote work tools, they’ve quickly worked together to not only create resources for their team, but for the greater good of their customers and journalists. Inherent in every meeting is the thought about what can their data do to inform and empower others. I love that!”
Going Forward: If anything, the pandemic has helped companies wake up from a deep reverie, making them implement a crisis-management plan. In the event of a disaster, a crisis or a future pandemic, what steps will your organization take? More importantly, if the current situation is the new normal for the next year or two, how will your company function? All these are critical questions that you must have answers for.
Implementing a New Customer Support and Service Strategy
At this time, your traditional customer support and service strategy will need restructuring. To start with, here are some key things you need to adjust:
Customer Response Time:
- Even in normal circumstances, speed in customer response dictates customer acquisition and retention success. In times of a pandemic? You need to double down on the response time and ensure a prompt response. Your customers need to know that you’re there for them, helping them in a difficult period. They are literally just a click away from ending work with you; the only way you can keep them engaged and earn their trust is by being there for them.
Measuring Your Team’s Response Time:
- Sure, you can set customer response goals, but how will you know goals have been met? This is where you need a tool or a solution that can help you measure your team’s response time and ensure that everyone’s on the same page. Our clients reported a high rate of customer satisfaction as queries were responded to promptly, thus, helping companies earn their customers’ trust, leading to higher customer acquisition and retention.
Automating Processes & Removing Dependencies:
- When you’re working in a physical location, there is more collaboration and dependencies. When working remotely, dependencies can become obstacles. Your sales and customer support team need to have independent processes that they can rely on to provide quality customer service. For example, they shouldn’t be relying on a member of the marketing department to give them data on a client. Everyone should be part of a consolidated system where dependencies are minimized and independent decision-making is allowed.
“With companies across the globe now remote, support teams need to rethink workflows and day-to-day rituals if they want to maintain productivity, protect team dynamics and keep up the caliber of their customer support,” said Kaitlin Pettersen, Global Customer Support Director at Intercom. “Successful teams right now are investing in tools for team collaboration, automating repetitive support tasks with chatbots and responding to customers with empathy. Above all else, don’t forget to keep team morale up – a highly engaged and happy support team is at the root of great support experiences.”
Additional Management Tips:
Your strategy will depend on your company size, however, as a general guideline ensure that you:
Operate on a Crisis Management Plan:
The plan should address:
- Roles and responsibilities of each agent in the team
- Working hours and team timings
- Meeting timings and who should collaborate with whom
- Tasks for the day
- Goals to achieve in the current circumstances
- Reporting and metrics
- Team tasks divisions
- Tools that will be used by everyone
Give Your Team a Consolidated Source of Truth:
When removing dependencies, you will need to give your team the whole picture which would include:
- Giving them access to data
- Clearly defining their individual goals and tasks
- Providing them with reports and metrics that can help them make key decisions
- Providing transparent, clear internal and external communication guidelines
Take Care of the Mental and Emotional Challenges:
A pandemic with lockdowns and a failing economy is a traumatic experience for everyone involved. At this time, it makes sense to practice empathy, kindness, compassion. Ensure that you, your team and your customers collaborate to effectively come out of this crisis stronger. You can start by:
- Coaching the team to focus on possibilities and to avoid using the pandemic as an excuse to delay responses or important tasks.
- Facilitating the team with the tools they need to collaborate
- Being kind instead of being pushy
- Restraining from inducing panic with sharing of stressful news
- Helping everyone adapt to a new reality
- Adopting the pushing forward mantra.
Now is the Time to Act!
As the world is dealing with the pandemic, we are moving from the state of shock and denial to a gradual state of acceptance. This is the time to act, to ensure that your employees and your customers are able to push forward with their business and collaborate to keep things functional. This is also a great time to focus on building a strong crisis management plan for the future. Now is the time to act. Together, we can beat this.