It’s safe to say that the first few months of 2020 will not be soon forgotten.  Each day seems to bring a new batch of uncertainty, and customer service and support leaders are starting to experience spikes in contact volume.  To help you navigate the current storm, Challenger conducted a brief survey (March 8-12, 2020) measuring the general actions being taken by your peers. 

In terms of the expected business impact, slightly more than half (58.1%) of respondents expect a medium to large impact on revenue. Although 77.4% believe the period of uncertainty will last no more than 4 months, what is abundantly clear is that very few companies expect to pass through this event unscathed.

Taking Care of Your Customers in Times of Upheaval

In times such as these, companies have a real opportunity to differentiate themselves through their customer service and support teams.  Even if your organization is not in an industry such as travel or healthcare, it’s important to remember that your customers are carrying around an enormous amount of anxiety- or as we’d call it, customer baggage.  They are worried about their financials, their kids’ schools, their job security…the list of BIG STUFF just goes on and on. 

When customers pick up the phone, send an email, or use online chat—how your people are responding makes a big difference.  It’s not enough to be nice.  We need to be making it as easy as possible for our customers to get on with their lives.  Remember, “easy” is in the eye of the beholder, but our reps can heavily influence perception of effort if taught how to do so.  In an ideal world, you have a population of reps prepared to practice all nine skills needed to provide low-effort customer service on a consistent basis.  Short of that…for tips on how to handle these turbulent times, I’ll refer you to a great article we published a couple of months ago about handling viral social media situations.  The same rules apply here:

  1. Practice exceptional active listening
  2. Use positive language
  3. Be an advocate

Taking Care of Your Employees in Times of Upheaval

Now is not the time to hope that your reps “can handle it.”  Now IS the time to be proactive in how you are supporting your teams.  Beyond the corporate communications (that 85% of our survey respondents say have occurred), we need to ensure that our frontlines are prepared.  Two crucial steps (beyond teaching low-effort skills):

Arm your reps with knowledge: If you happen to be in a heavily impacted industry, the best thing you can do for your reps (beyond looking after their safety) is to ensure they have the most up-to-date information possible.  You’ll need to practice with your reps how they will communicate news to your customers too.  I had to call an airline yesterday to cancel (yet another) flight, and when I asked about change fees, the rep said to me “um, hold on…I think they have released another waiver; I’m not sure…let me check.”  That type of language does NOT instill confidence.  It’s understandable to have to look something up given the rapidly changing world, but communicating with confidence goes a long way to helping the customer feel like they are getting the right answer, the first time.  Without practice, there’s a strong chance your reps are not getting this right.

Arm your supervisors with coaching tips: With so many offices closing or encouraging work from home, now is the time to do a gut check on how well your supervisors will be able to coach your frontline remotely.  Here’s a quick summary of tips we’ve been sharing with our clients:

  • All of the basics still apply: Come to coaching conversations prepared with observations—not just data—and some open-ended questions you want to use to aid in self-discovery.
  • Don’t get distracted: Working from home, especially amidst school closures, can be full of distractions.  It won’t be possible to avoid them all, but supervisors should try to remain fully focused on coaching conversations while they are occurring…resist the urge to multi-task just because they can’t see you answering emails!  Using video calls is a good way to hold folks accountable and minimize the multi-tasking.
  • Integrated coaching is still possible: You don’t have to be knee to knee, shoulder to shoulder, or elbow to elbow to practice integrated coaching.  Yes, it may require a little more advanced planning.  You may even want to schedule time for integrated coaching.  The key is that it is still taking place as close to the customer interaction as possible.  Technology enables many different ways to have immediate coaching conversations with your staff, although some can be more disruptive than others.  Worst case scenario is sending an email that doesn’t get read for hours.

The urge to stick our collective heads in the sand right now is strong.  But the companies who will come out stronger on the other side of this crisis are those who are doubling down now on things like staff development.  Use this moment to find new ways to support your staff as they support your customers—it’s a win-win-win situation (your company, your employees, AND your customers all benefit).

Over the next couple of months, we’ll be sharing a wealth of resources on our Effortless Experience Resource Center to help you and your team be effective during this unprecedented time. Resources such as tips and tricks videos, “how-to” tutorials on how to apply low effort skills, virtual summits, virtual roundtables and more! Stay tuned to your email and our social media feeds.

Lauren Pragoff

Lauren Pragoff

Lauren Pragoff is Senior Vice President for the Global Client Success team at Challenger. She leads a team of professionals who are dedicated to demonstrating client impact and ensuring they receive value from Challenger and Effortless Experience products and services. The client success team is focused on anticipating customer needs, providing specific advice to the client, and driving outcomes for the sales and customer service teams we serve. Lauren was also a principal contributor to the 2013 book, The Effortless Experience (Penguin Books).

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