How customer service teams can look after customers during Covid-19

No one imagined the world would be struck with a pandemic in 2020. Coronavirus (Covid-19) has, without a doubt, changed the world as we know it. It’s tragic, devastating and scary. We may never go back to ‘normal’, and for now a new normal is asserting itself.

Until a universal vaccine exists, and enough people have been administered it safely, social distancing and working from home (WFH) is likely to remain the norm across many countries and regions. Even when lockdown/quarantine restrictions are eased, companies and individuals might prefer, for safety, to continue working from home.

Before this, customer services were almost always managed within offices. Usually call or contact centers (customer telephony), which usually sits alongside web-based chat services that are an equally important customer contact channel. Now all of these functions are being managed remotely.

Customer service team members and managers are working from home. How does this change how this operational function is delivered? And how can managers support team members remotely, especially on difficult calls?

What customer service teams need to adjust around

Almost every customer service team around the world is probably still working from home. Remote working is likely to stay as the new norm for the moment and immediate future. Even when lockdown/quarantine restrictions are lifted, many companies may prefer for safety to keep staff working from home, at least until a safe universal vaccine is developed.

For now, and the foreseeable future, working remotely is the norm.

Temporary adaptations need to become permanent, even when lockdown/quarantine restrictions ease. Unless companies can find safe ways to have more staff in an office; and even so, that might mean a percentage of the team work from home (such as those who are more at risk, or don’t feel safe working around large numbers of people for now).

Even with these adjustments, companies need to deliver the same level and quality of customer service. Now more than ever, providing excellent service is mission critical. If your customers find a reason to leave now, they may never come back. Brands need to retain every customer they can, encouraging loyalty and keeping churn to a minimum.

Customers also need excellent service from providers and brands. Many may need some extra help right now, such as payment breaks, or small reductions in bills to help them through a more difficult time. Brands therefore need to address these needs, and that means providing excellent service, even with teams running with fewer staff able to field calls.

How customer service teams can adapt

#1: Managing customer expectations

In the early days of this, customers across the world soon adapted to the fact that we’re all in this together. No one could expect the same level of service, such as calls being answered, quickly when we were suddenly very far from ‘business as usual.’

And even in the weeks and months ahead, business as usual is a long way off. However, as companies have adapted, customer expectations are re-adjusting to this new normal, and returning to something akin to a pre-Covid state of mind. Contact center wait times have reduced.

Call volumes have gone down. People aren’t panicking and needing as much help as urgently, as everyone has largely adjusted to new ‘normal’ circumstances. Managing customer expectations is still important. It needs to be made clear that companies have adapted, and are working hard to provide the best possible service, but they might not get responses as quickly.

Providing that is done with sensitivity and openness, then customers should be happy with the service provided.

#2: Managing demand

Along similar lines to above; managing demand is key to providing excellent service.

When call volumes are higher, make sure customers know where and how they can get alternative support. Maybe they can find out what they need by creating online accounts. Or perhaps the web-chat team is equally equipped to handle their query. Or hopefully a self-service section of the website can give them the answer they need.

Managing demand is as much about planning and adjusting to call volumes as providing alternative means of support. You can only do what’s possible with the teams and resources available. If call volumes are too high, these alternative layers of service should be able to handle the excess demand.

Continue to be open and transparent with customers. Now is not the time to spin or hide the truth. Be honest, say why you’re not able to answer calls as quickly, and trust the majority of customers to be kind and understanding during these difficult times.

#3: Managing virtual teams

Now the main challenge, for customer service managers, is looking after their teams.

Very few have experience doing this remotely.

Make sure you’ve got apps and tools in-place to stay in real-time communication with everyone. Try not to micromanage. But at the same time, make sure everyone is on the same page and feels well supported.

What about support managers, and senior agents who can take over difficult calls?

Work with IT to ensure there are ways for agents to transfer calls to more senior agents who can handle difficult calls more effectively. The last thing you want is for agents to feel unsupported when it’s more challenging to cope with customer demands.

Empower your front-line agents. Give them the tools and authority required to make more decisions and support customers more effectively.

#4: Providing the right support for agents

And finally, we need to remember that these really are unprecedented times.

Mental health in the workspace has become more of an important issue in recent years. Companies are realizing they need to look after employees. Now more than ever, managers need to check-in and ask how everyone is doing.

Give people time and space when they need it. Ensure they’ve got the right support from family and friends. Customer service managers need to play more of a proactive role, and at present, not overload anyone with too much pressure to achieve KPIs that were in-place before this. Right now, everyone is doing the best they can under the circumstances, and customer service managers need to be supportive throughout this.