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How to Adapt Your Customer Service When Crisis Strikes

By Eric Schurke
May 8, 2020 4:00 AM PT
excellent customer service can help a business to survive a crisis

Customer service doesn't have to suffer while your company goes through a difficult transition. In fact, 78 percent of consumers said they stopped doing business with a company because of poor customer service. Now is the time to show your most valuable buyers how you'll keep them informed, updated and respected throughout this crisis.

While your business may be facing a switch to remote work or a drawdown in services, you can maintain top-quality customer service by adapting your practices to the moment. Here are a few key tips to get you started.

Keep the Team Up-to-Date

In a rapidly evolving situation like the current pandemic, you don't have the time to send out a new missive to employees nearly every day. At the same time, your staff needs to be updated and on board with any new developments within your company.

Having a central document available company-wide decreases the amount of time spent on making announcements while keeping everyone updated simultaneously. This document should be accessible online and updated regularly with any new changes. Think of it as your company's internal crisis management manifesto -- something you can point to when questions or concerns arise.

Don't think of this "source of truth" document as the be-all and end-all for your crisis communication. It's more like an internal resource you can point to and continuously update. Make sure it's circulated via email and internal communications tools, and pin it on Slack so people know where to find it.

When major updates occur, send a company wide email that both alerts employees to the new information and creates an avenue for any concerned party to discuss their thoughts with you or another manager.

If employees offer suggestions, use that as an opportunity both to revise your internal communications and implement their ideas simultaneously, doubling your efforts at keeping the team connected, particularly when you shift to telecommuting.

Double-Down on Customer Relations

It takes just one instance of poor customer service to lose a customer: Thirty-three percent of consumers have reported dropping a business after having an unpleasant experience with customer support. You simply can't afford to lose any customers in a period of crisis. They're the ones who will carry you through these difficult times.

External communications like email updates can assure customers that you're doing your best to operate as usual. When the customer needs to get in touch with you, however, are you sure you're up to the task? Times of crisis can bring in a larger volume of phone calls and support tickets due to consumer uncertainty and large-scale changes in the way we work, live and shop. You may not expect a surge, but you need to be prepared.

Investing in customer support staff may sound counterintuitive if you're trying to scale back operations. However, it's one of the surest ways to keep customers satisfied and on board for the long term. Next to email, phone calls remain the most popular channel for customer service complaints and queries. Having more staff on hand to address issues is a surefire way to retain and perhaps even grow your customer base.

There may be an opportunity for your company to engage in some customer service retraining as well. Start by assessing your knowledge base as it was last year compared to now. Is any information lacking?

Aside from queries about any new features and services you may have rolled out, keep in mind the kinds of questions your customers may be asking in response to the pandemic. A new FAQ may be a solid starting point as you work to revamp your approach to allaying customer concerns.

Reassess Social Media

It's estimated that 90 percent of companies currently use social media strategies for marketing, recruiting and communications. Yet a cursory glance at local businesses, and even your competitors, shows there's still a great deal of work to be done.

Far too many businesses run social media accounts that are updated infrequently and are entirely promotional, mismanaged or just plain ineffective. By simply having a Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook account, some managers and executives think they're already in front of all potential customers. Without proper social media management, this simply cannot be the case.

You don't need an entire department running your social media. While a well-managed account benefits from experience, there are plenty of popular business accounts run by small or one-person teams. If you or one of your employees experience a reduction in workload, now might be the time to put some of your working hours toward amping up your social media strategy.

Social media has a number of noted benefits. Any leads you generate from social media are particularly lucrative because they can be run at little cost. You also have the chance to expand your reach and engage in conversations relevant to your industry, establishing yourself as a thought leader within a given vertical.

Yet there's another strong advantage any company would be unwise to overlook at the moment. Tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn blogs, and even YouTube videos can be produced swiftly, allowing you to respond to events almost instantaneously.

While announcements should be vetted by the proper internal staff, the chance to get your message out quickly on a major platform establishes your reputation as a company that defaults toward action.

You don't want to leave your customers, clients and partners questioning how you're handling this crisis. By taking a new look at your social media accounts, with an eye toward how they can help amplify and create your message, you gain a powerful tool for your crisis communications strategy.

Reach Out to New and Old Acquaintances

Thus far, 2020 has been defined by layoffs, furloughs and slowdowns for nearly every business. More than any time in recent history, workers at all levels are experiencing a new availability of free time that is foreign to those of us accustomed to a 9-to-5 grind.

Even those of us fortunate enough to continue working throughout this pandemic are reevaluating which of our tasks and duties are most important. You may find you now need insights and ideas that weren't even under consideration as recently as last year. The fact that these shifts are happening in the midst of a recession does not make change any easier.

This is the moment to reconnect with business acquaintances you've lost touch with over the past months or years. There's a great deal of potential in reaching out. You may find a great prospect willing to freelance or even work as part of a skill exchange.

If your internal team doesn't have the time or skills to boost your social media presence as suggested above, then finding someone outside of the company could be worth your while.

These messages don't have to be explicitly about business. Just touching base to let someone know you're available to talk (or listen) is enough to keep your business on their radar. It goes without saying that more changes are certainly on the horizon, most of which we can't predict as fully as we'd like. Keeping close contact with others creates a wider network to share potentially game-changing information.

We're long past the days of the rolodex, so try reaching out via LinkedIn to start creating a new network of allies. Don't overlook the phone call as well. If you have someone's number, a quick call to check up can be worth more than dozens of emails. It's all about knowing your contact and making an effort to stay connected in a time of social distancing.

Prepare, Don't Panic

Companies across the globe are searching for answers. Some are looking to the 2008 recession as a historical example, while others are going as far back as the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic for guidance. The moment we're living in is largely without precedent.

You can view this moment as an opportunity to grow, particularly if you expect your competitors to recede. Alternatively, this may be a moment for reflection within your company -- a chance to focus on values and return to your mission statement to reassess your 2020 plan. In either case, taking action now is the proper step. You don't want to get swept away in the currents of change.

Steady leadership and firm guidance will act as a balm to your employees' nerves. Your customers will appreciate being kept in the loop regarding any changes, and they may take a renewed interest in your business in response to dynamic new practices. Just ensure that your communication strategy keeps every interested party in the loop. A lack of information will cause concerns.

With the right plans in mind, tailored to your industry, you can weather the storm and find opportunities to create new partnerships and drive sales. You may find your marketing strategy evolves alongside this shift, but that's OK too -- just make sure everyone is kept apprised of every major change.

By adapting to change, your customer service department will do more than stay the course. It will thrive in response to your guidance.


Eric Schurke is VP Operations at VoiceNation.


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Which technology has the strongest positive or negative impact on race relations?
Smartphone cameras, by holding people accountable.
Twitter, by reporting news as it happens.
Facebook, by providing a platform for discussing the issues.
YouTube, by exposing viewers to other cultures.
Twitter, by fueling antagonisms.
Facebook, by spreading fake news.
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