Crisis. It’s something we hope never happens, but as business owners and leaders, we know we must prepare for them. As COVID-19 spreads worldwide, everything is changing. Business hours. Meeting schedules. Every day-to-day business function has to change. Including how we provide customer service in a crisis.
When it comes to customer service, those that can adapt quickly, and in the right way, are more likely to weather a crisis. Whether it’s a crisis you can prepare for before it impacts your business – like a snowstorm that shuts down transportation – or something as unexpected as a pandemic, having a game plan to kick off your crisis
Best Practice: Employees
How are Your Employees Impacted in the Crisis?
Your employees are the backbone of your company. Without them, you cease being able to operate. When planning for a crisis, ask yourself, “How will my employees be impacted?” Be as honest as possible with this list. Write down your list as an owner or leader. Then ask employees for their list. The more honest and realistic you are with how everyone is impacted the better off you will be when developing a customer serve plan during a crisis.
Here are a few general questions to ask, but make sure you included ones for your specific situation and business:
- Will the employees’ ability to work as scheduled be impacted?
- Will the crisis cause emotional distress?
- Will additional employees need to be available? Will less?
- Will benefits and pay still be available as planned and on the same schedule?
- What communication will my employees need?
Will employees need additional resources for themselves and their families
Best Practice: Customers
How is Your Customer Impacted in a Crisis?
The entire reason your business exists is to support your customers. If you don’t consider their impact in a crisis, you’re already on a downhill slide that your business may not recover from. Follow the same process you used for employees. Write a list of how your customers will be impacted, and then ask your actual customers. Pull together a focus group of your customers to get their reaction to different scenarios. If you’re already in crisis, reach out to your loyal customers and get their reaction. In a pinch, you can send a survey to your customer email list. There are great free survey tools like Survey Monkey and Mail Chimp that you can utilize. It’s essential to ensure you have some understanding of how your customers will be impacted so you can develop a realistic action plan for your customer service in a crisis.
Once you have a good understanding of how your employees and customers will be impacted, it’s time to address each with a solution. Remember, people are fairly adaptable and understanding in a crisis. Technology, not so much. Make sure you think about how you can still serve your customers and what technology barriers you may have to overcome.
Layout your plan for 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, etc. so you can plan for when and how to communicate to your customers. And remember, keep things flexible and revisit your plan often. If there is one guarantee in a crisis and it’s that things will constantly change, and you need to be prepared to adapt.
Best Practice: Technology
How Can Your Technology Be Adapted in a Crisis?
Your employees are ready. You’ve thought through the options to care for your customers. Is your technology ready?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, no one would have thought we would have to adapt our customer service models for stores and restaurants to be closed to customers on a mass scale. Suddenly, stores and restaurants with limited or no online or phone shopping had to adapt quickly to provide their customers’ service. Stores found innovative ways to sell product over the phone by showcasing it physically on their social media platforms. And their customers embraced this new way of shopping and supporting their favorite brands.
Adapting is key to developing a plan for customer service in a crisis. Walk through all your technology changes in your plan. Can your website handle strictly online shopping? Will your customer service team need to work from home? Do you have the right technology in place?
Your employees and your customers will be adaptable and supportive in a crisis. Find the best solutions for your employees and your customers, and they will more than likely support you and your business. Overly communicate the solutions to both your employees and your customers so they understand your plan and can support you along the way.
About the Author - Joel Sylvester
Joel’s career spans hundreds of companies and helping each enhance their customer experience. He has recruited, trained, and coached award-winning customer services teams across the globe in industries spanning retail, finance, product support, healthcare, hospitality and more. Today, Joel serves as partner and chief sales and marketing officer for Five Star Call Centers, an outsourcing call center with five locations based in the Midwest.