COVID-19 is changing the way we do business and how customers perceive us. Despite many unexpected challenges, the crisis presents a unique opportunity to establish and maintain customer trust and loyalty. The pandemic has disrupted the functioning of companies in almost every industry and country in the world; many have had to reduce their operations or shut down completely to stop the spread of the virus. Traditional crisis management is not designed for this type of emergency, so companies have had to improvise within the parameters set by local authorities. Jorge Zuñiga Blanco, a lifelong entrepreneur and customer service expert, offers tips for how businesses can improve their customer service activity.
In the midst of these great changes, companies are between the sword and the wall, caught between their need to generate business and the requirement to implement social distancing measures that guarantee the safety of their employees and customers. In addition, new and small businesses typically do not have the resources to operate for long periods of time with drastically diminished liquidity. These circumstances make it even more difficult to establish and maintain healthy relationships with customers.
To continue to make a difference with consumers, show your customers that you understand the disturbing circumstances they’re facing. Provide detailed information about the steps you’re taking to protect them and your employees. Arrange to show them that they matter. Use your website, email, social media, and text messages to spread the message.
Show your customers how to continue their business with your company. Explains Zuñiga, “Make sure they know your new schedules, the availability of your products and customer service, the extension of deadlines, online options, etc. Customers will see you with proactive handling and willing to continue and provide the products and services they want and need.”
Set a deadline to review changes in your company’s operations that relate to the crisis. Share with your customers the lessons you learned that will help you better serve them in the future. Let them know if some of the temporary measures taken during the crisis will become permanent measures.
Adds Zuñiga, “Customer service is about to take a giant leap. Companies that were not particularly focused on providing world-class customer service now focus all their energies on providing this service. The pandemic provides a unique opportunity to exceed customer service expectations.”
The first step in improving customer relations during a crisis is to zoom in honestly and empathetically, without trying to market or sell them anything. Just try to focus on helping. States Zuñiga, “Consider deferring or modifying payments, providing free services, and eliminating late fees. This and other acts of good faith will help your clients in the short term. In addition, they will improve your image and help you build positive and lasting relationships that will survive beyond the crisis.”
It is crucial that you do everything you can to be responsive and understand the needs of your customers during these times. Most likely, they feel constantly bombarded with messages from numerous companies so, if you send an email or make a call, make the message as short and effective as possible. Tell customers what you’re doing to support them and ask them how else you can help. Don’t overwhelm them with words that do you more good than them.
Just as you’re being flexible with your customers, ask them to be flexible when you need it. Customers will feel empathy with the companies facing the crisis, as long as they are properly informed. Use your website, emails, phone calls and social media to let them know about schedule, product or service changes and any other pending adjustments.
If nothing is running as usual, customer service won’t work as usual, either. Sticking to standard service policies that precede the pandemic can be more dangerous than the same virus. When it comes to customers, hiding behind confusing policies will worsen a situation that is complicated enough in itself.
This is a good time to encourage future or long-term purchases with discounts. For example, a gym can offer its customers one-year memberships for a reduced price and start as soon as the gym can safely resume operations. Suppliers can improve their contractual terms. Stores can offer discount codes, rewards programs, free shipping, and even contests.
No one knows for sure what will happen to COVID-19. Medical experts and virologists don’t have enough information to answer the most pressing question of the moment: when will the pandemic end? Concludes Zuñiga, “Adaptation and innovation will lead to new business models aimed at those customers whose preferences and expectations have changed because of the situation.”