We are living in both challenging and unusual times.
Many firms are struggling to stay afloat. Some are having to close their doors (hopefully only) temporarily. Meanwhile, others are working hard to look after the health and well-being of their workers as they continue their regular operations while others are transitioning to remote working wherever possible.
All the time customers still need products and services, and they still need help when things go wrong.
This is causing unprecedented levels of demand and pressure on service teams which is being exacerbated by lots of panic-buying, hoarding, fear and anxiety.
However, to be able to best respond to this crisis, a better version of service as usual is just not going to cut it.
If we are going to get through this, then we need to start thinking about service as unusual.
That requires two things.
First, companies need to exert extra efforts to appreciate what their customers may be going through, how anxious and frightened they may be and the various stresses and strains that they may be under when they ask for help.
Jim Katzman, principal of CX strategy & enablement at InMoment, believes that to do that we must:
- Keep listening to customers. The world hasn’t stopped. Customers still need products and services, so don’t turn off your listening programs. Customers’ feedback is more important than ever right now.
- Be flexible. In times like these, it’s important for brands to be flexible rather than follow hard-and-fast procedures when it comes to service-level agreements and expectations.
- Customers first, not profits. Companies shouldn’t focus solely on profits, particularly short-term profits, right now. Instead, they should focus on the medium-term, long-term and lifetime value of their customers. How? By proving to customers that they care about them and what matters to them.
However, Dr Simon Moore, Chartered Psychologist and CEO of Innovationbubble, cautions that companies shouldn’t assume that they will or can completely understand why customers are behaving the way that they are and that they can accurately fix or respond to the situation.
I think that Katzman and Moore are right, but I also believe we need to go further.
I believe that while we need to empathise as much as possible with our customers, be flexible and customer-focused. But ultimately, we need to focus on doing our jobs to the best of our ability.
This will be helped by communicating more, more frequently and with openness and honesty, particularly around things like availability, stock levels, waiting times, arrival times, when things will be fixed or when someone’s call or email will be answered.
Customers may not like the answers they get, but they do understand that systems are under strain and will understand if things are explained to them.
What they won’t understand and will get frustrated with is if no or very little information about what is going on is provided.
All of this will require lots of extra effort, patience and resilience on the part of support and service teams. However, it will also need a great deal of stamina, as this situation is set to persist for some time.
That may be particularly difficult when we, the service community, may ourselves be fearful, anxious about our health or the future of our businesses.
But, as a service and support community, that is our challenge.
That is the first part.
The second part of service as unusual is that we must ask our customers to play their part.
Why? Because companies and brands will not be able to do this alone. To be successful and to keep providing service to customers, they will need the help of their customers, clients and consumers.
Now, we are all customers in some way shape or form and, as such, we need to remember and remind others that those that are trying to serve and help us may also be fearful, anxious and going through their own struggles.
I know that when feeling fearful and anxious, it is hard to manage our own behaviour and be mindful of others. But that is our challenge.
With a little bit of responsibility, mindfulness, kindness, compassion and consideration on both sides and we can and will go far.
We will get through this. But it has to be together.