Double Down on Empathy! 5 Tips for CX Success in Times of Crisis


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In CX, the mission is always the same. It’s the tactics that change.

That’s a good mantra for any CX professional today. With the coronavirus changing our way of life and our way of work, it’s changing our CX tactics, too. I’ve seen some companies respond in exactly the right way—promptly, empathetically. Others, not so much.

Sometimes all it takes is a simple gesture. For example, when I travel, I use the free Nike Training Club app so I can exercise in my hotel room. The app has a premium level that you pay for, but I make it a practice never to pay for mobile apps if I can get the basics for free. Nike has changed my mind on this philosophy.

As the pandemic spread in the U.S., Nike opened the premium level to all their subscribers because so many people are working from home. My response? When the COVID-19 crisis is over, I’ll probably buy the premium level, even though I’ll go back to the gym, too. Nike’s gesture makes me feel good about the company. I want to stay loyal.

The B2B technology company for which I work has different concerns during this challenging time. Customer outreach isn’t as simple as offering a free upgrade on a mobile app. But there is one thing we have in common with Nike: We are working to show empathy to our customers. Here are five tips that are guiding our CX efforts.

1. Keep listening.

We rely on our customer advisory board to keep us abreast of customer concerns. They have been a huge asset for us during this time. We’re making a point to contact each one of them the old-school way—on the telephone—to make sure they are OK and to see if there are any challenges we can help with. We also ask if they are apprehensive about any new challenges coming down the line.

It’s probably not a good time to ask your customers to take a survey when they are coping with setting up a remote workforce, responding to their customers and personally trying to manage the changes in their lives. Nonetheless, we depend on our customers’ feedback and can’t shut the door on it completely.

Like all communications our survey invitations required a review for relevance and empathy. The old way of sending surveys with an invitation that starts with “Your feedback is important to us …” was revised to a more digitally empathetic view. Today, we open our feedback requests by acknowledging that it is a difficult time for all, that we hope everyone is doing well and that we are still here—ready to listen and respond to their comments. We also invite them to respond personally if there is anything they need. And to respect our customers when they are dealing with so many other events, we’ve eliminated survey reminders that can be viewed as annoying at times like these.

2. Address the crisis head-on.

Within VerintConnect, our online customer community, we’ve set up a special COVID-19 section with materials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on such topics as workplace preparation and managing the impact of the coronavirus. We’ve also added our resources to the COVID-19 section—a podcast on managing stress and uncertainty and a webinar on how our customers can respond to the crisis. We’ll be building this library with more podcasts and webinars in the coming weeks.

In addition, our online community for customer advocates—a site that typically offers opportunities for speaking engagements, media interviews and conversations with prospects considering our solutions—has become a good place for our most loyal customers to commiserate with one another about the crisis.

We asked our customer advocates: “How are you keeping busy and not stressing during these unprecedented times?” The responses poured in with a wide range of coping suggestions—from shaving and dressing every morning as if preparing for a day at the office to virtual yoga classes to a humorous glimpse into a most impressive gin collection. Laughter is necessary these days, too!

3. Partner with HR for employee updates.

Employee engagement is even more critical to customer satisfaction during a crisis. And, while employees are taking good care of customers, they need to know that the organization is looking after them. If they aren’t already doing so, encourage your Human Resources (HR) teams to send regular updates on such topics as self-care and safety tips for home and family.

Also effective are reminders of the resources employees have if they become overwhelmed or have difficulty coping. So is a thank you from HR for the work employees do each day. The bottom line? This is a time to take extra steps to be kind to one another.

Maybe your HR team will have good news to share, too, as our HR team did recently, announcing the extension of the carryover date for 2019 PTO from March 31 to July 31, 2020. It was another good way to up the empathy factor! 

Videoconferencing is also a great resource during times like these. We’ve probably all been using some type of video conferencing app since social distancing began; I can’t recommend it enough to keep employees and work teams engaged while they’re working from home. You can go formal, holding group meetings following a standard agenda. Or go informal with a Friday happy hour and an invitation to Bring Your Own Beverage. The key is to use your creativity to let your employees know they might be isolated but aren’t alone.

4. Anticipate what your customers need next.

In recent weeks, we have seen a 10% reduction in traffic to our customer online community. We suspect that our customers are focused on urgent needs right now and, as they get those under control, will be coming back to the community for more resources. While traffic is low, it’s giving us a chance to anticipate what customers will need when they rejoin us. It’s not easy since we haven’t been through this before!

What helps is acknowledging that, like the stages of grief, every crisis has its phases—Disruption, Exploration, and Rebuilding. I’m using these stages to list possible customer needs and develop a plan for communicating appropriately with them at every phase. And we’re brainstorming to determine what information or resources would be helpful to customers as they go through each phase.

For example, in the Rebuilding phase, moving employees back into the workplace might be even more challenging than moving them out. We’re looking to provide resources to our customers that will help them best determine how to resume regular operations in a safe workplace once the crisis is over.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to get my hands on all the resources I can. One guide by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called “Psychology of a Crisis” is geared toward healthcare professionals, but it makes some points that are of value to all of us who have responsibility for communicating with customers.

The guide encourages organizations to be aware that people are overloaded with information during a crisis, so communications should be simple, consistent and easy to understand. Speed, repetition and an emphasis on positive action are a must. The timeliness of the information is critical for preventing rumors and reducing harm.

5. Know that customer advocacy is a long-term strategy.

Recently, we’ve consulted our customer journey map to see which areas might require new approaches today. Can contract negotiations and signings be handled virtually? How can we resolve an issue remotely rather than sending our services team on site? Can training sessions be set up in online classrooms?

I’m grateful that the map is available to guide us. It’s delivering new value that I never expected when we began developing it several years ago. There’s a lesson there for me. I believe the companies that have already “worked their CX muscles” and understand their customers through exercises like journey mapping will probably weather this crisis more easily. Those that haven’t are showing it now by either appearing tone-deaf or reaching out in awkward ways with social media posts or press releases that are out of touch with their customers’ needs.

The revisit to the journey map also has me thinking about self-service channels. While our company develops solutions that help organizations ease contact center burdens by offering voice and digital self-service, we are also advising our customers to review the voice they have given their Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs), chatbots and other digital tools to be sure it aligns with today’s new crisis awareness tone.

Coping with the crisis is hard work, but it’s worth the effort to help our customers and our company get through this crisis—and come back stronger than ever.

Nancy Porte
Nancy Porte is the Vice-Chair for the Board of Directors of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). Previously, as Vice President of Global Customer Experience for Verint and with a background in operations management, her passion is developing differentiated customer experiences through cross-functional collaboration and employee engagement. She is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) and frequent speaker at industry conferences.


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