Reopening customer service: some considerations

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by Jason Treat, National Geographic staff, in “Park and Others, Emerging Infectious Diseases, 2020”

As the world continues to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, a new chapter is underway. With new cases slowing and in decline, many countries around the world are taking the next step: to reopen. Now begins the process of charting the course to safely resume pre-pandemic recreational and economic activities. In Europe, many countries are determining their own approaches. China, having been the first to suffer the virus’ effects, is further along the path–in fact, Disneyland Shanghai will be open soon. Meanwhile, here in the United States, the federal government and individual states have laid out phased approaches to resuming regular life.

This means businesses previously deemed non-essential will also be opening up. Some companies have already revealed their plans, basing them on public health experts and think tank recommendations. All of these ideas will help guide individual companies’ resumption back to some semblance of normal operations. Some business functions might have an easier time of this than others; among those requiring the smoothest transition, customer service should be at the top of the list.

On the employee side…

First and foremost, companies must ensure a safe environment to return to. For the foreseeable future, surface areas will require regular sanitizing. Social distancing in common areas will be the norm. Open spaces will likely be eliminated; the image above depicts an office in Seoul, South Korea, where close seating proximity and lack of barriers are considered the primary culprit for 43.5 percent of workers on one floor of a call center having tested positive for COVID-19. (Understandable, given the range of a cough and its lingering effects.) A recent Harvard Business Review put it this way: the healthy building is the new minimum standard.

When this all began, many companies successfully moved agents along with their customer service tools home. In most cases, there was minimal disruption and customer service continued. If this has proven to be successful with little impact on service, it raises the question if more agents would prefer to continue working from home. This would also make it easier to have a rotating schedule that brings fewer agents back into the office. Such an approach would provide ample distance between staff in more tightly-packed settings until a more permanent solution was made available.

An important element of all this is employees’ state of mind–not limited to customer service agents, but across the company. Leadership should check-in with staff to determine how comfortable they are in returning to the office. The plan and timelines should be open for review and comment. The bottom line is to keep all employees informed, enhance their safety, and ensure the greatest peace of mind as business resumes.

On the customer side…

As with agents, transparency with customers is important. Even the best plan has the chance of going awry. Setting expectations with customers goes a long way in maintaining their trust and understanding. Consider sharing the following:

  • Elements of the plan to return to the office and the timeline
  • Any potential disruptions that may occur
  • Any policy changes
  • The ongoing availability of self-service options

Proactively share these details as well as updates in email and on the customer service website. Customers are less likely to be frustrated if they know about things in advance.

The path forward

We are living in a period of uncertainty. There is no playbook for this, and the decisions aren’t easy.

As a result, some companies have understandably decided to delay the return of staff until 2021, allowing more time for the creation of a vaccine and other safety measures to be determined. On the flip side, there are already some examples of businesses that have successfully brought employees back to the office and other companies will monitor their progress closely. With time, more lessons will be learned as companies around the world cautiously return and science discovers more about the virus and develops effective means of combating it.

Company, employee, or customer–for all of us, these are extraordinary times and we’re all in it together. Stay strong.

Paul Selby
I am a product marketing consultant for Aventi Group. Aventi Group is the first product marketing agency solely dedicated to high-tech clients. We’re here to supplement your team and bring our expertise to bear on your top priorities, so you achieve high-quality results, fast.

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