The Importance of Empathy in Customer Service During the COVID-19 Crisis

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The crisis brought about by COVID-19 has created an unprecedented shift in the way we go about our daily lives. Due to the risk of viral spread, contact centers around the globe have sent employees home to work, while absenteeism rates are at an all-time high due to illness, lack of childcare, and government mandated city shutdowns. Everyone is frantically trying to find a way to navigate this new, hectic environment. Amongst all of the craziness, our industry must not forget the most important thing customer care can offer its consumers is empathy.

Though empathy has always been top of mind for customer experience (CX) professionals, right now it is more important than ever. In an industry built on people and relationships, it is vital to humanize each conversation to understand and build connections with every customer.

Employees should be prepared to serve each customer knowing that whomever they are talking to may be affected in some way by COVID-19. For example, maybe a consumer is calling in to stop automatic payment because they just lost their job, or another consumer is calling to cancel a reservation because they just found out their mother has tested positive for COVID-19. CX professionals must be proactive – listening, thinking and connecting to make sure each interaction makes customers feel supported. Demonstrating empathy has the power to deliver the short-term benefit of satisfying customers in the moment, and the long-term benefit of creating a positive emotional connection that translates to brand loyalty. There is no better form of marketing, than creating a lasting impression of the brand based on a memorable and positive interaction with customer service.

There are many ways those in the customer experience industry can demonstrate empathy that helps relieve stress and calm fears in these trying times.

1. Over communicate. In moments like these, there is no such thing as “over communicating”. Provide critical information proactively, respond to questions and concerns with high empathy, and exercise lots of patience. Make sure all employees are trained properly in empathy to create positive memorable customer experiences.

2. Utilize technology. In the midst of a crisis, long wait times can be detrimental. Implement a call back feature and make sure to update self-help portals. There is also no better time to re-think video customer service as a strategy. Video can help deepen relationships, build trust, and connect on a human level.

3. Create bots for employee and consumer use. HGS has developed three different pandemic bots, one to screen on-site employees with a health questionnaire to help eliminate virus spread, another for employees to use for tech support when working from home and one for customers, which tracks messages for agent callbacks. All of these practical tools can help create a smooth, positive experience for panicked customers.

There isn’t an industry that won’t be impacted by this pandemic. While the travel and hospitality industry may be hit especially hard, all industries are feeling the impact. Retailers are dealing with questions like, “what precautions are you taking in your store to prevent the spread of COVID-19?” Banks are handling questions about loans and healthcare insurance providers are being overwhelmed with COVID-19 claims related needs.
We want every single customer to have a positive experience, and it’s our job during times of fear and anxiety to bring a sense of calm and certainty to something that seems unfixable.

It is moments like these, that people will remember forever. If a customer is treated with empathy and respect and creates an emotional connection with the brand, the company will have created a customer for life.

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