Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, as a working mother of three young kids, every minute during the week is accounted for in some way, shape or form. Now, with everyone at home, I’m finding it even more imperative to manage time and energy. Multi-tasking takes on a whole new level, like, I can jump onto the start of a conference call on mute, while spreading jelly on toast and simultaneously kicking dropped dirty socks (why are there always dirty socks??) toward the laundry room. But even when things are clicking at work and home, when I stop to take a pulse on my own emotional state, I recognize new stresses, anxieties and tensions tied to the pandemic that come in waves. As the Director of a Client Service team, my team and the customers we support are all human and are managing their own challenges and emotions. We no longer have the clean lines between work and home, and our emotions and tensions from one, run into the other.
In particular today, I recognized my own heightened angst while I listened to over 43 minutes of hold music from my internet provider, glanced at my virtual spot in line to interact with an agent in a Microsoft chat window, and felt suddenly inspired to jot down thoughts about service. How do we enhance our customers’ experiences during trying times? How do we equip our own teams to deliver this experience?
- Humanize everyone. When calling into a support or service function, emotions and tensions are generally high. We don’t know what people are going through on a personal or professional level, especially during the pandemic. Remember the human on the other side of the line. Choose your words and intonation carefully, especially if your service is over the phone. Without visual cues, we lose body language and posture to paint the full picture, and customers might be more stressed or sensitive than usual. Be aware of your own feelings and read those of your customer. Similarly, leadership must continue to invest in the health and well-being of the service team. Working with stressed out customers increases the stress levels of employees.
- Build relationships. Be intentional about building relationships, reach out proactively just to see how your customers are doing. A personal touch goes an even longer way when people are feeling isolated and alone. Provide face to face experiences where possible, even if over video. Use light humor where appropriate to build rapport. We can all use a laugh. Consider adding additional faces and voices from your organization to your regular service calls to deepen and broaden relationships.
- Be consistent. The world has many unknowns, make sure your service and what customers can expect from you isn’t one of them. Be critical of the experience you and your team are delivering. Treat existing customers as well as or better than new customers. Don’t get comfortable and let service slide with time. During the pandemic, your customer base might not be increasing, and organic growth from existing customers is critical.
- Work to understand, not to be understood. Don’t just hear them out, decide to engage in active listening. Never interrupt. Be patient and show them that you have time for them. Listen for the bigger picture, what do they need that they aren’t saying?
- Be flexible. Leaders must think about how to sustain the business long term in a way that is best not just for your business, but for your customers. Think about ways you can be flexible- i.e. deadlines, extensions for obsolete products/services, free trials, pilot extensions, payment terms- and then enable your service teams to react and offer flexibility when and how customers need it. In this economic environment, we can’t just be looking at maintaining a balance sheet and returning a profit. Service teams must be a voice within your organization to make sure that decisions aren’t reactive and negatively impact the customer journey.
- Prioritize safety and adapt. How can you deliver your services in a way that keeps your customers and your employees safe, but still meets expectations? Remote installation support, virtual demos, and videos are just the beginning. Impress your customers with your company’s agility and ability to adapt.
None of us could have predicted the situation we are in now, but we hope that we can all look back and be proud of how we handled it- even with a few extra dirty socks around. More than ever, businesses need to take care of their employees, so that employees can serve and support customers the way they need to be served and supported. As Maya Angelou said, “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”