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The COVID-19 crisis is reminding us of a business fundamental – communicating with consistency, clarity, and empathy is essential for a positive customer experience. While the unknown is making many customers understandably anxious, we are finding that fear and a shortage of facts are leading some company representatives to communicate inconsistent or inappropriate messaging. A few recent encounters impressed upon me the importance of getting the messaging right in these unprecedented times.

Recently I overheard a receptionist at an assisted living facility explaining to a caller (likely a resident’s family) that she didn’t know why the facility had suddenly banned visitation, and there was nobody she could ask. As she offered her own worrisome opinion, my heart ached for the caller. That conversation surely created a lack of confidence and trust. However, I also couldn’t help thinking that the receptionist was in a very difficult position. Her management had failed to prepare her with accurate information and had left her to “wing it”. She could have easily calmed this caller’s fears with truthful and straightforward information: “We are limiting visitation to keep our residents safe.”

Shortly thereafter, I called my dentist’s office about an upcoming appointment, and was struck by the contrast in the preparedness and professionalism of this receptionist. The office team had obviously anticipated the questions that might be asked, and she was ready with appropriate responses designed to convey confidence and trust. After clearly and convincingly explaining the steps the office is taking to ensure patient safety, she offered to reschedule if I preferred. She made the interaction easy, emphasizing how important it was for me to feel comfortable – this is exactly what we all need right now.

As our environment is fluidly changing, how prepared is your customer service team?

During a Crisis, Convey these Key Messages to Customers:

  1. We remain focused on our customers’ needs.
  2. Our customers can be confident in the steps we are taking to keep them safe.
  3. We understand our customers’ concerns and are here to serve, reassure, and support them.

Prepare Your Customer Service Team to Deliver – Here is What You SHOULD Do:

  • Communicate business-appropriate messaging. Focus on the customer, the reason they called, and how to efficiently meet their needs. Explain how changes to your services may impact the customer and acknowledge feelings.
  • Convey trust and truth. Speak with confidence, patience, and positivity to provide immediate reassurance and eliminate uncertainty where possible.
  • Proactively manage customer expectations. Talk about what we can do and are doing; not what we can’t do. Assure customers that you are committed to service continuity and to safely meeting their needs. In a time where personal interaction is restricted, some people will want to talk strictly for human-to-human engagement. Be compassionate
  • Pay attention to the order of messaging. It should always be customer needs first and company processes second.
  • Anticipate the questions customers will ask. Provide staff with accurate information, talking points, and caring, well-thought-out answers . Word choices must be appropriate, confident, and reinforce that the business offers stability and is here to serve. Encourage staff to focus on the affirmative messaging and not let the conversation stray.
  • Make sure an appropriate escalation process is in place. A supervisor/support should be available for customers who need assurances beyond what the staff is prepared for.
  • Anticipate that staffing is going to be a challenge. Be ready to quickly adjust to changing contact patterns (chat, email, phone) with needed staffing. Some businesses are receiving higher than normal contact, so be sure to support all channels and be prepared to address wait times with customers.

Beware of Experience Detractors – Here is What Your Customer Service Team SHOULD NOT Do:

  • Don’t over-share and/or express personal opinions to customers.
  • Don’t repeat “news” or communicate unsubstantiated and irrelevant facts. Misinformation can be very dangerous and damaging to the company’s reputation.
  • Avoid reinforcing concerns or worry. Empathy is expected – creating additional alarm or stress won’t help anyone.
  • Don’t offer services/products that are inappropriate during the crisis (i.e. vacation packages ). These marketing campaigns (especially outbound calls) will be viewed as insensitive and lead to future business loss.

In uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to make customers feel confident in the information you provide. Communicating with thoughtful, accurate messaging is the best way to build trust and provide the support your customers and our communities need right now.

Are you struggling to meet service needs? Working through the challenges of meeting customer needs? The Northridge Group is focused on the health and safety of our clients, staff, and associates, and we are ready and prepared to immediately serve our clients’ needs. Contact us if we can be of assistance.

For more helpful insights, check out our Best Practices Guide for effectively enabling your service organization to work from home.