Customer Service and Covid-19 - 8 areas to focus on post-pandemic

Customer Service and Covid-19 - 8 areas to focus on post-pandemic

A few weeks ago the Institute of Customer Service published their latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI). Understandably, the focus was on not only the impact of the pandemic but also what companies and organisations can do to respond. Here’s our take on their advice.

1. Reset business and customer experience objectives.

Covid-19 has clearly turned the world upside down. With so many things out of a company’s control it’s important to focus on what can be done and, most importantly, what your customers are looking for in terms of your products and services. Pressing the reset button doesn’t mean starting again from scratch. Instead, it means asking your customers how they can benefit from what you offer and reacting to their needs. Then re-adjust and communicate your plans. Use your values and ethics as your compass rather than adopting a short-term sales approach.

2. Protect the health and wellbeing of your employees.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) have provided a succinct focus on the question of returning to the workplace i.e. is the return to work:

  • Essential?
  • Sufficiently safe?
  • Mutually agreed?

If each of these questions can be answered positively then all the risk assessments, actions such as hygiene and social distancing will need to be followed for some time to come. If not, then working from home arrangements will need to continue with all the additional effort and changes that are required. Take into account any feelings or conditions that may make employees feel vulnerable.

If you are unsure, seek advice from HR experts. Look for an organisation with CIPD qualified team members.

Don’t overlook the mutually agreed question above. People may often forget what they are told. However, they rarely forget how they are made to feel. This is so important when it comes to employee engagement and how your employees will deal with their customers.

3. Support, develop and empower your employees.

Covid-19 has accelerated the pace of change enormously. The next 4 years of change seem to have been crammed into the past 4 months. Although some employees and customers may welcome this, the vast majority will not.

Make sure that your employees are trained in any new ways of working. Changes in procedures may have meant employees taking on new roles and/or additional responsibilities. New communication channels may have been created whilst others have become outdated. Pay attention to the communication methods that work best for everyone. 

This is a time to listen to employees and ask for their ideas on how customer expectations can at least be met or even exceeded. Recognise and reward those who have stepped up to the challenge that the pandemic has presented, not overlooking that they will have had their own personal challenges to deal with too.

Review your levels of decision making. For example, can employees be mandated to speed up decisions to enable customer demands to be met? Encourage and support those employees who respond positively. Also, identify those who do not feel empowered and their reasons why. 

Wherever you can, look to continue opportunities for personal and professional development. In the context of careers, Covid-19 is a short-term situation to cope with. However, your employees will view their careers as long-term. They will not want their personal and professional development to fall victim of the pandemic.

4. Prioritise the needs of vulnerable customers.

Revisit your customer journey and assess how easy it is (or is not) for your vulnerable customers to deal with your business. This may include giving customers the opportunity to identify themselves as being vulnerable.

Your customer journey review will need to cover all touch-points. For example, what arrangements are in place for click and collect or is home delivery a preferred option? Gather the views of representative groups if needed. For example consult with experts regarding the needs and wants of your vulnerable customers and how these have evolved in the wake of the pandemic.

5. Make sure your customers know how to access services and contact your organisation for help and advice.

This aspect needs to be covered in your customer journey review. As part of your response to Covid-19 your company may well have adapted procedures or created processes to continue trading. Identify and fill any gaps that may exist in how customers can ask for help and advice. Resist any temptations to make assumptions.

Consider reviewing the tone of your communications with your customers. Check to see if the tone is overly familiar or too formal. It’s worth checking on the mood of your employees too as this may well be reflected in their communications (internally and well as externally).

Ask for feedback from your customers on their experiences in dealing with your company since the pandemic. Share the feedback with your employees and ask them for ideas on how standards can be maintained and improved. Responding positively to customer needs during these challenging times will help build customer loyalty for the future.

6. Understand how your customers’ needs are evolving.

Take time to talk with your customers to understand their world and what’s changed and may be changing as they come to terms with their new normal. Call them or hold (virtual) focus groups to understand how their needs have evolved and what the future has in store. Again, avoid making assumptions.
Here are some questions to consider:

  • What are your objectives when dealing with our business?
  • How have you changed the way you use our products and services?
  • How would you prefer to interact with and be contacted by our company?
  • How would you like our company to respond to any changes that you have?
  • How do you rate your customer experience with our company?
  • How do we need to change what we offer in terms of products and the way we deliver our services to meet your needs?

Your customers will value your interest – especially if undertaken personally rather than by a survey. Customers enjoy being made to feel special.

7. Focus on improving service productivity.

No doubt the pandemic means that productivity is already under scrutiny from a cost: income point of view. However, service productivity needs to be included to ensure customer feedback is taken into account.

Here are the key steps to improve service productivity provided by the Institute of Customer Service:

a) Understand why and how customers interact with your organisation:

  • Identify customers’ objectives and the extent to which they are achieved.
  • Measure customers’ perceptions of your quality of service. 
  • Map the customer journey: where employees are spending time and effort; the impact of internal hand-offs and supplier relationships; and the extent of problems, repeat contacts and rework.

b) Identify opportunities to reduce customer effort:

  • Activities that add no value
  • Failures that cause problems or rework.
Activities that take longer than customer expectations to complete.
  • Measures that are misleading or unhelpful.

c) Automate and simplify processes.

d) Harness artificial intelligence, automation and process review to improve efficiency of back office processes and routine customer interactions:

  • Engage and empower employees.
  • Involve employees in service improvement activities
  • Enable employees to spend more time dealing with complex issues or developing relationships that generate enhanced value.

e) Address potential barriers to improving productivity identified by employees:

  • Fairness of pay and incentives.
  • Skills and training
  • Management behaviours.
  • Effectiveness of recruitment.

f) Set measures of productivity that align employee behaviour, organisational capacity and purpose:

  • Transactional efficiency
  • Effectiveness.
Employee engagement
  • Customer perceptions of quality.
  • Customer lifetime value.
  • Organisational purpose outputs.

(source: UKCSI – July 2020)

8. Develop your capacity for innovation and agility.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin.

The pandemic has required all organisations to change and the need adapt. It is fair to say that some have coped better than others. It is also fair to say that the ability to adapt and change going forward will be critical as the impact of Covid-19 fully unfolds.

Developing a culture where change is the norm takes effort and engagement. Although the changes will be driven by your leadership team it is important to engage with your employees too. Look for ideas on how to generate income, achieve savings as well as improving service levels.

Make full use of the customer feedback that you have at your disposal or need to generate. Gain the support of your trusted suppliers and involve them in any idea-generation sessions you hold.

Undertaking a competitor analysis is a good place to start. However, don’t rely on your own genre or business sector. Look for ideas and inspiration from outside your sector. Adapting these ideas and concepts will help create new and original ideas for your own domain.

Re-evaluate your unique selling point and how you offer value to your customers. Keep an eye on your competition to monitor how you compare and how your customers will compare you. Consider any new revenue streams that may be possible by understanding what unmet needs the pandemic has presented for your customers.

Last but by no means least, research and investigate the latest technologies that can improve how you work and how your customers can receive and experience your products and services. Again, look beyond your own business sector to see how other industries are not just surviving but also thriving.

In summary, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world. However, one thing has remained. Customers have needs and these need to be satisfied. Their needs may well have changed as their lives have changed. As a business, it is now our challenge to make sure we adapt and change too. Which, of course,  we will.

Paul Beesley
Director and Senior Consultant, Beyond Theory

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