While scientists and medical professionals are working to research COVID-19 and help the sick, companies around the world are struggling to cope with massive disruptions in their supply chains, production systems, and ability to serve their customers.
For customer service representatives in many industries, a global crisis like coronavirus means a sudden surge in customer requests for information – and cancellations and refunds from people who are often afraid, angry and very stressed.
Maintaining quality service under these conditions is not easy. We have put together some crisis communication tips to help your team deliver the best possible service without burning out or lowering standards.
Gather all the information you need
Gathering information is the first step to effectively managing your support queues and customer communications in a crisis like COVID-19. The details vary depending on the situation, but here are some questions:
- Who are your policies and decision makers? Determine who is responsible for deciding your company’s official response to the crisis. They are the people who can review and sign your contingency plan.
- Who best understands the likely impact on your business and your customers? Identify the stakeholders and experts in the areas concerned (e.g. shipping, finance, transport). You will inform your customer communication.
- When should you expect updated information? It can be difficult to predict, but ask the people you identified in # 1 and # 2 above for their best guess when they know more so that you can best plan your customer-centric communication.
- What are the relevant guidelines and will they change? Do you have up-to-date guidelines on cancellation times, refunds, credits or rain checks? Will these guidelines change during the crisis? Ask your decision-makers and experts about their contributions and make sure that everyone understands the final regulation.
- What are the key dates customers should know? By sharing relevant data with your customers, you can strengthen their trust and patience. For example, give them a date by which to cancel to receive a refund, or the date on which you decide whether to host an event.
When you have gathered all the information, you can rely more reliably on your crisis planning in customer service. The next step is to equip your team with the tools they need to succeed.
Prepare your team
In the early stages of a crisis, it can be difficult for your frontline staff to understand what is happening and how to respond. As soon as possible, one or more people have to come out of the queue to provide the rest of the team with solid information and support.
1. Create an internal document “Source of Truth”
Select a single location that all relevant people in the company can access, e.g. B. an intranet or an internal knowledge database. It should be a page that is easy to update (and possibly one with a version history built in for reference).
On this page, provide any important information you have collected, such as:
- Detailed information on the current effects of the crisis on your company
- List of responsible decision-makers
- Record of customer decisions made so far, e.g. B. Refund Policy
- Show where to find a suitable and approved language for speaking to customers
- Set expectations when the information will be updated
Share this page with every customer-facing team member and make sure everyone knows they can search for the most accurate and up-to-date information. Consider including a way for people to subscribe to updates on the page via email or message.
2. Create a public information point for customers
Your customers need their own source for reliable and up-to-date information. Your support and / or PR staff can often predict the most common problems in advance, and the work you’ve done on your internal document can also be customized for customers.
Place your page in a place that all your customers can access and make sure that it can be updated easily. Here are some examples of public corona virus instructions in various industries:
Share information so your customers can make more informed decisions about what to do, when to expect late products or services, and what alternative agreements you have made.
3. Create a series of prepared answers
Your public page necessarily contains the most widespread information, but your team should anticipate more complex and detailed, but still frequently asked questions from individual customers.
Start a document and list the questions you expect. Take a look at what has already been received about your support and social channels for repeated topics.
For each question, provide an answer based on the information you gathered from your key stakeholders above. Pay attention to the following:
- Empathic – people can be fearful, confused and upset.
- Sure – avoid jargon and be as specific as possible.
- Consistent – Check your answers for contradictions.
- Realistic – Don’t promise too much if you don’t have all the information yet.
- Helpful – Provide alternative options, if available.
Each response should also include a link back to your public crisis communication page asking people there for the latest information.
Have your sample responses verified by experts and owners in your company for correctness before you make them available to the team. When sharing these answers, give your team instructions on how and when to use them. Should every customer get the same answer or do some require special treatment? Should the answers be adapted for certain situations?
Now your team is well equipped to answer customer inquiries safely. You can make this work easier for them by setting up your customer service systems to reduce their workload and increase their efforts.
Set up your customer service tools
Regardless of whether you use Help Scout or another shared inbox or help desk system, it is likely to offer features that make service faster and more consistent, and this extra help is critical in a crisis.
1. Create saved answers
Take these prepared answers and move them to your customer service software. In Help Scout they are yours Saved answersand other tools have similar options.
Be sure to give them a useful name, such as “COVID Refund,” which will help you find them quickly when you need them and clean them up after the crisis is over.
Instead of using a long document, saved responses should generally be broken down into logical parts so that the customer service representative can only summarize the relevant sections into a personalized response for the customer. In each part, make it clear whether the agent needs to adjust a response before sending it.
2. Create workflows to identify likely related questions
Take advantage of all the customer service automation features that are available to speed up your responses. For example, your workflow may search for mentions of corona virus and copy these messages to a separate folder for quicker review and tracking.
By adding a tag, you can easily report on the impact of the crisis on support volume and responsiveness and review your performance. Your workflow can even add an internal note that gives the agent instructions on how to deal with the conversation.
3. Check your knowledge base documentation
Solid self-service is extremely helpful in a crisis. Look for existing help documents that affected customers may find (such as how to cancel an order or get a refund). Read them in the context of the crisis and see if they need to be changed.
Consider adding a temporary call to these documents and linking people to the public document, Source of Truth, that you created above.
4. Update your contact points
Encourage customers to visit your public statement by prominently linking to them from your key support entry points, including your contact page and social media profiles.
5. Update your email footers
Add links to your public statement in the footer of your customer contact emails so customers can find them before they even have to click Reply.
6. Make context information accessible
With your shared inbox or help desk software, you may be able to automatically add contextual information to each conversation. For example, help quickly identify customer service personnel, VIPs, or account managers who may need special treatment.
With accurate information and updated systems, your team is ready to dive into the growing support queues and social feeds. For the customer service manager, the last task is to make this work easier and take care of your team.
Consistent support in a crisis
Customer service work can be emotionally stressful at best, but it can become overwhelming during a crisis, leading to burnout and reduced support quality. The best way to support them is while they are at the forefront:
- Supporting your support team: Take measures to reduce your stress by calmly and consistently communicating with them. Well-informed people give better support. Switch employees through channels and support roles, if possible, and make sure that you recognize the additional efforts of the rest of the company.
- Bring additional help: If your company practices all corporate support, your non-support teams may be able to provide help quickly. Even if not, you should now set up communication resources and tools that non-support professionals can help with in the simpler cases. This can free up some of your support experts to queue triage, escalate and check quality.
- Be careful with automation: While workflows can really help manage the load, a crisis is usually not the time to experiment with automatic customer responses. Use automation to save time that your team can use to carefully read customer queries and build their responses.
- Gather information and adjust your resources: Even as the crisis continues, team leaders should review tagged conversations, look for recurring questions that weren’t covered in the documentation, and update saved answers to best answer customers’ questions.
Use this information to update the documentation and prepared responses, and then notify your team of changes.
Survive a crisis and prepare for the next time
Although a crisis can drag on for some time, the volume will eventually decrease and the workload will be easier to manage. With careful preparation and continuous communication, you can help your team deal with the pressure and support your customers more effectively.
After the immediate rush, take some time to check what happened to your team. Which resources really helped and what seemed to be missing? Which answers were well received and which were not met? What tools could you add that might help next time?
Don’t forget to remove outdated information and put your contact points back in a crisis-free state. There will almost always be another big problem, but now it’s time to think, relax with some self-care, and then start preparing for the next challenge.
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