Coronavirus has had a profound effect on most businesses.
The lockdown enforced as the pandemic took hold placed many businesses in a position they had never found themselves in before.
For many, it was a ‘do or die’ situation – adapt your operations and find new ways of working and keeping customers engaged or accept the inevitable consequences of doing nothing.
While there were inevitable – and tragically – some casualties along the way, the economic shutdown forced many businesses to seek out new opportunities and a different way of doing things.
As a result, customer service, and the way that businesses reach out to, engage with and convert new customers, has changed for the better.
Changing consumer attitudes during lockdown
As lockdown kicked in, most consumers found themselves in an initial state of panic. Almost overnight, many employers shut their doors and either stood staff down or had them work remotely.
As we knew little about what the future might hold at that point, many people started to feel anxiety about the financial impact that this might have had and how they would survive it, along with the sudden lifestyle change this brought about.
Although people adapt to change in different ways, with some being more resilient than others, it had an impact on everyone to some degree.
However, once the initial panic had died down, and people started to move from fear and denial towards acceptance, their attitudes changed.
At this point, businesses which got their customer service right, the ones which displayed empathy and understanding in their communications, and flexibility and a willingness to help, were the ones which scored big in terms of brand loyalty.
The businesses which remained rigid, inflexible and unable to empathise with their customers, or failed to strike the right tone in the context of what was going on with the economy, were the ones which started to receive a backlash from their previously loyal customers or service users.
The key point here is that the brands which were up-front and honest, which understood the current situation and its implications on their customers, and which demonstrated they were on their customers’ side, were the ones perceived as the good guys.
The brands which misaligned their messaging and didn’t grasp the issues their customers were facing in this initial phase of a new reality were the ones which copped the most flak and damaged their reputations.
We don’t want to name names or point fingers here, but you’ll no doubt have seen headlines about the damage done to major household brands because they couldn’t strike the right chord with their customers at a time of crisis.
Conversely, there were a lot of winners in the customer service stakes, usually the brands which adapted their operations and demonstrated, by their communications and their actions, that they were on their customers’ side.
There are many things businesses can learn from the way some of the more high-profile brands behaved during the coronavirus pandemic. There have been many heroes and villains, and when the inevitable reckoning comes, the ones which got it wrong could well be left counting a heavy cost.
One thing the situation has highlighted, however, is the importance of empathy and assurance, clarity and transparency, and – above all – honesty when it comes to the way businesses engage with their customers.
Customers will accept disruption and inconvenience, especially in unexpected circumstances beyond anyone’s control, if the businesses they are dealing with show compassion and empathy.
They will also tolerate mistakes if the brands in question make an honest and sincere effort to take responsibility and put things right.
What they won’t put up with, though, is being taken for granted, fobbed off or brushed aside.
And in the age of social media, consumers no longer just vote with their feet, they broadcast their experience to their friends and followers online.
Can your business afford to be on the wrong side of a social media storm because of poor customer service? That’s a key question you need to consider as lockdown loosens, demand picks up, and customers start returning to their favourite brands.
Tips to improve your customer service
There are a few things in common that the best businesses did during lockdown to provide awesome customer service.
These shouldn’t just apply in times of crisis. As general principles, if you follow these, they will stand your brand in pretty good stead.
In the current age of smart technology and social media, it’s easier than ever to listen to what your customers – and potential customers – are saying about you.
So, make sure you are listening. Pay close attention to review sites and the feedback you receive on social media, and don’t bury your head in the sand if it’s negative… or worse still, bite back in anger.
Instead, see what can be learned and act upon it.
Customers respect brands which are open and honest about their failings and do something about them. They don’t like companies which are dismissive or try to brush things under the carpet.
This one is particularly relevant to the coronavirus but can be applied to other scenarios too.
If things aren’t going your way, or if something happens that is out of your control, be honest about it and reassure your customers that you are taking it seriously and doing everything you can to resolve it.
Trying to bluff your way out of a crisis by keeping your customers in the dark will only harm your reputation in the long run.
The coronavirus lockdown was uncharted territory for many brands. Many consumers were experiencing fear, anxiety and panic and the last thing they needed was to have rigid rules and regulations forced down the neck by the businesses they were buying from.
Striking the right balance at times like this is key.
Allowing a bit of flexibility, within reason, on your usual terms and conditions and service level agreements to reflect the situation your customers find themselves in will help buy a lot of goodwill in return.
It’s all about judging the circumstances and getting the tone of your response right.
Play the long game
Sometimes, taking a short-term hit can pay long-term dividends for a brand, particularly in times of crisis.
Focusing on customers, rather than profits, when times are tough will not only buy you a lot of goodwill, it may also increase the long-term, lifetime value of your relationship with them.
Again, being empathetic with your customers’ circumstances and responding in the right way is the key to showing your customers that you are putting their interests first.
Remember your people
While keeping your customers happy by providing exceptional levels of service is one thing, it’s essential not to lose sight of one of your other vital asset… your employees.
Remember that, in times of crisis, your people will be experiencing the same levels of fear, stress and anxiety as your customers.
So, listen to your employees. Engage with them. Acknowledge their fears and show them you are taking them seriously. Provide reassurance and empathy to them as well.
If you can do that, they are more likely to stay with you for the journey and help your brand deliver the level of customer service you need.
Do you seriously want to be known as a business which puts profits before people, or the other way around?
How good is your customer service?
Sometimes, it can be challenging to take a long, hard and objective look at your own business to assess how good your customer service is.
We have a handy checklist of ideas which you can implement quickly to give your customer service a boost, get in touch if you would like a copy!