Customer Service During Uncertain Times: Lessons Learned & What’s Next

By June 23, 2020

Customer service has never been more critical than it is right now, with customers turning to you for answers, updates and reassurance. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges for the customer service profession. Still, it has also highlighted new opportunities for organisations to streamline processes, and deliver incredible customer service far beyond the lockdown.

We’ve taken the statistics and information straight from our webinar with Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service, to give you the full picture of the state of customer service during COVID-19, and what to expect next.

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Why Does Customer Service Matter?

When 79% of an organisation’s employees are customer-facing, its clear to see how vital customer service is to your organisation as a whole. Customer service is everyone’s responsibility; when organisations with above-average customer service can see 114% higher revenue per employee, it really pays to look after your customers.

However, even though it’s been proven that better customer service relates to better profitability, there is still a gap between organisations and customers when it comes to satisfaction expectations. £122 billion per year is lost to the economy through poor customer service, and an overwhelming majority of customers still believe that staff need more training when it comes to dealing with customer queries.

Why Customer Service Matters

The Impact of COVID-19

While the situation has been extremely challenging, it has spurred revolutionary moments for many organisations. Having to adapt quickly to an evolving situation meant many organisations were achieving more in 2 weeks that would have otherwise taken 2 years.

Essential services have been in the spotlight since the start of the pandemic, with many praising the efforts of organisations that are working hard to keep the lights on and the supermarket shelves stocked. This has been an excellent opportunity for customer service professionals to make a positive impact on customers as they try to maintain a level of normality during a crazy time.

With the rise of redundancies and furlough, many more customers now fall under the vulnerable category. The mental health of many individuals has declined and will continue to do so until the lockdown is lifted, so organisations must help these people as much as possible while they’re going through a difficult time. 

There is a clear relationship between customer trust and satisfaction. During a time where customers will be looking for answers and updates, Organisations must think about the content of messages you’re communicating, how you’re delivering it and why you’re sharing. Customers can relate more to an organisation that is showing their human side, so focus on serving instead of selling. 

The Importance of Inspiring a Service Nation

To truly meet customer expectations, organisations have to want to deliver that excellent customer service. To do this, you need to reflect on three things:

  • Purpose: What drives you to serve your audience?
  • Relevance: What audience are you trying to serve?
  • Impact: If your organisation came to an end, what would be your legacy, and what would you want to be known for? 

In a Changing World, Always Serve Your Customers

The most significant actions that affect how your customers see you are the softer things. Do you have your customer’s best interests at heart, are you educating and sharing knowledge, are you being sustainable and trustworthy?

In a time when ethical actions speak louder than press releases and social media posts, it’s the commitment to being a force for good which will earn your customers trust and in turn, their satisfaction.

Inspiring a Service Nation: What We’re Seeing Coming Out of the COVID-19 Crisis

Above all other things, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how resilient we can be in the face of challenging and uncertain times. We have adjusted and adapted to make the best of the situation, with a tremendous amount of positivity coming out of it. 

Home-based and virtual activities have dominated in the past few months. Now that we have all had the time to reflect, many would prefer more home life, so this could continue post-lockdown. 

Only 30% of people questioned in the ICS survey predict that they will be back in the office by September, so living and working remotely is likely to stay a huge part of customer’s lives for a significant amount of time.

With more time on their hands to think and reflect, many customers will be more purposeful with their buying decisions. Organisations must be doing the right things, acting ethically looking out for customers. 

We’ve progressed through a period of uncomfortable change for many organisations, by having to quickly put in measures and processes just to get through the pandemic. As we move towards the lockdown being lifted, now is a great opportunity to review these processes to see what has worked well, and what should be taken forward to improve everyday life in the organisation.

How Organisations Should React to this Shift

As with any significant change, organisations must adapt to avoid being left behind.

Virtual vs physical activities will be a considerable discussion moving forward. While the lockdown has proven that doing everything entirely virtually can work, the future will probably involve a balance between the two. Discussions and daily processes can be done virtually. In contrast, large group input and creativity usually comes from physical meetings and discussions. This could change the way the office looks in the future, with people primarily coming to work to collaborate and share creative ideas.

Organisations In COVID-19

The wellbeing of employees has risen to the forefront in the last few months, with both mental and physical health of your team members being vital. With more reliance on remote working, balancing home life and work will be ever more critical. When organisations eventually return to the office, it’s essential to listen to employee concerns to build confidence and navigate social distancing guidelines.

Organisations that are genuinely doing the right thing and acting ethically will continue to prosper far beyond the lockdown, as will organisations that continue to support and serve their customers.

Changing Customer Behaviour Post-Lockdown

Behaviour change cannot be forced and takes a long time to shift. With this in mind, it’s essential to take note of any shifts in customer behaviour, so your organisation can be ready to adapt to them. 

64% of customers are concerned about returning to shops and leisure facilities, but 71% will visit places that adhere to government guidelines. If your organisation follows government guidelines on social distancing and hygiene, your customers are more likely to be confident enough to visit you.

47% of customers want organisations to prioritise the health and safety of employees coming back to organisations, doing the right thing for their employees, and acting ethically. 

42% also expect the speed of customer service to improve post-lockdown. Customer satisfaction has risen during the lockdown, as customers are more lenient on organisations that have been disrupted. However, once the lockdown is lifted customers are likely to be more demanding; with this in mind, how are you going to support customers through this new phase?

How Employees Feel About Post-Lockdown Measures

Customers aren’t the only people that organisations should consider post-lockdown. 60% of employees are concerned about returning to their usual working environment, but 66% trust employers to prioritise safety over other pressures.

Only 22% of furloughed employees have been offered training. If you can, providing furloughed employees training helps to keep them positive and engaged in the organisation, helping to retain them once industries get back to normal.

Don’t be afraid to pause, reflect and breathe after the mad rush that COVID-19 brought with it earlier this year. Take the time to analyse what you’ve been doing, how you reacted and what you would change.

Always be honest and transparent with customers, even if it’s not positive news. Work hard on your explanations on why you can or cannot deliver, and focus on serving, not selling.

To hear more of Jo’s valuable insight and see more interesting statistics from ICS surveys around the COVID-19 response, check out the recording of the webinar, available to watch on-demand.