Will coronavirus change the way we do customer service in the future? It looks like it already is! Today we’re going to be discussing the 6 ways you can prepare for a customer service future beyond coronavirus.
Coronavirus is a global pandemic on a scale we have never seen in our lifetimes. No matter where you are in the world, coronavirus has affected your life, either directly or indirectly. Coronavirus isn’t just rewriting the rules of how we live in the present but changing how we might live going forward. In many ways, the world will never be quite the same after we defeat this virus. Some of these changes will be more directly connected to the threat of future viruses. For example, we might see a widespread rollout of no-contact faucets and flush mechanisms in public bathrooms. We might find that hand sanitizing stations are more widely available in public spaces. Or maybe there will be a culture shift that results in people all over the world wearing face masks when they suspect they are ill, something that until Coronavirus was only commonplace in Asia.
All of those changes are for scientists and the governments of the world to figure out. Here on this blog, we’re focused on business, customer services, and customer experiences. And it’s in this area that we expect to see some significant changes too. There have already been considerable changes in how companies are approaching customer service during the pandemic, but we expect these changes to last beyond coronavirus. Let’s look at the 6 ways you can prepare for the future.
1. Perfect Working from Home
Even when the virus is over, it’s unlikely that most businesses will return to the way of working we knew in the past. This pandemic has shown that we don’t need people in the office every day. It’s proved that working from home can be done successfully and effectively. This benefits employees by allowing them a better work-life balance, and it also helps businesses save on the costs associated with running an office (bills, space, rent).
When you perfect working from home for your agents, you can deliver excellent customer service. Agents who feel engaged, supported, and passionate about their job perform better.
If you’re planning to continue allowing home working for customer service staff, then you need to perfect it. Even if you’re not planning on doing this long term, it’s still important to perfect it. Why? Because we still don’t know when this pandemic will be over. Many areas of the world are starting to loosen restrictions and open things back up. However, there’s growing concern that we might experience several waves of this virus and restrictions may once again be tightened.
Here are our tips for perfecting working from home:
- Get the right tech and tools (more on this later).
- Maintain regular hours for your agents – When you give people too much freedom over their working hours, they often end up working more hours. If you maintain regular work hours, then agents can settle into a routine and always be alert and focused during working hours.
- Schedule breaks – Make sure your agents take their breaks on time, even when working from home. Everyone needs regular breaks to recharge. When you recharge, you can consistently perform at a higher level.
- Have a dedicated office space they can go to – Working from home is great, but sometimes agents might work better if they can come into the office. For example, if they are having work done at their house, then it might be difficult to give their full attention to customers, particularly if there’s a lot of noise.
- Communicate regularly – You should ensure that you have an open line of communication with your staff so they can always come to you with questions. You should also hold regular meetings to check in with everyone. These meetings should be held over video-call when possible because it’s important to see human faces in the workday!
- Ensure your setup is secure – Invest in cybersecurity tools and ensure that your cybersecurity policy is up to date and robust. You should also ensure that all staff are aware of the policy and understand their obligations.
2. Be Proactive in Reaching Out
During the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in businesses reaching out to their customers just to check-in and see how they are. Many companies have shifted from asking customers questions about their product and started to simply ask “how are you?” or “what are you doing with your day today?”. Companies made this shift because, during the pandemic, many people stopped buying many items that they no longer deemed essential, or useful in the short term. For example, customers are unlikely to buy a fancy new suit if all of their upcoming parties have been canceled for the foreseeable future. If the suit company continued to push out tweets about how great their suits are and why you should buy them, customers might become frustrated and unfollow them.
This is something that should continue happening once we’re out of the pandemic. Focus on creating meaningful relationships with your customers. If you do this successfully, then you’ll build customer loyalty and retention at the same time.
3. Fewer Customer Requests Doesn’t Mean You Stop Working
A study into the key changes in customer service during the pandemic found that customer requests went right down for most companies. Customers were no longer calling in as much as they were in the past.
We often think of customer service as a reactive function in a business. This means that agents are only required to react to customers, rather than be proactive. When you’re in an extremely busy period, then this might be the case. However, just because you don’t have as many requests coming in, doesn’t mean you stop working.
Here are some ways you can adapt to be proactive in customer service. Some of these suggestions are more business-wide, but some can be picked up by agents too if the role is adapted.
- Create content that answers common questions.
- Admit mistakes to your customers before anyone realizes – take responsibility.
- Ask for feedback regularly.
- Chat with customers on social media.
- Pay attention to what your customers are saying online. Either respond to them, or brainstorm how you can address these issues.
4. Perfect Omnichannel and other Cohesive Technologies
If you haven’t already gone omnichannel, then now is the time. As we move to a more permanent working from home environment, customer service and connected teams must have the support they need.
Here are our quick tips:
- Invest in a good omnichannel platform that can support your needs today, but is flexible enough to support your business in the future too.
- Start using chatbots.
- Use live chat.
- Invest in high-quality headsets and laptops.
- Create a full and detailed knowledge base.
5. Focus on Soft Skills
In recent years there’s been an increased focus on soft skills. These are skills usually related to people skills, social skills, communication, social intelligence, and emotional intelligence. We tend to think of these skills as something some people have, and others don’t. People might go to university to learn to code (a hard skill), but you don’t hear of people doing a degree in people skills. For a long time, hard skills have been the ones most in-demand by employers. People with hard skills are typically able to demand a higher salary than those with soft skills. However, things are changing.
In the business world, people are starting to realize the importance of soft skills and the value they bring to the business. This is even true in departments where hard skills are extremely important, like IT. Studies have found that employers are more likely to hire someone who meets the experience requirements for the role and has soft skills than someone who exceeds the requirements (in both experience and qualifications) but has poor soft skills. Why? because teamwork is extremely important. People want to work with likable people who will make their job easier, and communication is a key part of almost every job.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of soft skills, both in customer service and in the wider business. In a world where employees were plucked out of offices and in their homes, being a good communicator was extremely important. For teams to thrive, they must be able to communicate regularly and with ease. They must have someone they can turn to in their team – someone to answer questions or listen to them when they are struggling. The teams who had employees with a lot of soft skills were the teams that shifted successfully to working from home.
Not only did employees with soft skills help their teams transition, but they were also better at supporting customers. During the pandemic customers were (and are) experiencing a range of complex emotions, and emotionally intelligent people are better able to build a rapport with these customers. They can understand their unique wants and needs better than employees who lack soft skills. Now, of course, most people who work in customer service roles will have a decent range of soft skills. However, those with the strongest soft skills were better equipped.
The following are the 7 soft skills:
- Emotional intelligence – Do you have empathy, self-awareness, and social skills? Can you regulate your mood and emotions? Are you able to stay motivated and motivate others?
- Team player attitude – Are you active in team discussions? Do you brainstorm ideas? Are you respectful of others’ boundaries?
- Growth mindset – Can you persevere when you hit roadblocks?
- Adaptability – Can you adapt to change without it disrupting your workflow or your sense of self? Can you make decisions without going to the manager with every question that pops into your head?
- Responsiveness to feedback – Can you listen to feedback and take it on board without becoming defensive?
- Active listening – Can you listen, really listen, to your teammates and customers?
- Work ethic – Do you do tasks without being asked? Or do you just do the bare minimum that your job requires?
Try to hire people with strong soft skills for your customer service roles. Ideally, the interview process should be designed to discover how strong the candidate is in each skill area.
6. Be Flexible so you can Adapt in Real-time
The coronavirus pandemic highlighted how many companies were not prepared for a situation like this. How do you prepare for an unpredictable unforeseen global pandemic, you say? By making flexibility and adaptability a core part of your business.
Here are our tips for creating a flexible work environment:
- Build a culture of trust and responsibility – You have to trust your employees to do their job without micromanaging them. Always being available to hold your employee’s hand isn’t realistic, and particularly when disaster strikes.
- Allow home working on a more permanent basis – Home working isn’t just for corporate staff. If your agents have been working from home during the pandemic, then they can work from home in the future. You might not want to do this for the whole team, but the option should be available. For example, you could allow home working X days a week.
- Don’t silo your employees or teams – Siloed teams lead to breakdowns in communication and duplicated efforts. Teams should be able to seamlessly communicate and exchange information.