Customer service reps offer a hand instead of clenched fist

Hopefully, one of the most enduring COVID-19 crisis legacies will be a corporate culture where customer service reps offer an open hand to help versus a clenched fist.

For far too long, corporate America has largely embraced the clenched-fist policy, in which customer service is provided in as small increments as absolutely necessary. In many departments, the aim has been to get customers off the phone or digitally dispatched as quickly as possible.

In many companies, customer support people have been given very little, if any, latitude to go off-script in an effort to address customer problems. Empowerment to use personal judgment to find meaningful and customer-affirming solutions has been sorely lacking.

Consequences for customer retention and sales are clear and compelling. A spring article in hbr.org notes: “For one company in our study, difficult interactions had only a 6% chance of resulting in a cross-sell or up-sell, compared with a more than 80% chance that an easy interaction would. And, among customers threatening to defect, those who had had a difficult interaction had less than a 4% chance of accepting the company’s ‘save offer’ (a promotion to entice them to stay) as compared to a 20% probability for customers whose interactions were scored as easy.”

Rep empowerment, customer advocacy key
Forbes.com reinforces the need for going beyond business as usual in the world of customer service: “Now that everyone’s stuck at home, stellar customer experiences have evolved from important to essential. With small businesses struggling and economic activity at historic lows, only the savviest companies will survive…Companies that fail to wow consumers with intuitive and functional online experiences can’t expect to keep their customers coming back. People today have too many options online to waste time on sites that fail to meet their sky-high expectations…The clear answer to these challenges is to empower reps to make exceptions in order to solve the customer’s problem.”

The article continues, “Techniques such as ‘advocacy’ can convey that the rep is on the customer’s side. Saying something as simple as ‘Let’s see if we can figure this out together’ can make all the difference in whether a customer leaves an interaction frustrated and disloyal or not…targeted coaching of reps on advocacy and similar techniques…saw customer frustration and effort abruptly fall. On March 10, more than 40% of their COVID-related calls conveyed customer frustration; by March 23, just 7% did. Similarly, the percentage of calls scored as difficult dropped from more than 20% to 7% in the same period.”

Patience and communicating on steroids vital, too
Projecting empathy via patience and painstaking communication also will prove valuable to long-term customer loyalty and retention. A customerthink.com article looks at the need for ample amounts of both: “In moments like these, there is no such thing as ‘over communicating’. Provide critical information proactively, respond to questions and concerns with high empathy, and exercise lots of patience. Make sure all employees are trained properly in empathy to create positive memorable customer experiences.”

Long after the most deadly aspects of the COVID-19 crisis are gone, corporate America will be well advised to make sure that customer service insights and initiatives dedicated to making and keeping customers happy continue to live and grow.

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Have you gone out of your way to provide more compassionate and caring customer service during the COVID-19 crisis? If so, those efforts can become a cornerstone of customer loyalty and buying. In addition to those who already know, tell the rest of the world about it! This is a case where prior “good acts” can stoke the fires of ongoing sales and word-of-mouth kudos. But, you gotta let everyone know first. One of the most credible and compelling ways to do that is to develop thought leadership articles, blogposts, social media content, podcasts, and even short videos to address what you did—and hopefully are still doing—to show your appreciation of and respect for those who keep you in business.

Want to figure out the best ways to broadcast your stellar customer service stories to the world? Let’s talk.

Mark Lusky | 303.621.6136 | mark@marklusky.com

Author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage,  Mark (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm.

Mark Lusky is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience.

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