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COVID crisis highlights customer service Catch-22

There’s been a lot of talk about over-communicating with customers during COVID to make sure they know they’re acknowledged and cared about. However, there are definite exceptions—in this case it involves a prospect but the same principles apply to existing customers.

A few weeks back, I checked into Inogen, a portable oxygen concentrator company just to see the rules and regs. While I do not need it at this point, I decided to be proactive—should the day come when the situation changes.

Megan, the Customer Development Rep with whom I was connected, immediately understood my sensitivity to not be hounded by the company sales force. I just wanted to get some basic info and have a customer connection if needed down the road.

Unfortunately, the rest of the company didn’t get the memo. I started getting peppered with sales follow-up calls, which I did not answer. Finally, toward the end of last week, I emailed Megan to complain about the follow-ups and to explain that this was having the opposite effect of what they wanted. I was ready to explore any company other than Inogen.

Here’s the answer I got back: “Thank you for the reaching out to me. I understand not wanting unnecessary phone calls, unfortunately, our system is set up to redistribute the leads after a period of inactivity. I didn’t realize that your account had been reassigned from me. So, I apologize about the phone calls you received from the other reps. I have listed your account as Do Not Contact – you shouldn’t receive any other phone calls.”

In turn, I responded: “Precisely the right answer! Thanks for taking care of this. You’ve demonstrated how to turn crappy customer service into a win. I will keep your contact info for future consideration.”

Not only did she address my immediate dissatisfaction, her professional and seemingly sincere response gained a friend. As long as I can communicate with her, we likely can build a relationship—and they can gain a new customer—if/when the time is right.

This exchange points out several key tips for doubling down on good customer service during COVID and beyond:

  • Companies need to curate prospect and customer preferences continuously. By asking people what they do/don’t want, customer service reps can notate records to ensure that wishes are honored. If Inogen’s system had done this properly, I wouldn’t have been hounded. Further, there should be notes about requested frequency of follow-up and special conditions under which the company should reach out. Just tossing everyone into the same CRM protocol, with no customized direction, continues to be a source of ill will. This is a really good time to hone customer service actions to stated individual preferences.
  • Keep it one-on-one personal. I like Megan. I like her attitude. And I enjoy her seeming competence. So, it would make sense to build a customer relationship with her. Companies with never-ending turnover don’t seem to get this point. Especially now, stressed and scared consumers want personal interaction and caring, not to be “sold” or forced into constantly dealing with different people. Given the nature of COVID and the respiratory benefits of oxygen concentrators, there really isn’t a need to sell. Just let the relationship unfold with transparency and authenticity. Inogen seems to be a premier supplier of portable concentrators, so they merit consideration. Having a “dedicated rep” to shepherd the process is the best way to seal a deal—at least with me.
  • Don’t let high tech automation undo beneficial relationship-building. Quite often, the heartfelt efforts of a customer rep get overridden by stupid, short-sighted tech protocols that put people in a system, then automatically follow up in assembly line fashion. In an effort to capture all the business they can, companies often alienate substantial numbers of both prospects and customers—who respond by disappearing. More often than not, this is not trackable—and companies are left wondering why growth projections falter. This is a time and place where customer service needs to complement, and in many cases over-ride what the technology may be rending asunder.

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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.

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Mark Lusky | 303.621.6136 | mark@marklusky.com

Veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience. 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.

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