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Customer service in a COVID-cranky world

As COVID continues to dominate our lives, customer crankiness is growing substantially. That makes the job of customer service specialists even more challenging.

Consumers are not in a forgiving mood, as a recent article in (via PRNewswire) notes: “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, more than 80% of consumers in the US expect customer support to get more empathetic or more responsive, and in some cases, both, according to the findings of the report ‘Customer Support Through The Eyes of Consumers in 2020’ published by Hiver…a global customer service solution.”

The article continues, “When asked what they find most annoying about dealing with support teams, 50% of consumers said ‘explaining their problems multiple times to support agents’…‘A few years back, you could make customers feel taken care of by sending automated replies and just by convincingly stating that you are doing your best. That does not fly anymore, as customers are more educated and better connected. Throw a pandemic in the mix, and you have very high customer service expectations,’ said Niraj Ranjan, CEO and Co-founder, Hiver. ‘This is why the focus has to be on building relationships and the key to that lies in looking at customer happiness as everyone’s responsibility,’ Niraj added.”

Consumers today (and likely for the foreseeable future) are not tolerating inadequate customer service. Notes the article, “The survey found that consumers today have a very low tolerance for sloppy customer service. A whopping 89% of participants said they will likely make their poor support experience known to friends, family, and colleagues by either ‘advising against buying the product’ or ‘leaving negative reviews on social media’…The report also notes that 30% of consumers will not give brands another chance after just one bad customer service experience.”

What are the takeaways for customer service specialists?

Increase tolerance meters.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary customer service measures. With obvious exceptions for exceedingly rude or threatening customer service interactions, reps are well-advised to walk the extra mile in the shoes of their customers. Right now mostly everyone is stressed to some degree. That stress may come out full force in a customer service interaction. Cut everyone some extra slack. That includes customers being aware that the customer service force, too, is suffering extreme stress. So consumers, cut some slack in return. When all is said and done, dial down the crankiness and dial up attempts to support a win-win customer service outcome.

Focus very hard on tuning into customers right away.
When COVID-cranky customers contact reps, their patience often is depleted. That could be because of frustration with the product or service, or it could be due to just having seen the latest COVID infection numbers. The rep needs to get the customer on his or her side right away. Typically, that doesn’t happen by reciting obviously canned apologies or asking insipid questions. Authentic concern and willingness to dive in and help can go a long way toward making the customer at least somewhat satisfied even when the core issue remains unresolved. In part, that’s because we’re all looking for some TLC right now. It can go a long way toward engendering goodwill.

Offer to go the extra mile toward resolution.
If the issue can’t be easily and quickly resolved, enterprising reps will commit to doing everything possible to find a palatable solution. Most customers are willing to show patience when they see that the rep is making an all-out attempt to help. Just make sure that commitments made as part of that process are kept (e.g., a promised call back, email or other communication).

It’s really, really tough out there right now. Let’s all do our part to provide some extra-special support where we can.


“Nuts and bolts” of a company’s strengths and credibility once focused on length of time in business, track record and proven abilities—in other words, historical measures. Now, companies increasingly are judged based on their customer service-related performance in the present and moving forward. Historical reputation, while still a factor in buyer decision-making, is taking a backseat to such customer service measures as convenience, understanding and empathizing with customer needs, and trust tied to how well companies treat all stakeholders.

Mark Lusky

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Mark Lusky

Mark Lusky (aka The Happy Curmudgeon)
is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm. He’s a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience, and author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage.

One reply on “Customer service in a COVID-cranky world”

This is so true as exemplified by my recent experience with a landline phone purchase. Called for help and fell into a warren of robot auto answers that didn’t address the issue. Returned the phone and purchased a different phone.

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