My meetings in Germany got cancelled, so I tried to contact the airline to change my booking. Chat did not work. E-mail was not offered. Call centre kept on cutting me off for hours on end. Finally, someone in their overseas office answered. It took me more than 6 hours to get help.
But at least I got help. My colleague, whose flight by another airline was also cancelled was not so lucky. She received no messages, no promise of compensation, and no opportunity for contact except a call centre: not handy when one is hearing impaired like her. She tried anyway, but it was constantly on ‘busy’.
Our customer journeys were nearly the same. We had a problem; we attempted self-service, we tried to write, we called. I received help, and she did not. I will continue flying with my airline. Will she fly with hers again? I don’t know, but as I see her venting about the incident to her 800+ social media friends, I doubt it.
Dear reader, can you guess when I wrote this piece? Was it recently, in the COVID-times of 2020, or ten years ago, during the air traffic-stopping eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull? Or even earlier, during the last 2008/9 recession which had shaken markets so badly? Back then, most customers reduced spend or stopped buying altogether. New customer acquisition became extremely difficult.
CX to the Rescue
This is how Customer Centricity has suddenly become a topic: CX focuses on the existing customer. Treat your customers well, and they will be more loyal and profitable, AND bring new business to you. The new era of customer appreciation started back then with champions like Amazon, Zappos or Netflix showed how customer-centric companies could disrupt and even destroy established players by being hell-bent on making their customers happy.
It seems that the long period of economic growth that followed the last recession has made many companies too complacent. Employment is (was?) at a historical low; producers struggle to fulfil on time because of the sheer volume of contracted work. Why care about customers if the new ones flock in anyway?
The right time is now
But while my colleague is still waiting for her refund (you guessed right, the time is nowadays), the COVID-19 emergency is becoming the same moment of truth for companies. This challenge can become an opportunity to shine through customer-centricity, to make a difference, to create long-term loyalty with your customers. But with many physical locations closing due to the lockdown rules, chances of impressing customers with service at retail or through offices are waning. So, it will all come down to your contact centre.
In our very recent opinion paper we have argued that the most effective use for contact centres is turning them into customer value centres. But at this moment the transformation needs to be immediate. Your contact centre, as my example shows, will be overrun in the first days while you are trying to reorganise. Your customers who are already in distress may raise to panic and disrupt the whole value chain. You must act now.
Your battle plan:
- Turn your office teams and retail staff into contact centre support. Start training them immediately.
- You will have to let your agents work from home. You will need to move those new support teams you have just trained to home offices too. It will come handy anyway: there is no guarantee that the situation will not repeat. So, ensure that you have the right technology in place: get your contacting infrastructure into the cloud.
- Your people also need to feel that you care, so don’t wait for government orders. Be more caring for your employees and customers than the government and protect them now. Take precautions for their safety, make decisions quickly, and communicate regularly.
- There will be no perfect answer, and planning will prove difficult. But immediate action at this moment is much more important than getting everything right on the first try. Therefore, follow the agile rule: act first, adjust later.
When the first wave of panic is over, and your critical infrastructure is up and running, make sure you are giving your customers all the reasons to stay with you:
- Be hyper-lenient towards your customers. Cancel anything they want, re-book, postpone, suspend their payments if needed. It will hurt, but they will not forget it.
- The same relates to your employees. Reward good behaviour and loyalty double, forgive the panic behaviour (if any), and be with them on the front-line like the legendary kings and queens of the past.
- If you receive government support, make sure the benefits trickle down to both customers and employees. Generosity in dire times is the behaviour of the strongest.
- The pandemic will pass, but the stories will remain. Make sure that your learnings will not vanish. You may still need it again, so manage the knowledge accordingly.
If you feel you need help from the people who have been there last time, here is what we and our friends at infinit.cx can do for you:
- Create an immediate contingency plan for your customer retention
- Run a quick survey with your customers to understand what your top customer priorities in the coming months should be
- Accelerate your customer strategy efforts to put them at the heart of your company to deal with the longer-term insecurity in the market
- Structurally future-proof your customer contact centre in line with our recent position paper
- Drive all of your technological efforts based on the customers’ needs
- Ensure your agents are happy – use technology to make their work easier
- Prove to the rest of the organisation how much (customer-)value your contact centre is adding. Now is the chance for that
- Home office for all: move your customer service infrastructure to the cloud within a week: highly standardised, for front and back office, so that all of them can serve customers from home
- Scale: if the demand rises unpredictably high you need a scalable infrastructure – welcome to the cloud! infinit.cx helps you to be always prepared
- Ask: if you want immediate feedback on all contact points, we are there to implement that – fast!
Most importantly, talk to us. Talk is free. We are here for you to jointly think about how to keep your customers as happy as possible – and most importantly keep your customers.