6 Tips for Maintaining Great Customer Service During Lockdown

I’ll forget what you said, I’ll forget what you did but I’ll never forget how you made me feel (Maya Angelou)

Lockdown 3.0 and the struggle is real – another blow to the economy and retail outlets and non-essential services across the country.  In these times of unprecedented crisis and uncertainty businesses of all sizes are facing new and unfamiliar challenges; it is easy to see how the blurred lines between business sustainability, survival, income generation, and management of personnel create an environment where we may forget the importance of maintaining our relationships with customers. Peter Drucker wrote extensively about the importance of customer service to a business once said that customer service is “ the mission and purpose of every business“.

In recent years with the diversity of customer base, we have moved from a mindset of ‘customer service‘ towards the mindset of customer experience.  Previously customer service referred to a department or specific personnel.  Nowadays taking care of our customers is seen as everybody’s job thereby ensuring an excellent customer experience before, during and after the sale or the service on offer.

Airbnb and numerous tech companies are exemplifying this new approach to customer service; we can learn so much from their experience. Airbnb claims that by disrupting the entire hospitality industry and creating a ‘human-centered customer journey’ they grew their business from a living room start-up to a $31 billion company in 2017. Consider the idea of customer-centricity; where the priority of your business is to provide an exceptional customer experience. To do this businesses need to ensure that they understand the customer journey, the customer experience, and the needs of their customers. They must consider the lifetime value of their customers rather than focusing on a single customer transaction. In our customer service workshops, we refer to customer touchpoints; a customer touchpoint is any stage at which we have the opportunity to communicate, impress and support our customers. This includes everything from social media, emails, phone calls, face-to-face interactions, and online interfaces. Each one of these touchpoints presents a golden opportunity for a business to develop and build relationships with their customers.

Customer Service Requires a Team Focus

Raising awareness at all levels of staff is vital to creating a unified and consistent customer service mindset within your organisation. This applies to businesses large and small; no business is exempt from offering an exceptional customer experience. Failte Ireland promotes the idea that “you’re either serving the customer or you’re serving someone who is serving the customer“ highlighting the importance of a team-focused approach to customer service. If the mindset is right then you will maximise the ‘moments of magic’ for your customers and eliminate ‘moments of misery or mediocrity’ referred to by Jan Carlzon in his 1980s book ’Moments Of Truth‘.

When Things Go Wrong

I have long believed that the true test of customer service does not lie in the run-of-the-mill, day to day no-hassle transactions that are the norm for every business. The true test of your customer service/customer experience lies in those moments when things don’t go so well. Managing difficult customers or complex complaints can be a great way of assessing the effectiveness of your customer service and exploring the true experience of your customers. Peter Drucker offers some very simple wisdom when it comes to assessing the business and its approach to customer service particularly during challenging times. First and foremost he would suggest asking yourself ‘ Who are my customers?’ and secondly ‘What is my business?. These two questions above are vital to discovering insights that will help you to develop and maintain your customer base during these uncertain times.  The ability to critically analyse your business and pay attention to customer feedback (especially negative feedback)  will enable you to respond to challenges and take care of those all-important customer relationships.

Six Tips For Creating And Maintaining A 5-Star Customer Experience

  1. Acknowledge your customers

Research tells us that acknowledgment is the number one expectation of customers when it comes to customer experience. Businesses fall short in acknowledging their customers frequently especially in times where there are competing priorities. One good way to improve your customer service is to identify the key touchpoints in the customer journey and note all the areas within this customer journey where you can acknowledge your customer. This could be a greeting, acknowledgment of an inquiry, a thank you for a purchase or expressing gratitude for highlighting a problem or a complaint. You will be very surprised at the number of opportunities that are available to you to acknowledge your customers and build sustainable, long-lasting relationships

2. Respond Rapidly

Timely responses have a significant impact on customer retention. A very high percentage of customers will stay with you if they believe their complaint or query has been dealt with quickly. This is particularly important when it comes to customer complaints; it is a proven fact that not responding or putting a customer complaint on the long finger only serves to erode their trust in your business and ultimately running the risk of losing the customer permanently

3. Empathize with your Customers

Customers are human and it is a human need to be cared for and to be understood. More so than ever it is important to show your customers warmth, empathy, and understanding.  Many top-ranking companies rate connectivity, caring, and empathy as being key to their customer service success.  Maya Angelo famously said, “I forget what you said, I forget what you did but I’ll never forget how you made me feel”. I think this is an excellent mantra in helping us to re-imagine our customer service response, especially during these pandemic times.

4. Live Up To Your Promise

Review the mission and values of your business and ask yourself the question is my customer service response living up to the ‘Why’ of our business? In challenging times it can be easy to lose touch with the core values of your business.  This is normal, however, it can be very useful to reconnect with the core values that helped you to grow your business in the first place. Inherent in these values is a promise that you make to your customers.  Living up to our promise ensures that our customers are getting the best and most consistent customer service experience we have to offer.

5. Be Honest, Transparent & Apologise

Maintain an open dialogue with your customers and reassure them when you don’t have a definitive answer to their query.  Over-promising or misleading customers will only serve to cause more difficulties. Talk to your customers, provide updates and ask them for their feedback; you will be amazed at how effective open and transparent communication can be to the customer service relationship.  Equally an apology cultivates the possibility of a better relationship or helps to preserve an existing one with your customers. When a customer is unhappy with a product or service, it helps to hear someone acknowledge the problem and say they are sorry. Listening to the problem and expressing a sincere apology opens the door to reaching a solution.

6. Give Them ‘Pickles’

Pickles are those special or extra things that we can do to make our customers happy and keep them coming back.  A “pickle” could be a thank you note with every order, calling your customers by name, or answering the phone with a smile and positive attitude.  Anything that makes the customer feel good about themselves and feels appreciated is considered to be a pickle. Pickles are particularly useful for dissatisfied customers or when responding to complaints; offering a discount voucher off their next purchase is a good example. These Pickles don’t cost your business very much but are extremely effective in maintaining those valuable long term relationships with customers.

Author Janet Tumulty 02.02.21

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