7 Best practices for great customer service amid a pandemic

The COVID pandemic has been many things to many people. This unprecedented crisis has affected every corner of the globe and every sector and industry. We have witnessed the tireless bravery of our healthcare staff and the tragedy of so many lost lives. But we have also seen businesses around the world rise to the challenge of coping with this crisis and getting things done. 

Where lockdown and other rules have affected industries such as hospitality, we have seen them adapt to providing takeaway and home delivery. And with ecommerce and other retail businesses, we have seen demand soar as people choose to order online more than ever. 

The pandemic has put pressure on customer service, both in terms of how we provide it and in the sheer volume of inquiries. How do we adapt to these increased, and sometimes specific, needs? Do we need to change how we provide service in response to the crisis? We suggest seven ways in which you can take service to the next level, even during a pandemic.

1. Adapt and thrive

The first thing to remember is: Don’t panic! Even if your business has relied on physical stores, it doesn’t take too much effort to shift your customers to online shopping instead. You may already have had plans to move online, so it is just a question of scaling up more quickly. It can also be of help to see how AI can play a role in your ecommerce model.

If you already have some sort of online presence, expanding it is also not that difficult. Look at how you get the goods to shoppers. A good model is to offer both home delivery and BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick up In Store), the latter of which will be helpful for local customers. And speak to your bank about setting up new payment gateways. 

2. Customize your marketing

Any marketing strategy you had in place prior to the pandemic may now be irrelevant. It’s time to sit down and customize it to fit the new needs of you and your customers. You need to look at how you do business and what customers want. And always remember that with virtually any crisis, there is also opportunity.

Are people’s buying habits changing? If they are, and you can meet those needs, then make that a focus of any new marketing campaign. With so many goods being delivered direct to homes, can you add free shipping (for a certain spend level) to your marketing in order to attract new customers to your business and to encourage retention of existing ones? 

3. Social responsibility

Do you have any social responsibility initiatives related to the pandemic? You may have an existing CSR policy, but you could add things to that which help in the current crisis. At a basic level, that includes what you are doing to protect customers and staff. This could be things like contactless delivery, providing PPE to all staff, temperature checks, and track and trace if they still visit your store. 

Of course, what you can do will relate to what your business is. Food and beverage businesses have been offering discounts to healthcare workers, pharmacies have been offering free deliveries, etc. Finding something that your organization can contribute, no matter how small, is a good way to show you value your community and your customers.

4. Communicate

Image: Pixabay

Communicating with your customers may be more important now than ever before, and it is essential to be proactive in this area. Give answers before questions are asked. Anticipating what people will want to ask will show that you care. This can cover everything from the safety precautions you are taking to how you will continue to serve your customer base. 

If you’ve made significant changes to how you do business, communicate this to your customers. Send out emails or SMS messages to those who are on those lists, post on social media, and make any important messages stand out on your website. Letting customers know you are still there to serve them, and how you will do that, is essential.

5. Adopt new channels

You may already have some digital presence, but is it enough to cope with increased demand in the current crisis? Or are your digital channels not reaching enough people? Now may be a good time to adopt new channels or to piggyback on existing ones in order to maintain or even expand your current sales figures. 

Businesses can make positive choices such as selling via Shopify ecommerce or Amazon. This can be a great way of getting your goods to an even wider audience than before. With the infrastructure, including delivery, already in place, it can also be a budget-friendly option for a smaller business. 

6. Support your staff

The changes we have seen are not only in how we do business or how customers shop, but also in how we and our staff work. The pandemic has led to massive increases in the number of people working remotely. It’s important, then, that we ensure any remote staff are supported and have the right tools, such as VoIP phones or video conferencing software, to do their jobs. 

That can also include understanding how people integrate within a digital workforce (and acting upon it). Knowing the areas where they need technical support means that you can continue delivering great customer service at all times. Check in with them regularly to see how they are coping. 

7. Be there

We all appreciate that the demands on managers can often come from every direction. Now more than ever, though, is the time to be front and center, and available as much as possible. And that means availability for both customers and staff. For the latter, they may be uncertain about new ways of doing things, so be ready to answer any questions. 

Be ready, too, to handle customer service calls if an agent needs assistance. Availability does not mean that you have to be physically there. You can communicate via messaging services, video chats, etc. As management, you should be leading from the front. Hold regular meetings with your teams to make sure they know the latest updates and information. 

The takeaway

We have never experienced anything like this pandemic before, but we have, for the most part, adapted quickly and efficiently to changing needs and behaviors. Anticipating problems in advance can be a major factor in successfully dealing with those problems and demonstrates great customer service. Identifying tech that can help, such as inventory management software, can also assist with your plans. 

It may be that you need to implement new technology to ensure that you can provide great service, and there are customer support options out there that even small businesses can afford. Your first step in any plan should be to audit your existing processes and systems and see what you need to do to meet the current needs of your customers.


Cover image: Vignesh Rajan