COVID vs. customer service: The big clash

Of all the industries struck by the pandemic, customer service was hit especially hard. The customer service industry has drastically changed, with many customers finding themselves frustrated, irritated, and anxious. 

Harvard Business Review conducted a survey of 1 million customer-service calls that covered 20 different industries. Many customers reported that their calls were “difficult.” Issues like unexpected travel cancellations, appealing bill payments, and disputes over insurance coverage plagued these conversations. Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) have always been groomed to have the attitude of “the customer is always right,” but with the logistical issues the pandemic has caused, this became even more difficult. 

A large obstacle for CSRs during the pandemic, aside from the transition of working in a store or office, to at home, is a lack of infrastructure (phone connectivity, coworkers to lend a hand, etc.) This increases anxiety on both sides of the call. As customer service reps struggle to resolve the customer’s issues promptly, the customers would only get more anxious. This doesn’t bode well for being in a state of constant ‘uncertainty.’ One company from this HBR survey found that those who had had a difficult interaction had less than a 4% chance of accepting the company’s “save offer,” compared to a 20% probability for customers whose interactions were scored as “easy.” 

What can companies do to help customer service reps navigate this new landscape?
    1. Update policies to reflect the current reality: This will prevent CSRs from being limited by pre-pandemic policies. An example being advocacy language (“Let’s figure this one out together”). 
    2. Integrated coaching: Having managers integrate coaching into the daily workday flow, rather than once a week. 
    3. Company collaboration: Use collaborative work tools like Slack to have a flow of conversations around advice, questions, and thoughtful answers to commonly asked customer questions. This is a great tool for remote workers and promotes an encouraging work environment. 
The big takeaway

The customer service industry has been facing unprecedented challenges during the pandemic. Customers are having more emotional and anxious calls, and CSRs are floundering to account for large call volumes and working from home with a rocky infrastructure. There are ways that companies can support their reps and increase productivity and reliability between the customer and the rep. This time is stressful for all, so leading with empathy and support is the best way to prevail. 


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