As all 50 states in the U.S. and communities world-wide progress in various stages of reopening as pandemic restrictions are being lifted, customers will be coming back to retailers, restaurants and all types of businesses in their community. While this is a hopeful time for business owners, it can also be a precarious time. Bringing employees together with customers in this new normal will require some additional fineness and patience.
Lives have been changed. Habits have been altered. For the most part, people do not like change, and because much of this change is completely out of their control the change can be overwhelming, scary and trigger negative reactions. Negative feelings in any business can lead to disaster. You are likely going to get one chance to prove to your customers that your business is ready and prepared to serve them in a safe and secure manner. If there is chaos, ambiguity or uncertainty, customers will likely find new other ways to fill their needs and your will no longer be part of their consideration set. Don’t eliminate your business because your customer relations do not reflect a command of the new normal conditions and requirements demanded with COVID precautions in place.
You need to stay educated and informed about the requirements your state and local community demand. The CDC, a local health department and licensing agencies are great resources for re-opening guidance. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html. Communication which is consistent and safety focused is paramount. Make sure you do more than just post policies and procedures. Include your team, spark dialogue so they feel secure and safe. They are now being expected to deliver customer services in a new environment. Staff members also have to feel they are in an environment that will not increase risk for them. They don’t want to bring sickness home. They don’t want to get sick. The fear is real and you have to address it before you can expect superior customers service from them.
Employee training will be critical before you open your doors. If your staff is timid or tentative their energy will be transferred to your customers. You need to have confident and informed employees. Make sure that you establish a foundation for your organization first and take time to make those coming into contact with customers, exercise new skills, such as empathy, compassion and active listening. They can only be effective if they are secure and feel safe themselves. In a recent blog on the Pipedrive.com website, they remind us,” remember, that your reps will have varying reactions to this health crisis. Some may be struggling more than others and in need of additional support. Set the tone by acting as a pillar of strength and offer guidance. Your reps are likely to mirror this behavior with their customers and represent your business as a reliable, trusted resource” (2020). https://www.pipedrive.com/en/blog/reassure-customers-covid-19
Your business is going to be challenged with so much change as phases of reopening progress. Be transparent with any setbacks, challenges and obstacles you face with your employees and your customers. Establishing regular team meetings, a writing an information blog, creating a newsletter or including an informational flyer in bags, are all ways that both your internal team and customers can stay informed. Posting procedures and new requirements in visible places throughout your business will reinforce the new processes to deliver excellence in your business.
Once the basic preparations are made and your doors are open, keeping calm, being proactive and positive will be crucial to keeping your business viable. The Harvard Business Review recently provided some common sense steps to practice to make your customers service the gold standards. https://hbr.org/2020/04/supporting-customer-service-through-the-coronavirus-crisis Front-line staff and call center staff will face demands and challenges from customers that they have never faced before, so;
- Arm reps with techniques that reduce frustration – Empower your staff to resolve issues at the point of contact and equip them with solutions that are proactive and customer focused.
“The clear answer to these challenges is to empower reps to make exceptions in order to solve the customer’s problem, but changing service organization culture and policies can be a long journey. In the meantime, equipping reps with language techniques to reduce customer effort, even if they can’t make exceptions, can lead to better outcomes” (Dixon, McKenna, de la O, April, 2020).
- Prevent manager from reverting to bad coaching behaviors – Revert from structured traditional coaching to a more an integrated coaching approach.
“This “integrated coaching” happens in short bursts — before, immediately after and even during customer calls — and research shows that it can improve team performance by 12%. In fact, the best managers spend more than 75% of their coaching time on this type of coaching “(Dixon, McKenna, de la O, April, 2020).
- Use collaborative tools to help your staff tap into the collective wisdom in the organization – Create a network mindset so that team members can share and assist each other as challenges occur.
“Creating this sort of “network judgment” climate, however, is difficult under normal circumstances and even harder when reps are no longer sitting side by side in the contact center. Fortunately, modern collaboration tools like instant messaging and Slack can create workspaces for reps to connect in near-real time to get advice and perspective from colleagues “(Dixon, McKenna, de la O, April, 2020).
To deliver the best customer service in these changing times make sure you focus on the following basics as well;
- Be mindful of your tone and the tone with which your team members use to address your customers. Keeping in mind conflict often happens not because of what was said but “how it was said”. Intention aside, the customers’ interruption is their reality. You have to ensure that their reality and your team’s intention line up as much as possible. Body language and eye contact or the lack of it, can escalate a situation that might normally end in a more positive way.
- Focus on listening with empathy and coach your team on active listening techniques. Asking question, reducing interruptions and acknowledging concerns keeps the communication flowing. Avoid quoting rigid policy or arguing which will escalate negative results.
- Don’t focus on giving bad news, set new and proper expectations. Provide the positive side of situation “we are doing this to keep you and our staff healthy” instead of “we don’t want you here without wearing a mask”. Simply flipping the situation around and deescalate the moment of tension.
- Create a “great experience”. Instead of focusing on what your customers may be missing, find ways of enhancing the experience in unexpected ways and provide your customers something they can remember and share.
- Finally, ask for feedback from your customers. Encourage your staff to ask for feedback and review the suggestions and the comments regularly to see if there are things you can adopt to enhance the customer’s experience further. Implementing something new that a customer recommended, will go a long way to creating a sense of belonging and loyalty.
Your team’s performance will be critical to your business’ success. Investing time, energy and resources in creating a cohesive, empowered staff will enable you to serve the needs of your customers and your community long after the pandemic effects subside. You don’t run the business, process and systems do. Employees use processes and systems to meet the needs of your customers. Customers keep coming back because you have an environment which gives them comfort and security. If your customers know you care about them and your care equally as much for your staff, they will find it easier to comeback time after time.
If you need support in re-energizing, re-training and preparing your team to face the new standards of customers service you expect, reach out to an ActionCOACH in your area. Visit actioncoach.com/get-a-coach and we can connect you with a certified business coach to help you get start in your team transformation.