Sage advice that we often hear during a crisis is “It’s those that think smart and consider the long-game who are likely to be the winners from this situation" but when you're under pressure, it can feel a lot easier said than done.
Yet avoiding crucial mistakes, with small adjustments to customer service, can help you take that pressure off, and actually turn a negative into a positive.
customer service in a crisis
Like a lot of people this year, I've tried to take a couple of long weekend break in the UK, already resigned in the short term at least, to taking my longer annual holidays in the UK too, as I did this Summer.
Quite recently, I’d booked one such short break in rural Nottinghamshire, for this month (November). I realise now of course that this trip was probably never going to happen, given the renewed lockdown status, and to be honest I've lost the desire to take the trip anyway given the circumstances.
Poor customer experience
So imagine my surprise, when I set about asking for a refund. The best way I can describe the whole process was “obstructive”. Clearly I appreciate that the company wish to keep my money; I recognise that the travel sector is decimated and needs our support, and I also understand that a contract is a contract.
However, I had signed up with their “COVID-19 No Quibble Guarantee” in place. If I changed my mind, I could simply contact them and expect a full refund. This led me to make a booking for a relative’s “significant” birthday, safe in the knowledge that if my elderly relative had a change of heart due to local changes in the Coronavirus infection rates I could do something else …. It was, after all, no quibble.
Not so! For some unexplained reason, you can’t talk to them until you are within 28 days of starting your break. Emails sent before this 28-day window go unanswered. The company offers no telephone access at this stage, and no Live Chat service on their website. In short, they completely ignore and avoid their customers who have made a booking and paid their money.
This is an approach that is sadly, highly symptomatic of this pandemic, and designed I'm sure to mitigate staff shortages, and slow the inevitable run for refunds. Perhaps there is a hope that time may allow you to reconsider, or to simply put you off completely.
This holiday company is not alone. Many companies across an array of sectors have come in for criticism for the dictatorial, or simply negligent way they have suddenly approached Customer Service. However, these will be the same companies, in hopefully three to six months, who will be begging for our custom.
But by that time, how much will their brand have been irreversibly damaged? Will they have lost consumer confidence and trust for good? Will word of mouth about competitors who behaved well, ensure their customers go elsewhere next time?
prioritise great customer service
I’m very aware that many decisions come down to cost, and the fear of incurring greater cost just to handle refunds 'well', prohibits seeing the smart choice. Thinking smarter about how you treat customers, and importantly, how you manage their expectations in a difficult situation, can actually lead to a more positive outcome for your business in the medium and long-term. If you intend to actually survive the crisis, then it is critical that your brand comes out stronger. You have an opportunity to become more highly trusted than before.
Turning a negative situation to positive advantage, can often be done with simple changes to your customer experience. In my example here, the addition of 24/7 Live Chat to the company's website would be a cost-effective and customer-friendly way to deal with initial customer queries. It performs the role of 'first line of contact', where the business can acknowledge a customer contact, and manage customer expectations regarding process and outcome.
Refusing to engage with your customers whether through sheer volume or trying to avoid giving refunds is not a viable strategy. Clear advice and guidance delivered through an instant, easy access medium like live chat is a great way to reduce call centre pressure and provide a better customer experience.
generating a return
Mitigating a negative situation with great service, rather than hoping to avoid it through obstruction, actually raises customer value, reducing cancellations, improving retention and repeat business.
As a customer, you may still not be able to go on the trip you planned, but at least your concerns have been heard, your expectations managed, and belief and trust established. Human-managed, empathetic conversations via web chat can go a long way to offsetting customer frustrations and building perception. Remember, it’s the long game that’s worth winning.
If you'd like to chat about improving customer service, get in touch with me: firstname.lastname@example.org