Importance of Customer Service Communication During a Crisis
⏱ Reading Time: 8 minutes
What is a business owner’s worst nightmare? Being hit with a disaster, for sure. Disasters can be natural like COVID-19, or technological like a website crash. Anything that threatens the current fabric of the organization, its operations and its future profit curve comes under the banner of ‘crisis’.
During a crisis, the hardest hit are the customers, who have invested in the company and rely on its products or services to make it through their day. Because a crisis causes business disruptions, customers often tend to feel agitated, frightened and stressed. This is when they pick up their phones or try other channels to talk to the company’s customer service representatives.
From then on, it is up to the customer support to maintain a consistent line of communication with the people. They need to be able to handle the bombardment of inquiries, address tons of requests and sway the customers away from refunds or cancellations. Most importantly, they have to be ‘there’ for the people and give an empathetic shoulder without breaking under pressure.
Picture 1. Customer support has a key role in solving communication challenges
A company’s Customer is #1 motto faces the real test in a crisis. A disastrous emergency turns the customer service department into one of the most crucial instruments of business continuity. A continuity, which is only possible through solid customer communication. In other words, a business cannot go on if it doesn’t have a customer service department to maintain public relations during a catastrophe. Therein lies the importance of communication in customer service amid a crisis.
However, offering high-quality customer service during a crisis and ensuring transparency through communication is difficult. Besides the pressure, CSRs have to level up their strategies to maintain customer satisfaction and prevent any loss of leads.
What are the possible ways you, as an entrepreneur, can help your team handle the crisis with finesse and without burning out? This post offers some of the best tried-and-tested communication tips in that regard. Read on.
Communication Tips for Customer Service During a Crisis
Tactfully Dispense Your Communication Channels
One of the best ways to handle a crisis without losing prospects is to devise a customer notification strategy. You can start with a general communication approach, and then move to a targeted one.
For a General Audience
Set up a public information page. It should provide the details surrounding the crisis in a concise language. It should also direct the people about what they need to do if their area faces direct exposure. Moreover, it should update them on when to expect their delayed products, and show them alternative arrangements or solutions. Spectrum customer service excels at this point. The team has recently made a special support page on the COVID-19 situation. This public information portal mentions self-service internet, TV and phone options for stay-at-home subscribers. It also tells them the precautions Charter takes with its physical stores, and the community programs it is running for the afflicted citizens.
You can do the same on your customer service portal. Show people that you have their back. Ideally, your public information page should be:
- Complete – Covers the incident in totality and shows who the decision-makers are. It also shows how they’re managing the situation, what protocols and measures they have set, and how to get a hold of them. Completeness also means reviewing and updating the data from time to time, as the crisis direction changes, so there is no chance of misinformation.
- Accessible – Available across multiple platforms, including the company’s support page, social media profiles, and email chains, etc. The purpose is to catch the eye of customers no matter where they go online and relieve them with a healthy dose of information.
- Readable – Clear enough to convey the message. You can use headings, a table of contents, bullets, signposts, bigger font and multimedia to make your public information page as diverse, readable and relevant to all audiences as possible.
For a Specific Audience
After creating a public information page on the crisis, make your support efforts more narrow and specific. Target those groups who are on the verge of severing their ties with the company. Too much information will only further enhance their panic. So, calm them down with only ‘need-to-know’ information on the crisis. You can convey these specially tailored messages through SMS support, email or social media for that matter. Send them hourly updates that reflect relevancy and positivity. Believe in the importance of communication in customer service and make it a reality during a crisis.
Research & Create an Internal Knowledge Base
When you see an iceberg from afar, you get a chance to steer your ship away from it and save everyone on board. This works for a customer service team too. Foresight is an impressive skill that can save your skin during a crisis. By gathering intel about the situation beforehand, you can be at a better vantage position to tackle it and answer any questions regarding it.
Start by reaching out to the stakeholders or company experts in other departments, such as transport, who are the most affected. Get their viewpoint on the current and foreseeable crisis impact. Then, head to the policy-makers of the company and inquire about any modifications or amendments in the company’s policies fueled by the crisis. Appoint key dates to be conveyed to the customers for the future events, and seek out the official spokesperson for the crisis to review your action plan once it’s complete.
Finally, create a ‘source of truth’ document. This should include:
- The most accurate information on the crisis impact,
- Any policy updates,
- Language pointers to use with sensitive customers,
- Expectations to set,
- Area-wise response team contact numbers, etc.
This document should be easily accessible by everyone in the customer service team to make customer communication even more informed.
Picture 2. Crisis communication has to be consistent
Reflect the Best Values in Your Language
Each customer behaves differently in a crisis. You can categorize them on a scale from 1 to 10, with one being the calmest and ten being the most panic-stricken. Prepare yourself by fleshing a list of questions you expect to answer. Keep the crisis source document at hand and use it as a point of reference.
Whether you interact via phone call or communicate textually, make sure that your tone reflects:
- Confidence about your company’s grip on the situation,
- Empathy about the downs and lows your customers have to face due to the crisis,
- Clarity about the steps they need to take,
- Consistency about the message you are conveying throughout all your channels,
- Timeliness about your response and follow-up efforts to the distress calls,
- Accuracy about the impact of the issue on your customers and its aftermath,
- Relevancy instead of speculations or digressions, etc.
No matter how angry, anxious or downright bitter your customers get due to the crisis, don’t lose your composure and don’t get defensive. Keep the interaction going as smoothly as possible with a calm demeanor. Inform your customers about the risks, instead of hiding them. Be sympathetic and compassionate. Publish a summary of your crisis management efforts and convey it with a tone of hope. Thus, through proactive communication, you can show the customers that they can rely on you regardless of everything.
Utilize Tools for a Better Communication Management
A crisis can create an air of restlessness not only for the customers but for the customer support team too. In this atmosphere of pressure, anything can go wrong. Customer service employees are only human and prone to err, especially when there are thousands of urgent requests and queries that fall on their heads. The best way to manage the incident and uphold the importance of communication in customer service is to organize the workflow through tools.
You can use automation to give the service help desk a boost. AI assistants can handle the menial tasks, like sorting, recording and routing the queries to the right departments. There are actual smart workflows that detect the mention of keywords, such as ‘coronavirus’ in the customer queries. Following that, they copy all such messages into a single cloud folder and tag it with clear words. This helps the human agents to locate the mass problems in a go and quickly respond to them, saving time and effort. Since customers hate to wait, these tools can help eliminate the waiting time and pave the way for faster communication.
Moreover, the right implementation of automated tools will give the CSRs enough support, so that they can divert their attention to more serious matters.
In conclusion, crises are unpredictable and can hit your business with a damaging force. Once you deal with a crisis, another one comes up and even with a bigger impact. That is why you need to have a contingency plan in place and a clear customer communication strategy to brave the rough waves.
This post takes you through the incident management tips, such as opening up communication channels, creating a source of truth document, using healthy language pointers and employing automation. By considering these, you can easily maintain your public relations during a crisis.
Danish Meraj is a digital marketer at Local Cable Deals who loves to play with data and analytics. He does and loves establishing businesses online through digital marketing.
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