Could customer service be the key to helping your business survive a slowdown? With the cancelation of global events like the annual SXSW Festival in Austin, TX, companies could be wondering how they’ll survive if this virus continues to thrive. Amidst the COVID-19 turmoil, focusing on customers could both bring in revenue and help retain business–even with supply chains slowed.
Tim Hayden, the President and Managing Partner of Brain+Trust Partners, shares his thoughts below on the intersection of service and wide-reaching COVID-19 slowdowns. If you’re ready to consider customer strategy as more than just a survival strategy, you might find your business better for it for the long haul.
How COVID-19 and other slowdowns might impact SMBs
Direct-to-consumer powerhouse suppliers are already squeezing SMBs. “The hysteria around COVID-19 is causing consumer paranoia of public places and strangers, in general,” says Hayden. “Compounding challenges will come from disrupted services and logistics that help SMBs operate.”
Disruptions mean: as customers make panic purchases, inventory will deplete on an accelerated timeline. This timeline puts additional pressure on supply chains and, ultimately, businesses–to meet customer demand for their regular sales volume.
Why customer-centric strategy can help in tense times
“Customer patience is at an all-time low, as convenience services like grocery delivery and ride-sharing have our expectations set to ‘immediate’ and ‘frictionless,'” Hayden says. “With supply chain and distribution networks being disrupted or at best, delayed, customer service and support must be on point.”
Hayden recommends that businesses commit to ensuring they have the most updated information on both their customers and the entirety of their inventory. With this information in hand, companies will be better prepared to speak to multiple aspects of the customer relationship. For instance, sales reps can perform outreach sales opportunities that aren’t dependent on delayed inventory. Customer care reps can also offer more realistic timelines for out-of-stock items and speak to any alternative sourcing efforts the company might be pursuing.
“Having empathy and accurate details on the state of a transaction, and empowering everyone in a frontline customer-facing role to offer consolations, is paramount in modern times, not just in epidemic moments,” says Hayden.
Five tips to drill down into customer service strategy
Hayden has five tips for using customer service as a potential bridge to help your business weather any slowdown. These strategies will help mobilize your customer service efforts to the front line at any time, not just during downturns:
- Focus on data integrity. Make sure your database is de-duped, and disparate information on customers can be accessed in one place.
- Focus on facts. Delivering a personalized and empathetic experience to your customers is only possible when you have all the facts. This can include information about the customer and your inventory.
- Invest in role-playing. Use role-plays across all levels of operations weekly. This can help to present new customer concerns to the team and workshop solutions and responses.
- Try out secret shopping. This is for brick and mortar locations or those that rely heavily on internet or phone-based service. Invest in secret shoppers to test your new service protocols. Share them with your team in a constructive way to improve future performance.
- Be the brands you love. Emulate what you love about the brands you buy from most. The little things like common courtesy and first name salutations are often the difference for returning customers. You can show you’re grateful for their continued business during a slowdown.
Why customer service is the play today
For the most part, the strategies Hayden outlined above require no additional budget. They simply require your time and a commitment to open communication and teamwork. “Investing in getting to know your customers and their contextually relevant needs and ensuring every team member representing your business has that knowledge can lift sales and reduce friction across operations, marketing, and customer experience efforts,” he says.
Hayden adds that market disruptions at the top of 2020 aren’t an anomaly by any means. “Markets will continue to shift every week, and everything from retail to travel to sports and healthcare is being reshaped by this volatility, emerging technologies, and competition,” he says. “Delivering what customers need and want, without friction and free of burden on them, is what allows sales and margins to grow, ultimately.”