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One of the great casualties of COVID is customer service

One of the great casualties of COVID is customer service. It could be because of shortages of labor, or supplies — but one thing is clear: bad service is the new norm. Try calling an airline, or online retailer, and be prepared to wait for up to 5 hours to talk to a human. And, try going to social media, and get no response. Complain and be ready for an “oh well…”

But that’s not good, as consumers face surging prices, shortages, and long waits. This bad trend extends to contractors that don’t call prospective customers back, or worse, fail to show up.

Certainly, COVID made life more challenging, but no firm or organization should use it as an excuse to cut back on customer service. And there is one simple reason why: Eventually the imbalance in the market will work itself out, Adam Smith pointed that out a few centuries back. And in social media one thing Adam Smith could never have imagined was social media — and wiki review sites. Those reviews will live on... And once things start to settle, outraged consumers will recall who did not call them back, or kept them on hold for 5 hours, or was just plain rude. And, they will stay clear of those who failed them.

A crisis hits the best and worst in us-bringing out both. There were organizations that rose to the challenge, took care of their own — and strived to get the job done. Those organizations had a long game view, investing in customer experience, and helping to keep their brand buoyant. I had two sets of airline tickets disrupted by COVID - one on British Airways, where I was able to get 100% of my money back with no issues. The other, on another European carrier - I got no reply, and was not supposed to see their name at the top of the federal complaint list for canceling flights and not refunding customers. I will remember both tales- and tell them. And when I have a choice, I know which company I will give my business to.

So, a few tips:

Test your voicemail. Does it work, is it logical, do the customers like it or navigate it well?

If you say you respond to social media, then respond to social media — don’t let a message sit there for days, or even hours. Be clear about what you offer, and when you offer it. Eyes open!

Train your staff, and let them know the customer is always right. Be like Marshall Field’s that famously would exchange another store's shirts for a customer if asked. Teach them to knock the customer's socks off — not to be combative and challenging. Remember, a customer is cheaper to retain than to replace, and a good word of mouth from a happy customer is the best marketing.

Explain things — not just that there is a shortage, or costs went up, but how you can help find solutions.



Yes, these are hard times, but making them even harder or making excuses will hurt you one day — and the companies that excel at good service now are in it to win it.



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