Customer service excellence

How to strengthen your company’s front-line in the face of the unexpected


March 2020


Customer service is often the first part of an organisation to feel the immense pressure of a crisis. And as a front-line function, it’s often ill-equipped to deal with the additional strain. With COVID-19, we are facing many uncertainties. But one thing is certain: failure to deliver on promises will only add pressure to customer service. We’ve gathered six practical insights that could help your customer service function cope with the increased pressure.

1. Repurpose and rehire

Get people on board who can offer your employees immediate relief. If you have any former student assistants, recently retired employees or employees who used to work in customer service, reach out to them and ask for help. They will be up to speed and require minimum onboarding, meaning you can rapidly increase your workforce.

Use temporary staff for simple tasks that do not require significant training, e.g. clerical back office activities. It may not be the optimal solution, but it could be a way to ease the immediate burden.

2. Get ahead of the demand

You know your business and you know what your customers could be concerned about. Identify the top 2-3 things that you expect customers to contact you about during this crisis. Be proactive in your communication with these customers, making sure to use the right channels of communication (email, website, SoMe etc.). Your communication could also include requests to wait with certain types of enquiries.

3. Beware of creating new demand

When you try to get ahead of demand, make sure that you anticipate what customers’ next step will be. That way, you can also cater for that and not end up creating new demand. A classic example is the airline that emailed customers advising them that they could get a refund on tickets for cancelled flights. But by failing to explain how they could get the refund, the airline only created another problem that customers would need an answer for, effectively creating new demand on customer services.

4. Must do’s vs nice to do’s

Strictly prioritise tasks that are a “must do”, tasks that are “nice to do” and tasks that could be stopped or postponed. If some of these are customer-facing activities, communicate your priorities clearly to your customers so you keep them informed and don’t create new demand.

5. Strengthen daily coordination

Effective operations management is key in a crisis. Actively managing work, resource and competency levels will ensure your business runs as smoothly as possible in the given circumstances. Frequent cross-functional touchpoints will also help ensure close coordination between departments.

6. Create a knowledge hub

We are in unchartered territory in this crisis, with situations we've never experienced and questions we've never needed to ask. In order to keep your knowledge base up to date, appoint someone responsible for gathering new knowledge and insight – and sharing it with the relevant people at the relevant times.

Help your front-line thrive, not just survive

Instead of just focusing on survival and coping with the pressure of the COVID-19 crisis, try and think about ways of thriving and taking advantage of new opportunities. This crisis is a chance to position your organisation as truly customer-centric and a winner in customer service excellence. Improving both internal and external communication and proactively identifying customer needs will fortify the front-line function, leading to a stronger and more robust customer service function that customers will remember and remain loyal to both during and after the crisis.