Many companies love to talk about how they put customers first.
This pledge is a foundational promise in countless mission statements, website headlines and handbooks for customer service teams everywhere. But how can a customer-first mentality survive uncertainty on a widespread scale?
For example, the coronavirus pandemic has had disastrous impacts around the globe. Experts are still tallying up the financial damage, let alone loss of life. Forecasts for the return to normalcy changes on a daily basis. Businesses and customers alike have been left to wonder, “When will things return to normal?”
During times of uncertainty, it is critical that companies maneuver to uphold a customer-first mentality. As put by an article from The Wall Street Journal, “Brands that genuinely demonstrate empathy and put their core values to the test will likely weather the storm better than others.”
No matter what the “storm” is, there are strategies companies can follow to come out on top. In this blog post, we’ll outline some of the major principles of a customer-first mentality in uncertain times.
1. Be Empathetic.
Pivoting your company to adapt to widespread upheaval is critical.
So is making it a priority to let customers know you’re still there for them.
Keep them up-to-date on business hours, products, services, and policies. If your company is still open, don’t underestimate the simple strategies: you can communicate verbally or through signs on doors or counters. If you’re an online business or aren’t able to be open due to circumstances, make sure to update customers through email, websites and social posts.
Appropriate tone is essential. Use language that is straightforward, calming and honest. Be empathetic to the current situation and understand that your customers are just as frustrated by interruptions in your service as you are. Express your gratitude for their past business and support.
Remember: compassionate, clear and concise communication is a requirement—not a bonus—in times of widespread upheaval
2. Be Responsive.
During a crisis or extended period of disruption, agile and ongoing communication is critical to preserving your customers’ trust in your business.
Occasionally, a period of uncertainty will prevent a business from following its standard operations. The ongoing pandemic (and the resulting switch to online shopping on a massive scale) is a prime example of this. If customers cannot communicate face-to-face as they would in a brick and mortar store, they must communicate their needs or problems entirely via phone, email or other online services. The last thing they want is to feel as though they’re speaking into an empty void. Unfortunately, many brands have not internalized this lesson yet. Key findings from a 2020 customer service benchmark report found that:
- 62% of companies do not respond to customer service emails
- 90% of companies do not acknowledge or inform the customer that an email has been received
- 97% of companies do not send a follow up email to customers to see if they are satisfied with the response
- Only 20% of companies are able to answer questions in full on the first reply
- The average response time to handle a customer service request is 12 hours and 10 minutes
For customers, this total communication breakdown is beyond frustrating. It could mean the death of their relationship with the company.
In times of uncertainty, radio silence can mean losing customers forever — even once the uncertainty or crisis has passed. Increasing, rather than decreasing, the frequency of your communications is key to staying on your customers’ radars, offering your support and providing helpful, relevant information related to the crisis as it develops.
3. Be Transparent.
The coronavirus pandemic provides businesses of all kinds with a lesson in the benefits of being transparent.
Whether it’s a fluctuation in demand, the transition of a business model or a spike in customer concerns, the effects of uncertainty can materialize in different ways.
To put it clearly: brands need to change to survive. And they need to tell customers about the changes and the reasons for making them.
A culture of transparency builds mutual trust and appreciation. So often, however, businesses fail to establish it. A late 2019 report showed that only 34% of consumers stated that they trust most of the brands they use.
What does transparent communication with customers look like in action?
The fluctuations of demand during a period of uncertainty often provide an opportunity to establish transparency. If your company is experiencing increased demand, for example, shipping times are likely to be impacted. Openly communicate this disruption via available channels. Apologize for the delay and make sure customers have accurate predictions for their order’s arrival.
In times of uncertainty especially, customers would rather understand why their service is delayed or affected than be left guessing.
There’s no magic bullet to navigating uncertainty unscathed. However, brands with a customer-first mentality that prioritizes empathetic, responsive, and transparent communication are far more likely to come out on top than those who don’t.