5 ways to adapt your customer service during a crisis

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Unexpected events can suddenly present a range of challenges for your business, bringing potential disruption to normal operations and a dent to customer confidence.

With your customer service team often the first point of contact when uncertainty comes knocking, being well prepared and agile is a necessity – so how can your team adapt to the challenges ahead?

Here DHL Express Australia’s Vice President of Customer Service, Fiona Evans shares five practical actions businesses of any size can take to manage their customer service during an unprecedented crisis such as COVID-19.

1. Create and update FAQs

Survey your customer facing team members for the types of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) they are receiving from customers. Compile these questions into a centralised FAQ document with internal notes and customer scripts, categorise them by topic area and write out the responses to the questions. Involving your team members makes them feel as though they are a part of the solution and creates a feeling of empowerment.

This document can act as a handy reference point for your team members when they receive their next enquiry, saving both them and system/ process managers time asking around for an answer.

Ensure the FAQs are reviewed regularly, the answers updated and communicated out to team members immediately.

Remember, in times of significant disruption you may also need to reassess and update the answers to other existing business procedure FAQ documents.

This centralised internal FAQ document can also be repurposed into a special FAQs page for your website, or added to an existing FAQ page. It can also be used as ‘on hold’ messaging for the times when an agent may need to put a customer on hold while they conduct some quick research.

Keep in mind that some situations may develop quicker than a team’s ability to update a webpage, so for rapidly developing areas aim to inform the reader of the FAQ to anticipate changes as the situation evolves, rather than writing down a definitive statement that could cause confusion later on.

2. Put it front and centre

Update your website’s front page with a visible message addressing the situation, with the aim to inform customers of what’s happening and make it one step easier for them to find the information they’re searching for.

Many e-commerce website builders provide the option for a text bar above or below the site’s logo and menu. While this is usually used for promoting offers such as ‘Free shipping on all orders’, it can be a good place to state a brief current status update, such as ‘COVID-19 Update: Head here for service information’. If this bar isn’t available to you, try adding a tile to a carousel or add a message to a pop up window or side bar.

In this case, a FAQs webpage can be a useful resource to link to on any front page website messages, in addition to any upcoming social media posts or customer email announcements/ newsletters.

3. Provide online self-service options

Some customers may prefer to avoid potential phone cues altogether and an online self-service option can help provide an alternative for those who wish to avoid picking up the phone to call a goods or services provider. Spruik these options as part of your auto attendant messages so customers know they have a choice – this is especially useful if it’s the customer’s first time interacting with your business.

Many e-commerce platforms and delivery providers offer automated software or plugins that can be integrated into your business’ online shopfront and provide the answers to some of the most common customer questions, such as ‘When will my order arrive?’

These options not only save the customer from time spent in hold queues, but can help lessen the time spent by customer support agents servicing relatively simple enquiries.

With these tools available to the customer around the clock, they will also no longer be confined to your contact centre’s operating hours.

4. Utilise call backs, emails or chat boxes

If your contact centre is receiving an increase in phone calls that is pushing up wait times, consider providing a ‘call back’ option for those who would rather do something else while they wait.

If a call back option is not available to your business, email or chat boxes could be a more cost effective alternative and be highlighted on your business’ website or social media accounts.

Many website builder platforms provide an enquiry form template that can be easily set up within a few clicks. Live chat boxes can also be added to a website. These can be attended or if outside of contact centre hours, can prompt customers to leave an email address.

Depending on the online habits of your customers, social media platform chat options, such as Facebook for Business’ Messenger service, may also prove to be a good fit.

As with any ‘call back’ service, remember to state an estimated timeframe in which a customer can expect a response to their enquiry, and stick to it.

5. Support your team

Uncertain times can understandably cause frustration among customers, but it shouldn’t be an excuse for disrespectful behaviour towards your customer support team.

Make it clear to your agents that management has their back should they be on the receiving end of unwarranted abuse. Set guidelines on what conduct constitutes as ‘crossing the line’ and provide them with a straightforward process to follow or a manager to escalate to should they wish to flag a particular incident. Keep frontline management visible and working as one with the team so they see that you are all in it together.

Team members need to know what’s happening, so give them a forum to ask questions. Similar to a FAQs for customers, create one for team FAQs and provide regular updates to continue that supportive environment.

My main belief is if you think you have communicated enough you probably haven’t – communicate, communicate, communicate! Using a range of different communication tools will help appeal to a workforce’s diverse age demographic. Depending on the team’s preferences, email or more ‘two-way’ channels such as instant group chats may be the way to go.

With a likely increase in enquiries and many agents working physically isolated at home, protecting the mental health of your agents should be a key priority for all team leaders. Through providing mental health resources or the contact details of health support services, to scheduling regular virtual team ‘check in’ meetings, there are a variety of ways to keep everyone supported and in touch.

Maintaining strong team morale and resilience will also ensure high service quality continues to be delivered for your customers, creating a positive feedback loop that will benefit agents and customers alike.


Fiona Evans

Fiona Evans is the Vice President of Customer Service at DHL Express Australia and has close to 30 years’ experience leading award-winning customer service teams. Under her guidance, DHL Express Australia has been awarded the Australian Business Award for Service Excellence for two consecutive years, the 2018 Auscontact Association Award for Winner in Operations & Customer, and the 2017 Contact Centre Week Award for Best Strategy and Culture.