Opinion

How Customer Support Leaders Can Manage a Crisis Like COVID-19

As a customer support leader, you were likely anxious and full of questions when the COVID-19 crisis emerged. How will you keep operations running? What kind of message should you send to your customers? And how will you keep staff morale high during this stressful time? If you have pondered these questions, you are not alone. Every customer support leader is grappling with the same challenges.

Fortunately, there are some simple, effective measures customer support leaders can take to maintain operations and boost the morale of front-line employees. Below are six steps to help deliver stellar customer support during a crisis like COVID-19.

1. Lead by example

The path to great leadership during a crisis begins with you and the example you set for your support team. Front-line workers often mirror the behavior of their supervisors, so it is important for you to model the behavior you expect from your team. Author and keynote speaker Brent Gleeson outlines some ways to lead by example:

  • Continue to respect the chain of command. Having experienced leaders to provide guidance is vital during a crisis.
  • Be mindful of what you say to avoid damaging morale or communicating incorrect information.
  • Accept responsibility for your actions if you have a temporary lapse in judgment. Everyone makes mistakes.
  • Avoid micromanaging your team. There is a difference between communicating with employees and smothering them.
  • Take care of your health. You cannot deliver support to your team or customers if you are exhausted, anxious, or sick.

2. Establish a small task force

Designating a core group of people to help manage problems and bottlenecks that can arise will help in three key ways. First, a small team of talented people often generates better results than a solo individual. Second, you show employees you value their ideas and ability to help lead others. And third, it will help you avoid the burnout that can develop if you are single-handedly managing every major problem.

3. Develop a plan

Developing an initial plan to respond to a crisis will not be easy, especially if you are contending with a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic that is completely novel to businesses. Your initial plan should not be overly complicated, especially since you will likely revise it or update your measures as the crisis unfolds. Here are some points to cover in your initial plan:

  • Availability: 24/7 availability is one of the best ways you can be responsive to customer needs.
  • Staff Scheduling: If some or all of your team will be working remotely, you need to develop a staffing schedule to ensure proper coverage.
  • IT Needs: If you have more employees than usual working remotely, you will need to plan for additional IT resources to be able to deliver support.
  • Chain of Command: A solid plan will clearly state how front-line employees and supervisors should proceed if a problem arises.

4. Communicate regularly

Proactive communication with your team and customers is a must during a crisis. Team members will be looking for information, feedback, and guidance on how to proceed. If they fail to receive this information, they may turn to other less reliable sources in an effort to remain informed. This is counterproductive and can lead to the spread of misinformation within your organization. Here are some tips to help customer support leaders communicate during a crisis:

  • Be brief: Provide a broad summary along with three or four bullet points highlighting key issues that need to be addressed.
  • Post your communications: In addition to emailing your updates, you can post them in a central location such as your employee portal.
  • Share results: Let team members know the results of their efforts. You might say, “Today we handled a record 275 calls. Great job!”
  • Be timely: Choose a time to update your team and stick to it. People will look forward to receiving your updates.

5. Know when to seek help

Managing a customer support team during a crisis can be stressful. And even the most stellar customer support leaders encounter situations that are beyond their scope of experience. In these cases, it is best to seek the expertise of a manager or executive leader. Be sure to put your request or question in writing and provide as much detail as possible. Then, use the experience as an opportunity to learn what steps to take should the situation arise again.

Also, be sure to familiarize yourself with the signs of stress and burnout. If you feel physically and emotionally exhausted due to long hours and constant stress, it is important to seek help right away. Carve out some time to talk to your manager for guidance and to explore the possibility of adjusting your workload. Or, if you prefer, you can reach out to your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for confidential guidance.

6. Seek feedback and reward your team

Front-line employees who work tirelessly to meet the needs of customers can provide valuable feedback and suggestions to help improve your plan. For example, they may notice that your live chat system has a glitch that needs to be corrected, or may suggest a motivational email campaign to keep quarantined customers engaged.

Be sure to ask your team for their feedback and input on a regular basis. You may even wish to introduce an employee feedback system for employees who may not feel comfortable openly voicing their suggestions and ideas. Finally, make time to recognize team members for their efforts. Effective motivators include gift cards, certificates, bonuses, and recognition on social media.

The Bottom Line

Maintaining a high level of customer support is essential for your business to succeed – especially during a crisis. By following the tips above, customer service leaders can swing into action and help prevent any disruption to service delivery. The end result is a more loyal customer base who will be confident in your future ability to meet their needs – even when an emergency strikes.

To discover more ways to maintain a high level of service during a crisis, we invite you to contact us at GlowTouch for a complimentary consultation. For over 17 years, we have delivered five-star outsourcing solutions to businesses across the globe. We look forward to becoming your most trusted customer support resource!

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