How has the COVID-19 pandemic become an excuse for terrible customer service?

COVID Customer Service illustrates a big hole in business response to the pandemic. Everyone was more than understanding the Spring of 2020 as the shutdowns began that there would be bumps in reaching businesses. We all sympathized with people learning the technologies that allowed them to work remotely. We totally got that the internal operations systems of companies were undergoing hurried and unprecedented needs to be reprogrammed. Everyone got the real cost of marginal inventory planning and the difficulties in getting raw materials or even finished products shipped from overseas, across the country or even across town.

But we have been doing this now for over three years and still the customer service voicemails have the front-end apologies of “we are experiencing longer than normal wait times due to…… COVID”. Wait! What? Your business still cannot transfer a customer’s call due to COVID? It is longer than normal? No! Actually, you have made this your normal. After a year, if your business is still unable to handle phone calls, something is terribly wrong with your management.


Getting Back to Business

Whatever you spent the last year doing in response to COVID-19, it is vital that you integrate your customers back into your business model or risk having lost them as we emerge next fall from the pandemic.

Most of you will begin by looking at the human resources you have already deployed to customer service and in most cases will discover that these members of your team have maximized the tools with which they have been provided. You may find economies with your current human resources in customer service or you may want to augment your staffing in customer service. It is a missed opportunity, however, to fail to use this moment to address the weaknesses that are the customer service aspects of your website.


What is on Your Website

Whatever your online customer service content of your website looks like, you need for it to replace the customer service responsiveness that your phone lines cannot. You need to confront the reality that the idea of online chats with AI pretend people do not substitute for the types of calls that had been arriving in your call centers. And you also need to recognize the risks of “community discussion boards” that are unmonitored. Nobody wants to be referred to a “customer community” for help brainstorming or guessing without a referee about how to deal with your company or products or services.

Heretofore, actual online customer service was imagined only as an expanded FAQ. This could be a place to refer customers to offload the common simple questions. It works for what is your mailing address, where should you send payments, what are your business hours, what specific products do you carry. The hope was that some of the routine over and over simple stuff could go for assistance to take some of the load from customer service. In some cases, the online customer service / FAQ  was  really intended to funnel calls to a staffed customer service operation.

This means that it is pretty likely that whatever your customer online service offers is not actually a substitute for real help for your actual customers in the pandemic where your phone system is cobbled together connecting employees working remotely. It means that your online service needs to be reimagined, taken out of a popup bubble or sidebar on your site and made to be actually useful. What was likely an afterthought at the end of creating your website is now playing a critical front-line interface with your customers. And it is a feature into which your phone system is off-loading everyone and a system that was never intended to answer specific questions or complete a real sale.

But, if terrible customer service is your actually your  “normal” then you should at least own that. Try starting the message with “we have made the conscious decision not to address our customer service performance and intend to try to survive without being responsive to our customers. All of our options have recently changed in the last decade so please listen closely before making your choice… Press 1 to …..”