The new age of customer service: Keeping it human during challenging times
December 2, 2020 | Category: Customer Service
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All of us have been on the customer side of a customer service inquiry more than once, but have you ever considered what it’s like to be on the receiving end during a crisis?
Whether a customer is disappointed with a purchase or experience, seeking information or just plain frustrated, professionals on the other end of the call, email or online inquiry have the important job of tempering emotions and maintaining trust in their company’s brand and reputation.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, we at trivago fielded customer support inquiries on a scale we haven’t experienced before. While we have deep familiarity with handling these instances through established processes, the pandemic brought a new challenge with the volume and complexity of the inquiries we received.
We had to learn and adapt quickly to a record-breaking number of cancellations and understandably disappointed customers who were reaching out through multiple channels, including our website, social media and our booking partners. Part of our challenge was liaising between users who found deals on our site and our booking partners, where the inquiry would ultimately be resolved.
After debriefing about our experiences, we compiled the following five tips to help customer service professionals be better informed and prepared to handle difficult inquiries with ease and confidence.
- Work smarter by preparing
One thing that significantly improved our response time and consistency with customers was our pre-scripted communications. Working closely with our communications colleagues, we were able to proactively develop specific templates that helped us be nimble, quick and efficient.
After you’ve compiled a master internal document on how to manage customer inquiries, you can use similar language to flip it into an FAQ for your website to help customers more quickly access information without necessarily reaching out to your team.
While you may not have all the answers initially, doing as much upfront preparation as possible will help your team provide consistent information to customers who may feel confused and helpless.
- You can’t communicate enough
Open communication within our team, to customers and to partners proved essential in navigating this new environment.
At the start of the pandemic, we implemented both a weekly standup specifically to discuss the crisis at hand and an end-of-week debrief call when we could share our learnings and connect to one another on a personal level during a time of high stress. As a team, we were constantly in touch, using all the tools we had at our disposal to stay in close contact and help each other along the way.
Keeping an open line of communication with customers seeking information was also crucial. During the pandemic, some companies that resorted to closing off avenues of communication or even going dark proved to add to the frustration for customers trying to locate important information.
At trivago, we felt that even though the volume of inquiries was increasing exponentially as the crisis became worse, it was important for customers to know that their inquiry was being handled and passed along to the proper contact.
- Build relationships both internally and externally
What made the pandemic unique for us was that we had to expand our circle far beyond our specific team. Internally, we engaged on a much more frequent basis with the communications team, our legal team and others within trivago. The great part about this teamwork is that now we are in more consistent conversation with these teams about topics outside of the crisis, which is helping us to improve our ways of working with each other ahead of the next crisis.
Externally, we built on our existing relationships with our booking partners during this time to direct inquiries we received to the right places in order to get to the bottom of their concerns. Continuing to develop these relationships is vitally important for us because we work with these teams year-round.
- Transparency, transparency, transparency
Information is power for customers, especially during an influx of inquiries like what we saw in the first days and weeks following lockdowns. Being transparent about response times and the information that you are allowed to provide is crucial for customers who are seeking answers. Transparency allows you to set proper expectations with customers and provides a timeline so that they aren’t left waiting and wondering.
- Keep it human
Even if you can’t offer a quick fix to a customer inquiry, reminding them through your tone and words that you understand their frustration (without becoming defensive!) goes a long way. Customers can often lose sight of the human on the other side of the conversation, so during this time we especially focused on infusing more empathy and personalization into our messages back to customers, emphasizing that we were doing our best to get them the answers they needed.
How customer service teams respond in times of crisis says a great deal about their commitment to serving their customers during good times and bad. Losing this trust can be difficult to overcome. However it’s never too late to learn and apply for the next time around.
Heidi El Hawary, Head of User Support and Louise Griffin, Incidents & Operations Manager
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