We have got to admit that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our daily lives leading to sweeping changes to the notion of business. There’s nothing ‘business as usual’ or ‘we are open’ now. It is a global humanitarian issue with thousands of lives uprooted. Amidst this turmoil, customers and employees need your empathy more than ever.
Owing to the crisis, there has been an unprecedented shift in our thought process as well. With government mandates about social distancing and quarantine, honestly, all of us are overwhelmed and anxious about the future. Professional work culture is more about a home-based reality. Several big and small organizations are compelled to suspend operations; some are innovating safer ways to continue with their services.
In short, everyone is trying their luck to navigate through this novel environment; in such dire times, lack of empathy is common. Businesses and employers must not forget that the most important thing your customers and employees can expect right now, is an empathetic approach. Empathy was always important in a civilized society, but during a public health crisis of global stature, this particular human emotion goes a long way.
The Right Approach to Deal with the Current Situation
Amidst the current times of turmoil, the two pillars on which a business stands tall need the empathy of business owners – the Customers and Employees! There are several unknown factors, but as a business owner, you are expected to lead your team effectively and show empathy in customer service.
Speaking of CX (Customer Experience) professionals, empathy has always been their guiding principle while dealing with customers. But now it is more important than ever. Winning them with support and compassion is the best way to retain and turn them into long-term customers.
As for employees within an organization, only an empathetic work culture can keep them working with energy and zeal. This enhances stability, which is crucial for a business in these tumultuous times.
Should you reach out to your Customers right now as you used to Pre-COVID?
This is both yes and no. Your customers would only listen to you when comforted with the conversations and their issues are resolved with utmost priority and understanding. To your consumer, you are a trusted partner whom they can rely upon. The core expectations that consumers have from a company or a brand during a crisis are, the brands will do them right, make correct choices and extend their support.
Therefore every brand must strive to live up to that expectation and provide thorough support with enough fellow-feeling and compassion. Customer service executives must lend all kinds of support related to communication. Specifically mentioning the additional helplines, WhatsApp numbers, phone numbers, virtual meeting rooms, Skype IDs where they are reachable. They should avoid conversations that lead to anxiety or severe trauma, causing more harm.
Make use of this Crisis to Build Stronger Customer Relationship
More than 60% of consumers admit to turning towards brands they absolutely trust and have formed a personal connection with. This sort of liaison happens only on the trust factor and how brands demonstrate their empathy.
Many brands have started promoting crisis-related marketing efforts and have seen people taking an interest in them. These CSR activities are instrumental in gaining public support and customers, even during a situation like this.
For example, all have lauded esteemed hospitality and hotel chains J.W. Marriott and Hilton’s actions. Both the big shot hotel chains have started their “Hotels for Hope” program that offers free hotel rooms near medical facilities for healthcare workers. American Express has also joined hands with Hilton in this noble deed.
Serta Simons, the world’s leading producer of mattresses and exquisite sleep experiences, has donated over 100,000 mattresses to hospitals, as ICU beds had to be increased massively. So these are the efforts taken by the big shots to rise in the eyes of their consumers. The MSMEs, too, can try to endeavor in their own way by deepening customer relationships by simply showing empathy and compassion.
Demonstrating Empathy towards Customers
Customer service personnel, account managers, must be coached as to how to develop empathy in customer service. CX professionals now must be pro-active but not overly talkative, good listeners than smart speakers – these will make a customer feel truly valued and supported. Sound earnest and speak in a soft tone; these are all the more critical at present.
They must also keep this mind that whoever they are talking to, must have been affected by the pandemic to some extent. Some have found out their dear and near ones have tested positive. Or someone has recently lost their spouse or siblings. That said, right now customers and employees need your empathy more than ever.
There are a few ways customer relationship managers can demonstrate support and empathy towards customers and help them relieve stress.
1. Communicate with Critical Information – Be pro-active and offer all the critical information your customers need, at one go. Do not ask them to wait and come back later. For any project, give them an honest timeline. Due to the new work from home culture, sometimes a slight delay in meeting the deadline is understandable. However, don’t take this for granted and miss your deadline deliberately. Be transparent and give your clients a proper tentative date of project turnaround.
For other service-oriented sectors, the same is applicable. If an issue can be solved over the phone, then try to make it happen. Don’t keep your customers handing for answers.
2. Don’t go for Marketing and Sales Pitch – Customers now are in anxiety, so don’t go on asking for projects right now or force them with advertisements. But does this mean you will stop all marketing strategies? Of course, not.
Be humble and make them know that you are still open and can meet any of their requirements even now. If they truly have any requirements, they will surely revert. But don’t fall for aggressive marketing, now is not the right time to be too sale-sy. Being too promotional at these times sounds tone-deaf and creates a negative impact.
3. Follow-up Calls – Yes, do continue with follow up calls, but with moderations. Re-evaluate what you are going to speak over the phone. Think yourself as a customer; what you don’t want to hear now and what you truly want to. Find out the pain points of your prospects and address those, making them understand how exactly your solutions can help them mitigate the challenges. Demonstrate a caring attitude to win over your prospects.
4. Asking for Feedback – Do not stop asking for feedback, because your customer’s feedback is something that will keep you pressing further with the projects you have at hand. However, ensure the way you seek their feedback, sounds sensitive to the current situation. Ask them about their well-being right at the start; make them feel comfortable. Pay attention to the location of your customer whom you are reaching out for feedback.
If that area is among the highly affected zone, then you might hold back a little. A short, “How are you doing? Hope you are keeping well in these unprecedented times. Stay safe and strong!” – Works just great. By these small things, you can ensure that your employees empathize with customers.
5. Leverage Technology – Show empathy to your clients by utilizing all kinds of technological innovations possible, to curb the long wait times. Install a callback feature and update self-help portals. You can set up a toll-free 1800 helpline number. Think about video conferencing to speak face-to-face with your customers. Simply put, we must avail all the technologies we have at our disposal now to make the customer experience more seamless and smooth.
6. Implement ChatBots on your Website – If you have not yet, think of it now because this is the right time to leverage bots. ChatBots, when programmed to interact like humans, deepens customer relationships, build trust and connect on a more personal level. Your customers would get all the answers to their queries through these AI-enabled bots that will help create a positive and insightful experience for the tensed customers. By doing this, apart from creating new value for customers, you are also adapting your business to the impending digital transformation.
Being Empathetic Towards Employees
If we now speak about the employees, being compassionate to your employees doesn’t cost anything. As we all know recently, there have been multiple cases of lay-offs, employees getting benched, leave without pay and work with slashed pay – all these culminate into one single question. That is, job security. Concern about job security is now a global issue, and it is predicted that more than 195 million jobs will be wiped out owing to the Corona crisis.
It goes without saying that everyone in the world is thus, fearing for their jobs. Therefore, managers and employers ought to be compassionate enough to soothe the anxiety of their employees who have been with the company for so long. They must heed the call for a little more leniency in their approach.
Bearing a Humanitarian Approach – From Leadership Perspective
The Novel Coronavirus has certainly compelled business owners to think beyond business contingency plans and safety measures, and think more from a humanitarian ground. Organizations that have already taken a philanthropic approach have received overwhelmingly positive response all around.
One must never forget that people process trauma in their own ways, so it’s just about someone being near them to assure and uplift their mental state. And this is where a ‘leader’ comes in.
Being a leader is not just holding a fancy designation, but a great deal of responsibility. Whether you want it or not, if you are a leader, the onus is upon you to keep your employees motivated. As a business owner, you are very well aware that the customers and employees need your empathy in this plight. Do that and show the true ‘leader’ in you. And to achieve that, one doesn’t need to have a degree in psychology, but compassion. Here are a few takeaways from our point of view.
1. It’s essential to gauge how your employees feel right now
Ask a few questions to them during one-to-one meetings. Ask them how they are feeling about the current situation and the factors that are distracting them. Also assure them that you have got things covered. Ensure to ask whether you can do anything else to support them.
It’s all about the earnestness in your tone that fixes things. Encourage them to open up and feel free to discuss their problems and stresses with you. This simple human-to-human interaction oozes empathy and motivates people to return to their old selves.
2. Lead with Compassion
Nobody chooses a crisis to occur on them. But you can always choose consciously how to deal and respond to a crisis; that’s in your hands.
Lead your team by following certain thumb rules and you shall see your employees are productive as they were before.
While assigning duties, keep in mind their stress level and familial status, if they have recently lost someone near to them, the resources they have at their home, whether all of them have steady Internet service, consider all these points.
With work from home becoming the norm, all of us must have quite a few tools at hand to keep this virtual work culture going. However, it might be possible that some of the employees lack these and are unable to tail along, be patient and ask the IT guys to help them solve the issue.
3. Communicate, don’t wait for the Right Time
Honestly, there’s no right time now. Everything is happening so fast, in the blink of an eye, it seems for business owners and managers, there’s no right or a perfect time to communicate with their team.
Some managers wait until they have all the answers to every situation and every question of their employees. But the right way is to communicate and interact with your team frequently, even if you don’t have all the answers. The more you interact and be steady, the more your employees rely upon you.
4. Be Clear in your Speech about the Reality, don’t be Ambiguous
Several employees are fully aware of the job losses and how the pandemic has walloped the global economies. Hence, don’t be overly dramatic with them and set unrealistic milestones.
Be clear and upfront with each of the employees, be candid and tell them the truth. Make them understand that amidst the current situation, their company might also get impacted. Instead of letting them anticipate the future, share the updates in open communications.
5. Listen to their Ideas
Right now, everyone is thinking about their own way to tackle the Coronavirus adversity. Therefore each of your employees must have certain unique ideas. Be all ears and listen to their ideas and strategies; you would definitely find something unique to put to action. Capture all the vivid details.
This way, you can demonstrate empathy as well as be their listener. Your employees will feel elated at being heard by their leader and will give their best to frame some actionable ideas. All these tiny things ultimately deepen employee relation.
Moving forward, what should be our next Step?
It is truly unclear when will this crisis period will end, and the world will be back on its track. There isn’t an industry that has not been hit by the pandemic. Though the travel and tourism and hospitality industry are the most affected, every other industry is feeling the ripple effect.
In this situation, every business must strive to give customers a positive experience, bringing a sense of certainty. To normalize the already tense situation, leaders must be empathetic to both customers and employees. Good leadership with compassion and fellow-feeling is vital to manage a collective trauma and overcome the sense of isolation.
Also, this is the right time to plan for the post-crisis scenario. There will be a new world after all these end and businesses must re-evaluate their policies and strategies, rebuild customer relationship and re-energize their employees. And believe me or not, the current time is the best opportunity for a leader to foster a connection with customers and create a more cohesive team in the face of adversity.
Let’s start the process from now on so that you stay on the top. A1 Future Technologies can be your remote team at this juncture so that you have peace of mind and focus on other avenues of your business. Always remember, that customers and employees need your empathy and it is you who must ensure that. And to be empathetic and compassionate, one must be stress-free; we can make that happen for you!