Manage your customer service team during a crisis like COVID-19

As the world faces new challenges created by an uncommon global crisis, many organizations are awakening to the reality that business change can happen anywhere, at any time. And while organizations will be unable to control crises, what they can do is ensure they’re prepared to viably and productively lead their teams through those difficult times, emerging stronger on the other side. 

The pandemic has highlighted just how rapidly things can change. Businesses have been compelled to change from conventional on-site operations to remote working approaches. The truth is that many organizations, and managers, have been completely unprepared for these changes. Crises can’t be predicted… but they can be acknowledged, and they can be prepared for. 

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

1- Crisis & customer service 

Every area of business operation is helpless against potential crises. However, as COVID-19 has demonstrated, customer-facing areas can sometimes receive the brunt of the impact. This is because of uncertainties over how or even if businesses will remain operating during a crisis, and this can result in significantly expanded call volumes, greater complexity of inquiries, and heavier workloads. 

Obviously, managers are there to help their teams through it all. There are multiple potential crises that can make it perilous or challenging for customer service teams to continue operations from the office. Obscure viral infections aside, unfriendly climate conditions, structural damage, and even transport strikes can imply that managers are faced with supporting their teams remotely. 

Customer service has long been an office-based task. And there are multiple reasons for this. Having a team together enables managers to conduct valuable employee training, analyzing real-time calls to inform and educate employees. It allows for customer service agents to learn from each other, and to team up to address and resolve issues rapidly for improved customer satisfaction and reputation. 

As such, many managers don’t have the any idea how to lead remote teams. It’s something that they’ve neither needed to do previously, nor particularly wanted to. But sometimes, there isn’t a choice. As the circumstance in 2020 has appeared, massive change can happen rapidly, and there is an urgent need for businesses to ensure they are prepared to handle change if they need to not only survive during a crisis, but continue to thrive. 

2 – Valuable lessons in team management 

Not every management technique will work for every leader. There will consistently be some level of trial and error involved in developing a remote leadership plan. However, what may be useful is to look to other organizations for guidance, learning from crisis supervisors or managers who really have ‘been there, done that.’ 

Empower teams 

The right software solution can enable your teams to do great work through improved communications with geographically dispersed colleagues, better planning and scheduling, and superior time management. It empowers leaders to be more flexible and delegate effectively which is indispensable during a crisis, with Deloitte stating that ‘reducing the number of reporting tiers can improve productivity’ during COVID-19. 

Lead with calmness 

Effective customer support service teams must act with the 4 C’s: compassion, confidence, competence, and calmness. “Your core responsibility is having an architecture and framework with the ability to remain calm, not overreact, see the bigger picture and have common goals,” says Mark Hutcheon, Communications Director at Williams F1 Group, speaking at the 2018 Crisis Communications Conference. 

While crises might be troublesome, and while there might be various uncertainties and worries. Managers operating under crisis must lead with calmness, and must lead by example. During difficult times, employees are probably to look to their managers for guidance on how to behave. By remaining calm, customer service agents are motivated to remain calm too when conversing with customers. 

3- Don’t stop once the crisis is over 

These exercises from crisis managers can go far towards building up another age of empowered leaders with the knowledge and understanding expected to help teams through challenging situations and uncertainties. However, one of the greatest mistakes that managers can make is only drawing upon these exercises during times of crisis. Effective crisis management isn’t a one-time thing; it’s a continuous process that ensures leaders are ready to handle whatever’s thrown at them. 

In all actuality while these exercises can be powerful aides, there’s no right or wrong way to handle a crisis situation; it all depends on the individual circumstances of both the business and the customer. The most important thing that supervisors or managers can do is to acknowledge and learn from the strengths and weaknesses of their crisis management plans, and ceaselessly adjust to lead with certainty without fail. 

There’s a major distinction among theory and practice, and COVID-19 has demonstrated a number of practical flaws in theoretically sound plans. A few situations are outside of your control. How you lead through a crisis isn’t one of them. 

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