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Service Sacrifices: Standards In Crisis | #ICMIchat Rundown (July 21, 2020)

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When significant events and national emergencies grab the headlines, it's not always clear how they impact us individually as customers and organizations. For service providers, crises often mean altering how they work. In some cases, we're unable to provide the type or level of service offered before. Our own standards for success and our customers' expectations may have to change.

Join us on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific to weigh in on the contact center industry's most pressing challenges. Next week, we explore "Do You Have the Time? Resetting Customers’ Clocks." A question preview follows this article.

ICMI's Group Principal Analyst, Roy Atkinson, led a thoughtful discussion about service standards in this week's #ICMIchat. Our community shared how they're adapting to changing customer demand and operating conditions. We also discussed practical tips for keeping staying ahead when times are tough.

Expectations Remain Constant

Customers continue to expect to be treated well during times of significant disruption to supply chains and businesses. While they're often willing to make concessions where possible, companies need to react and recover quickly. The fundamentals of customer service remain the same: to feel respected, heard, and cared for. Even if we're unable to deliver what the customer ordered, many of these basics are still within our control.

During a crisis, customers count on businesses to come thru even more than usual. But sometimes the needs can’t be met. At those times, agents should validate frustrations, provide referrals to departments that can resolve problems, and communicate that to customers.

My impression: weeks 1-2 had a grace period, but the statute of limitations has been expired for sometime now. Patience for babies crying, maybe. But not for lack of resolution.

Expectations increase! As people's emotions and fear rises, they have limited space to forgive mistakes.

Experiences May Vary

The saying "never let a good crisis go to waste" could be interpreted by some as an opportunity to lower service levels without sacrificing revenue. During national emergencies, there are many valid reasons to alter the commitments businesses make to customers. Ensuring the changes are fair and relevant is critical to maintaining customer trust. From an insider's perspective, many are also using these emergencies as catalysts for positive organizational change.

Not that I have seen personally. However, I notice that almost every business has put up a warning that their service levels have been impacted by the crisis. It’s believable for most businesses, but sounds like an excuse for some!

In Virginia, hair stylists in salons are unable to blow dry + style customers' hair, due to restrictions. Less service. Same price. However, stylists also have more PPE + sanitizing expenses. It's fair to keep prices the same, or add a surcharge IMO.

I've seen A LOT of companies send out broadcast emails - the spaghetti on the wall tactic to see what sticks -- it seems when we are confronted with crises, fear sets in and we revert to bad habits we know don't work but that's the safe space. SMH boggles the mind!

Sharing Sacrifices

When service offerings or expectations must be altered to conform to reality, effective communication is vital. No one likes a disappointing surprise after the fact; the trick to avoiding disappointment is to set reasonable expectations in advance. This involves a thoughtful communication plan that begins very early when service disruptions are anticipated. Don't be afraid to enlist the help of professionals to fine-tune the message to your audience.

Wherever support is being provided, crystal clear expectations should be communicated before and after submission of an inquiry. Tell 'em once and then tell 'em again.

That's where a clever PR/ Marketing team comes in handy. The real key to getting that message across is patience and repetition.

They should be honest and upfront. They should use clear and simple language. They should include as much of background as possible, and explain why their choice was the most reasonable given the circumstances.

Changing market conditions can require service sacrifices. Good customer strategy will help determine which changes will be least likely to negatively affect customer migration. Keep in mind the overall identity of the company and don’t sacrifice that value!

But Why?

Customers are not necessarily experts in your field. When changes that degrade their level of service are announced, they may not innately understand the reason for these changes. Explaining the logic behind your decisions and the constraints that caused them will help customers understand that you have their best interests at heart. Furthermore, embrace the reality of the circumstances you're responding to. Attempts to gloss over service sacrifices with PR spin may be perceived as less than fully transparent.

I'm in the transparency camp on stating the "why." I do think you should say why with minimal PR spinning. It's about trust and customers can see through #marketing speak.

Instead of focusing on "why" and "sacrifice," the goal should be to highlight "long term improvements" and how the customer's life is better because of this change.

Feeling Unfulfilled

In good times and bad, businesses are faced with customer requests they're simply unable to meet. Customers often ask for services that don't match a company's capabilities or offerings. They may be trying to book a flight or hotel that's totally full or looking for a product that's unavailable or has gone out of stock. In these situations, the best approach is to be straightforward. Focus on helping customers where you're able, and connect them with alternative service providers when you're not the best suited to assist them. Customers remember who helped them even when they couldn't make a sale.

Always tell the truth to a customer whose needs you’re unable to meet due to a crisis. "Can't do it now" isn't the same as "can't do it ever." Tell the customer truthfully what you can't accomplish right now.

Quickly and clearly. I'd way rather be told a need can't be met and have the option to move on, rather than waiting around for days to receive a real answer.

Billing Adjustments

If an organization isn't able to offer the same services or deliver the same quality as before, it may be time to reconsider the value proposition and the price associated with it. However, there are other ways to create value, such as increasing personalization, reducing customer effort, or providing extra-special customer service. Limited services don't have to mean limited potential, and experience design can help.

I do believe "reduction of customer effort" should be a KEY principle in our experience design efforts, especially right now. People are willing to pay a bit more for both convenience as safety.

I have noticed a few businesses reduce their margins and sell essential things for a lower price. But most businesses have maintained their prices or increased them. Profitable businesses can take a hit in their own margins while paying suppliers the same prices.

Yes, businesses should reconsider pricing if they can't sell or deliver the same things in the same way they could before a crisis. I'm not sure whether experience design can be used to offset other setbacks unless the org sells experiences only (no products).

Silver Linings

No crisis is convenient. They bring setbacks to our personal and professional goals, and often plans have to be scrapped or reinvented completely. However, disasters can be opportunities in disguise. With a little energy and the right mindset towards experience design, companies can emerge from emergencies serving customers better than ever before.

FWIW...my train of thought: “Friction produces heat. Heat is energy. Energy can be harnessed.” CX can benefit when points of friction are analyzed, understood, and lubricated, leading to more efficiency and energy that can be conserved to use elsewhere!

Absolutely! This crisis is also a huge opportunity for brands who are able to rise to the occasion. Brands' responses to what's happening in the world is a huge differentiator from a customer perspective.

Yes! This is the time when emotional intelligence, empathy, and care can create wildly personal customer experiences. Focus on the customers you (still) have and make them know they matter.

Yes, orgs have opportunities to improve customer experience & deliver better experiences than ever before simply by being candid w customers. Candor is built on sincerity. It both assumes and causes a positive future. And it's FREE!

Back To Normal

Eventually, "business as usual" will return to our vocabulary. When operations begin to resemble normalcy again, it's essential to reset customer expectations one more time. Exceptions that don't end may become excuses. Customers rely on the expectations we set to shape their actions and decisions. It's critical to let them know when their old expectations are valid again and to appreciate their patience and cooperation along the way.

Absolutely! It shows how quickly an org has bounced back, and how well it was prepared overall. It also lets customers know they can expect their familiar CX. It spreads words that the company’s ecosystem of partners are on a recovery path as well!

Yes, but I wouldn't use language like "restore" or "reopen." Let's not do things like we did before...let's just start fresh. New customers don't know it went away, and older customers are just excited to see it again.

Orgs should communicate when operations are restored to normal if there's been an outage or storm, for ex. But some crises cause permanent changes & "normal" is laid to rest. No need to communicate the death of the old normal! Focus on the new normal.


#ICMIchat July 28, 2020
Do You Have the Time? Resetting Customers’ Clocks

Do You Have the Time? Resetting Customers' Clocks

Q1: Do customers have an accurate perception of time?

Q2: How does customers’ perception of time impact their experience and emotions?

Q3: What role do customer expectations play in their perception of time? Where do the expectations come from? How can we reset them?

Q4: Is it possible to “reset customers’ clocks” to make delays more palatable?

Q5: How might a contact center agent reset customers’ clock during a customer service interaction, such as phone, chat, or email? How often?

Q6: Is call, chat, or case abandonment a problem? How can it be addressed?

Q7: How might a customer experience practitioner reset customers’ clock in-between touchpoints or service interactions?

Q8: Does resetting a customers’ clock have economic benefits, such as reducing repeat contacts?

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