Re-Opening America: 5 Things to Remember as You Serve Customers
As we begin our return to "normal" life, understand that this isn't a finish line – it's a starting line.
Customer service is always important, but never more so than during times such as those we are living in today. We must reconsider how we approach our work during difficult times, whether they are health-related like the current pandemic or related to social unrest like the nationwide protests around racial injustice. The past few months have proven incredibly challenging, and as states continue to reopen, customer service must continue to be an extreme priority.
As we begin our return to “normal” life, we must underscore this isn’t a finish line – it’s a starting line. We’re now embarking on a new way of life and doing business that must, unequivocally, put customers first. Like many of you reading this, I’m currently working from home. I’m in Maine where I grew up and went to college. Along with buying local, I have offered advice to many local businesses. In these conversations, I’ve learned how businesses are getting creative about finding solutions to the problems we’re facing today and those we will face as the country continues to slowly reopen.
While today’s challenges are unlike anything many of us have ever faced, there are enduring lessons we can embrace to make a difference. The choices we make as professionals, business owners, and consumers will have a lasting impact on our communities and the world well after we return to whatever semblance of “normalcy” awaits.
1. The New Normal
What started as “Pre-Covid vs. Post-Covid” has evolved into “The New Normal.” What will our world look like… now that many of us who have been working from home are returning to the office? Once more states open back up? Until there is a vaccine? One of the most pervasive topics is working from home. Business owners and experts across industries have adopted a myriad of work from home policies – from Twitter to Facebook, many have released strategies making “WFH” an optional policy, indefinitely.
It is difficult to know how these decisions will affect the future of work, but one thing remains clear: we must stay the course to improve customer service. Life at the workplace may never return to “normal,” and businesses have been forced to reconsider their priorities, but work will and must continue. Keeping our people focused and driving growth with new goals and a renewed sense of commitment is essential.
Though workplaces have been diverging from "normal" for some time, the pandemic has blurred their definition even further. This uncertainty also extends to the customer service industry. How will the frontlines of customer service look different? There are theories already that customer service call centers are yet another casualty in the wake of COVID-19. With the influx of customer requests and complaints, the case for automated customer service grows stronger. While I agree that customer service will likely be forever changed, I would argue that because of the drastic changes globally, the need and desire for unparalleled customer experience – and human connection – is even more crucial.
2. Meaningful communication: The EPS Rule
Call it the “EPS” rule – an early, proactive, and specific approach to how you communicate with your customers. This focus will help ensure that what you are sharing with customers is of value because as they continue to weather this period, they will prize timeliness, proactivity, and details they can rely on.
Of course, the amount and type of communication you share will depend on your industry and customer base. The key is to not overwhelm with content. Make each touchpoint matter by tailoring your communications based on customers’ needs – honest, factual, succinct content that serves them.
3. Go beyond to show loyalty in moments that matter
Executing decisions that benefit customers in the long-term is often painful in the short-term because of the costs and sacrifices involved. But if you have the wherewithal to make those long-term decisions, make them. Customers will remember how you invested in them, especially when so many are worried about keeping their jobs, covering their monthly costs of living, and exploring safe ways to reopen their businesses.
At Marcus by Goldman Sachs, the company I work for, we have allowed customers impacted by coronavirus to defer monthly loan payments since March at no charge to them. This comes at a cost to us – but it is a worthwhile cost.
We all remember the first bank to give us a loan, the credit on an order that was delivered improperly, the first person who took a chance on us, or that someone helped us out of a bind, whether as an individual or as a business. These are the moments that matter.
Customers and clients need you to dedicate your resources to creating those moments. Inspire loyalty by being loyal and taking care of the customers who keep your lights on and doors open.
4. Show customers they matter with a personal touch
When customers are distressed, the last thing they want is to feel like a commodity – an account or transaction that’s expendable.
Taking this to heart, Marcus by Goldman Sachs has communicated to our customers how valuable they are to us and ensured they are aware of their options. It’s part of our ethos, our DNA, and now, more than ever, we anchor our decision making to ensure we put them first.
Providing customers with options arms them with a sense of agency, a sense of control. When so little is in our control, it is helpful to provide consumers with the ability to make a choice and an understanding that there are options in the first place.
Furthermore, when possible, brands should provide actual human beings on the other side of the phone line or online chat. We must lean into the power of human connection. Recent customer service developments and trends have indicated the importance of accessibility, convenience, and ease, and though we didn’t know this at the time, the steps we took to achieve the levels of convenience have prepared us for what is happening now. As we reopen, emphasis from the last few decades on ease of access not only readied us for quarantine, but in turn, prepares us for what could very likely be our new working environment.
5. Use this time to be part of the solution
What started with companies leveraging resources and finding creative ways to help outside their regular expertise must evolve to consider long-term solutions. How can we help the customers burdened by the consequences of global pandemic? What are COVID-19’s long-term effects, and how can your business be part of the long-term solutions?
There are no businesses or individuals that will emerge from this pandemic unscathed, a fact becoming more apparent as we begin reopening parts of our country. Now is the time to practice meaningful communication with your customers. Make sacrifices for their sake. Create moments that matter and build loyalty. Consider the positions and mindsets of your customers. And, most importantly, consider ways in which your business and resources can provide a solution – however big or small.
Finally, focus on your people - both your employees and customers. The hard decisions many businesses have had to make thus far foreshadow difficult decisions yet to come. That said, no matter how hard a decision may be, if you focus on the wellbeing of your employees and customers, you have a greater chance of success. Keep them as your North Star, a guiding light to follow as time, inevitably, unfailingly, keeps on.
Doug Villone is is the head of U.S. Operations for Marcus by Goldman Sachs which encompasses operational oversight for all Marcus products, as well as the firm’s first co-branded credit card, Apple Card. He joined the firm as a managing director in 2018.
Prior to joining the firm, Doug was head of U.S. operations for U.S. consumer businesses at Barclays. He worked at Barclays for 10 years in a variety of global positions in operations, strategy, customer experience and client program management. Earlier in his career, Doug worked at HSBC and MBNA America Bank.