A Short Guide To Delivering Great Customer Service During a Pandemic Delivering support during these challenging times-while working remotely-is only one piece of the puzzle. The bigger challenge would be to genuinely help customers when they're hit by a huge business slowdown

By Niraj Ranjan Rout

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While most departments at various companies struggle to navigate the impact of the current pandemic, for customer service, it presents an all-new challenge.

Delivering support during these challenging times—while working remotely—is only one piece of the puzzle. The bigger challenge would be to genuinely help customers when they're hit by a huge business slowdown.

About 150 companies globally have informed investors of earnings getting hit. Companies such as TCS, Starbucks, Cyient, Crocs, Bajaj Consumer Care, HP, L'Oreal, Trivago and Disney, are only a few names out of those listed.

Out of the many which are facing losses, some would be your customers too. They might need more flexible payment terms or perhaps, not find themselves in the capacity to pay—chances are they will request a cancellation for their subscription.

The question is, what can customer service teams do to genuinely help them? Here are a few ways.

Be honest

This is certainly not the time to over-promise or mislead customers. Maintain an open dialogue with them. Tell them your team is equipped to face the situation, but there might be occasional delays.

If you're in e-commerce, and a product shipment has been delayed due to a supply chain bottleneck, tell your customer about it. They'll understand.

If a few members of your team are unavailable and replying to emails is taking longer than usual, tell the customer that your SLAs will be hit. They'll appreciate the honesty.

Make their lives easier

It is important to help your customers practice social distancing at this time. McDonald's has introduced contactless food delivery where customers who order food do not need to come into contact with delivery persons. That's just great customer service.

If you're a restaurant, you can always incentivize customers for online orders. UberEats has waived delivery fees for all orders from independently owned restaurants in the US.

It is always a good idea to create a page with answers to commonly asked questions at this time. IDBI Bank in India has offered a scheme for borrowers to mitigate the burden of debt servicing brought about by disruptions on account of COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure the continuity of viable businesses. They are advising customers on how to use this and have created a detailed FAQ page about installment relief.

Be generous

If your service is crucial to workers who are working from home, this is just the right time to do a little bit extra to help them.

If you're software that helps collaboration, give out free stuff, or extend usage limits. Teams going remote need collaboration tools more than ever. Zoom, a video conferencing tool, just removed meeting limits on the basic plan, for schools affected by COVID-19.

  • If you're a file-sharing tool, remove sharing limits for a while. Meero, a file transfer service, is providing free large file transfers to make working from home easier.
  • If your clients offer paid ads, they could offer a free extension. For instance, OLX India also extended the duration of existing paid ads on its platforms by a period of one month.
  • If you're a publication, remove paywalls. It would help users have access to all the information they need in these difficult times. Many publications such as The Hindu Business Line, Mint, Forbes India magazine, among others, offered 20-30 day free subscriptions for digital editions to customers who couldn't have the papers/magazines delivered offline.

Pause subscriptions if needed

Forbes points out that "Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and many others in the US have stopped all stock buybacks for the 2nd quarter in order to maintain their solvency and liquidity for customers during the outbreak."

Fitness companies such as Curefit in India have allowed users to pause their subscriptions until they reopen again. The liberty of putting the subscriptions on hold has been provided across its centres in India.

They are taking the right steps to recovery. If you are a SaaS company that runs a subscription model, think on the same lines as the aforementioned names. If a customer reaches out saying they're not in the best shape to renew their subscription, offer to "pause' their subscription for a while. It's going to be a lot more convenient to restart a subscription, as opposed to starting one from scratch.

Make cancellations easy

Aviation is one of the worst-hit industries because of the ongoing outbreak. Customers who booked flights months ago are reaching out with refund or cancellation requests. Many airlines have put their best foot forward to deal with the situation.

Air India, for example, has given vouchers to travellers after flight cancellations. The customers can use these vouchers at a later stage once the flights start running as scheduled.

The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely put organizations and its various verticals in a tough spot given the current time. However, if the right practices are exercised and there is a focus on the right support that needs to be provided to customers, service providers can successfully navigate through the situation and even thrive in today's time.

Niraj Ranjan Rout

Co-Founder and CEO, Hiver

Niraj Ranjan Rout is Co-founder & CEO of Hiver, a Gmail-centric customer service solution. Hiver has over 1,500 customers across 30 countries, including the likes of Hubspot, Harvard University, Vacasa, Airbnb, Pinterest and Shutterstock among others. An alumnus of IIT Kharagpur, Niraj completed his B. Tech in Electronics and Communications and went on to work with the Electronic Design Automation firm Mentor Graphics for five years. He took his first entrepreneurial plunge along with Nitesh Nandy when they started Mobicules, an app and web development company.

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