Support agents handle over 1 million messages a day during COVID-19
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Support agents handle over 1 million messages a day during COVID-19

by Jackson Kushner | Mar 20, 2020

As companies, governments, and people work together to help slow the spread of COVID-19, many brands are experiencing a significant increase in customer support tickets and calls. Health insurance companies, airlines, and supermarkets have been hit especially hard, but businesses in a variety of industries have felt the strain on their customer support teams.

In a time like this, it’s important to remember that businesses are some of the most powerful allies we have to help us slow the spread of disease, keep us informed, and deliver vital services like food, water, and communications. And of course, the customer support team is often the first line of contact for the public. Whether you’re running a company or you’re just a consumer who needs help, there are steps you can take to help ease the burden on support teams around the world.

Brands

If you work in customer service, manage people who work in customer service, or manage a company whose customers need service, you may be struggling to keep up with the increased volume right now. Even with advanced technological solutions like Khoros Care and customer support chat bots, this can be a tall order. But there are some important strategies you can implement to make sure your customers get the care they need:

  • Hire temporary help. Perhaps the most obvious solution to increased demands on your customer service team is to hire additional support staff to manage the influx of tickets. Some businesses can also repurpose staff they can’t use during the crisis, such as sales associates, to help with customer service. For many companies, these can be effective strategies. For many others, however, it takes valuable time and resources to train new support staff to make sure that they can serve customers to brand standards. This means hiring temporary staff may actually cost you more time and money than it saves you.
  • Prioritize cases and set expectations. Many companies whose services directly relate to some part of the COVID-19 outbreak, including Delta and Hotels.com, are currently assisting only high-priority customers — that is, those who had booked travel within the next couple weeks. Importantly, both these brands communicated this strategy to their customers in simple, clear terms. Even if lower priority customers are frustrated by the lack of service, this shows that the company cares enough about them to be transparent. Not only does this help ease the burden on the support team, it also helps build trust.
  • Surface relevant answers in your online community. Chances are, many of your customers are running into similar issues or asking similar questions. If you have an online community, use it to make it easy for them to find these answers or provide support to their peers. You can add links to these topics and questions in ‘Contact Us’ pages, and even share them on social channels, so they can find answers without contacting support. Don’t forget to tap into your super users for help. The bottom line is that this not only saves your customers time, but also helps with call deflection for your support team.
  • Support the supporters. Regardless of whether you’re hiring additional help or using triage to manage customer support, it is imperative to give your support staff all the resources they might need. And this doesn’t just mean extra coffee breaks (although those are certainly helpful)! Great customer service can be emotionally taxing, so implement self care strategies to make sure your representatives stay as fresh and positive as possible. Even better, ask them how they’re doing, and really listen to the answers. Are they worried about the outbreak? Are their children cared for as they work overtime? Is there anything the company can do to help? You don’t have to cover their every need, and the conversation doesn’t have to take a long time; you just need to show them that they’re supported so that they can do their jobs more effectively.

Consumers

We all know how frustrating it is to be on hold on a customer support line, or worse, to need support and not get it. It’s important, however, to recognize the intense pressure that support representatives are under, and to help them manage in this difficult time. Remember that the companies they represent are often helping people in dire need during this outbreak. If you’re not one of those people, one of these strategies might make sense:

  • Save representatives’ bandwidth for important cases. If you’re wondering how you’ll get back into the country, or you need to get medicine for a seriously ill family member, then by all means, call. But if your customer service claim can wait, then even if a company doesn’t have a triage policy in place, it’s probably best to hold off. Every minute spent helping a customer with a minor issue is a minute not spent helping a customer with a major issue.
  • Be patient and considerate. The agents you’re talking to are probably working extended hours, possibly in remote locations. They may not have seen their family (not to mention the outside of their office) in a while. Of course they’re committed to helping you solve any problem you may have, but it always helps them if you’re patient and considerate on the phone or in the chat with them. Understand that they may be dealing with multiple cases at once, and that they may take a minute or two to get back to you. And remember: please and thank you go a long way!

Many of the practices mentioned here are good practices in general; companies should always support their staff, and consumers should always be considerate. But right now, as customer support services struggle to help those affected by COVID-19, it’s especially important to help them. Doing so isn’t just good for your company or for you as a consumer. It’s also an important step in mitigating the COVID-19 situation in general. We’re all working hard to protect the vulnerable and help those in need. Help do your part by supporting the supporters!


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