By cutting each other a little bit of slack and having empathy for those in new and uncomfortable situations, we can all survive this.
Most countries are at least a week into their Covid-19 preparations, and customer support teams are settling in to their new normal. Whether your volume has gone up or gone down, the way your team works has almost definitely changed. What will happen over the next few weeks and months?
While the future is uncertain, we do know one thing: none of us are in this alone.
With that in mind, we want to share stories of how other customer support teams are feeling. Hopefully knowing that other people are going through similar situations can provide a sense of community – even if we can’t provide any more clarity into the future.
Embracing the new normal
The way we interact with the world around us has had to change. Even if you are one of the lucky ones that are able to work from home without interruption, life is looking a little different.
Cheryl Spriggs, Manager at Service Direct, says that customers have changed too. “There are a number of customers that are on edge. Three different customers in the last week have raged at teammates, including me.”
It’s a tense time for many people. Not only are they worried about the health of themselves and their loved ones, but they’re also incredibly nervous about how this is going to impact them financially.
Plus, they’re likely going through it with minimal social contact.
Andre Larsen, Knowledgebase Coordinator and Billing Specialist at Carrot says they’ve seen an opportunity in these changes. “With the isolation guidelines in place, we want to be beacons of positivity and help our members use this time to focus on the things they can control.”
One way their team is doing this is by building social interaction into their customer support strategy. While customers can still contact their team using their regular contact channels, Andre says that they are trying to open up more avenues for communication, such as live Zoom calls. “We want the social interaction, and don’t want it to be solely technical- or strategy-based.”
Cheryl says her team is taking the time to listen and act appropriately. “We know our customers [service and trades workers] are considered essential businesses during this pandemic and they are re-evaluating what marketing partners to continue moving forward with if they have limited availability to serve their customers.”
But that doesn’t mean that customers can walk all over the frontline employees, either. “If any inappropriate behavior continues I ask my team to get me involved as soon as possible and I will call back the customer directly after giving them some time to breathe,” suggests Cheryl.
When asked about their biggest concerns for the future, many expressed the obvious concerns for the wellbeing of their staff.
“Other than the dramatic scary worries, I worry a lot about my team. Not just their and their family’s health, but their mental health. Too much stress wears you down and I want everyone to be able to stay happy and healthy,” says Diana Potter, Head of Support at Qwilr. Their team is spending more time checking in with each other, with the remote teams helping their in-office staff adust to the new way of working.
Beyond the immediate people concerns, business continuity was also at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
- How do we handle staffing concerns if our employees become sick or unable to work for other reason?
- Will our customers churn as they try to save money? How many?
- How do we deal with a long-term business slowdown? When will we need to reduce the number of staff?
We don’t have the answers to any of these questions right now – but we’re certainly feeling the same waves of anxiety as we’re hit with so much uncertainty. While some people are coping with the stress by diving head-first into the normalcy of work, others are paralyzed and unable to function. Finding the balance for everyone on the team will require ongoing care and empathy.
The Shiny Silver Lining of Remote Work
Almost everyone we talked to said that this change has opened up new conversations about remote work. Everyone is currently working remotely, but that’s a new transition for about half of the customer support teams we surveyed.
Despite the enormous number of articles that recently been published on working remotely, most people seem to be relishing the change. For example, Crystal Horn, Rise Happiness Team Lead at Articulate, is excited about spending more time with her kids.
It’s also hopefully going to have some lasting consequences to the future of remote work – especially for those companies that weren’t entirely sold on the idea. “Being half in office/half remote as a company, this is helping everyone come together as a remote team and care for each other closer,” says Chelsea Baker, Senior Manager of Support and Onboarding at RecruiterBox.
For those employees who haven’t had the chance to work remotely before, they may feel more empathy towards the challenges that remote workers face.
As Jason Dugdale, Support Engineer at Frontapp says, “We have a chance to prove that our company and team can operate as effectively being fully-remote as we are when in-office.” By putting systems in place now, more companies will be equipped to offer flexible work arrangements in the future.
There isn’t much that we have control over right now. A lot of things are up in the air. Each of us is dealing with uncertainty and change in a very different way.
However, even though we all have our own set of worries, we’re all in this together. By cutting each other a little bit of slack and having empathy for those in new and uncomfortable situations, we can all survive this.
Nobody we talked to was worried about their ability to provide great customer service – we all know how to do that. Every team will continue to care for their customers and their employees for as long as they are able to. For many people, talking to customer service will be their biggest connection to the outside world.
Stay home when you can, be a beacon of helpfulness and take care of each other. We’ve been training for this. We’ve got this.