Solve, Don’t Sell: Customer Service in Challenging Times
April 22, 2020
Challenging times can saddle even the clearest-eyed leaders with tunnel vision. The fear, uncertainty and tough calls can divert your attention from pursuing a well-charted course to playing defense and fighting fires.
In times like these, prioritizing customer service has never held more weight. While COVID-19 has upended everything from our office environments to our balance sheets, maintaining business continuity depends not merely on slashing costs but also on finding creative ways to continue to serve clients. Identifying new opportunities and bringing fresh ideas to your customers can help both of your businesses weather the storm while we all do our part to flatten the curve.
“Business continuity” doesn’t just have to be about finding ways to keep the lights on. It’s an opportunity to continue to build organic value while helping your customers do the same. Here are seven ways to ensure you’re not only maintaining but also building value during times of crisis.
Listen. Understand your customer at a personal level. In uncertain times, they’re facing their own accountabilities and fears, including their performance review, budget, and serving their own respective customers. This is not a time to upsell them – it’s a time to listen and absorb their situation so that you can best partner with them to mitigate risks and maintain a strategic course.
The most effective conversations are held face-to-face – which, in the current environment, means a video conference call rather than an email chain. Use this opportunity to get inside your client’s head and learn how to put their mind at ease. Talk openly with them about their KPIs and evolving priorities. Listen for what you can do to help them meet those targets – even if it means helping them make up lost ground.
Rethink what solutions you provide. Now is the time to get creative about how your company partners with your customers. As needs and priorities evolve, so should the way you meet your customers’ needs. While you want to reassure them that you’ll continue to provide the same level of service, shifting priorities might also mean that you’ll need to rethink the way you provide that service, or what mix of solutions you bring to the table.
Look across your own enterprise for opportunities to add value to your clients amidst their strategic pivots. Be solutions-oriented and leverage your own internal experts to fit the needs they may not know you can help them solve.
Manage for great results. Remind your clients that the brands maintaining share of voice during a crisis typically recover faster than their silent peers. In a rapidly-evolving situation, it’s important to stay agile and maintain close communications with your customers. News and business plans are pivoting every week, so be sure to keep a pulse on your client – and their industry – to ensure you’re delivering them excellent service.
Be present. Keep an open mind and look around every corner, because organic growth is often found in unexpected or uncomfortable places. Amidst changes, keep an open mind. Be willing to reshuffle your intended plans with your client in order to prioritize what they will see as the greatest value-add.
While it’s important to maintain a long-term view, critical issues may have just landed on their desk – perhaps new responsibilities, an emerging crisis or a shift in leadership. Accept the detour and remain agile to ensure you’re the one they call to counsel them through their new strategy.
Build trust. Strengthen your client partnership not only by maintaining contact while remote but also by demonstrating empathy and a deep understanding of their business challenges. Any way that you can alleviate challenges, keep them informed of potential risks or add value to their business will pave the way to future partnerships once you’ve weathered this storm together.
Have patience. Even if your program budget has been reduced or cut, find opportunities to plant seeds now that can bear fruit later. Think about what your client may need in three or six months and share some ideas to get them thinking about it now. Even if they can’t implement those ideas just yet, reassuring them that you’re keeping an eye on their long-term strategy will help to put their mind at ease about the future impact of the present crisis.
As plans and strategies continue to evolve, remember to check in with them and proactively recommend strategies that will help them meet their goals. Once those goals become a priority, you’ll be ready to partner with your client to achieve them.
Solve, don’t sell. Be cautious that you’re aligning your recommendations with exactly what your client needs and is willing to implement right now. Remind your clients that it is your job to support them during this crisis and that you’re there to help uncover solutions. Offer to support their plan for recovery by doing market research, competitive analysis and scenario planning.
Now is also an ideal time to help clients build equity for the good deeds their companies are doing for employees and communities during this crisis. Help them get awareness and recognition for living their social purpose. It’s important to function as a strategic partner during this crisis, working together in ways that help you grow together.
As business communicators, we serve as trusted advisors to our clients. In times of crisis, we need to help them navigate a difficult and disrupted environment. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate the value we can add and deepen the relationships we build with each customer we serve. Rather than just looking at the raw numbers and ways to cut back, stretch, upsell or recast budgets, the best protection you can give your business right now is to look for new ways to serve your customers and co-create value together.
For new updates and other resources, please visit www.gscommunications.com/coronavirus, and do not hesitate to contact us with further inquiries. We know the uncertainty brings significant business risks, and we’re here to help.