Are companies using COVID-19 to mask poor levels of customer experience?

By Charlie Williams | 10/08/2020

So, we all get that things are tough right now.  There have been widespread disruptions of the supply chain, demand for products and services has plummeted and office-based businesses have had adapt to rapid changes in working practices. But we have been dealing with the epidemic for five months now and I don’t know about you, but (moan alert) my patience with poor customer experience is starting to wear thin.

Initially, I was highly sympathetic to the plight of businesses who were operating in a changed landscape.  Personal and empathetic messages from company leaders were received, usual communications on orders and deliveries were increased and when even revised lead times failed this was all forgiven due to the mutually supportive blitz atmosphere that had overtaken the country.  But why am I still receiving poor service now? Recently, even some orders from Amazon Prime are taking two or three times the stated lead time to arrive. Call centres are putting me on hold for what feels like the eternity of the damned.

Sympathy and forgiveness will go a long way.  Especially where a longstanding and trusted relationship has been built up. But what about with those relationships that were already tainted by previous failures and disappointments? You start to wonder whether it would it be worth starting to look around. In this climate, competition is fierce.  If you don’t look after your customers then they’ll be poached by one of the hungry sharks circling, waiting for an opportunity to tempt them with all kinds of promises.  In most service industries, customer experience is the key differentiator so this needs to be the central focus, even in a crisis.

So, why has customer experience declined for many companies? In my opinion, this is due to a drop in internal employee experience.  Operating budgets have been slashed and the first casualty was staff.  Many were furloughed, some had their salaries, bonuses or hours cut.  Training and performance management have in many cases been suspended and workers have been told that for now, their focus is the day to day.  Most have a heavier workload and they are working from home.  In some cases, they are struggling with the reduced contact from colleagues and lack of support from managers- who are themselves being overworked. All of this results in a fall in motivation and desire to go the extra mile for customers.

There is nothing that can be done about cuts in budgets and staffing.  These are inevitable in these turbulent times if businesses are to survive.  But, how these are dealt with is of paramount importance.  If we are going to ask staff to do more for less then we need to be there for them through this.  We need to make sure that regular team meetings and manager one-to-ones are adhered to, that performance management and training are maintained and that star performers are remunerated and appreciated for what they do.  Enthusiasm needs to be kept high, because we are calling on people to go the extra mile right now.

Here are some suggestions for maintaining high performance and for preparing for a ‘new normal’;

  • Provide increased and intentional management by team leaders
  • Work on the internal culture and ‘feel good’ factor
  • Ramp up internal comms
  • Keep customer comms transparent and manage expectations (without making excuses)
  • Start work on a ‘new normal’ CX plan- this situation isn’t going away quickly!

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