How to Manage Customers Expectations in a Time of Crisis

April 20, 2020 Trisha Allmon

How to Manage Customers Expectations in a Time of Crisis

3 Pivot Strategies in the Aftermath of the Most Shocking Business Disruption of Our Time

No doubt the current crisis has everyone on pins and needles including customers AND the staff working around the clock to serve them.  Some of the biggest mistakes we see in our initial consumer surveys show that customer expectations are at an all-time high. At the same time, companies are adjusting to not only serving clients but also adapting to new ways of doing business on the FLY.

For example, during a survey interview yesterday, a customer explained that that he had been on hold for an hour with his cell phone provider. During the call, he had already been passed around several times and was beginning to lose patience. Assuming he finally had a rep that could solve his problem, he diligently explained his situation. Unfortunately, that rep was unable to handle the problem, so he was passed around again. And, once again, he explained his problem in detail! According to the customer, at one point, he had even been disconnected and was forced to start over – leaving him even more distraught. Understandably, the customer became severely agitated and left the call feeling like he was inconvenienced and that he wasn’t appreciated as a customer. He felt hassled and stated that he couldn’t believe ‘the customer service rep’ wasn’t trained to handle his problem.  In disbelief, he angrily stated that he “hated dealing with companies like this” and will most likely change carriers.

While there were several precautions, measures and strategies the company could have used, they utterly failed to meet the customer’s needs and expectations.

At the end of the day, I’m sure the staff didn’t want the call to go the way it did, but the simple truth is they weren’t prepared to handle the situation effectively.  As a result, the customer’s expectations weren’t met and he left the call not feeling valued as a customer.

Most likely, the customer already had preconceived notions of how the rep should have handled his call, but most aren’t trained to know that.  In fact, we find in most cases, reps aren’t trained on identifying these triggers or how to redirect the dispute using well-thought out empathetic responses rather than statements that might provoke the customer’s emotional reaction.

Understandably, the current crisis has created an even more difficult environment to provide exceptional customer experiences without some degree of chaos.  A bad experience wasn’t intended most likely. But unfortunately, many businesses are riding the bike and building it at the same time during this unprecedented disruption.

The fact is, we will soon be in a buyer’s market. Consumers will have to be more selective about their financial decisions and where to spend their money. Gaining new business may be difficult depending on your industry because many consumers are going to drastically shift their values and purchasing habits – so, losing customers isn’t an option. In fact, it cost 6-7x more to replace business than it does just to keep the customers you have happy (Bain&Co). You will not only destroy revenue potential, but also impact the value of your client over a lifetime that could be devastating to your future stability.

Research shows, 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customers FEEL they are being treated (McKinsey 2015).  Losing business to poor customer service is a travesty when it can so easily be avoided by taking the time to review your current state, pivot your strategy accordingly to the new economy and prepare your staff relentlessly.

As companies navigate how they will respond through the unknown, customer experience and service reps are taking a beating working through client’s needs in some cases with little training or direction. This doesn’t stem from poor leadership necessarily, but in many cases the challenge was lack of preparation for something so drastic to happen at the rate in which it did.

Unfortunately, this is leaving a bad taste in consumers mouths and when things do return to some sort of norm, it could reap havoc on already struggling sales.

While some companies have online strategies both internally and externally, there are some that were not prepared to switch to a full digital approach as quickly as required to keep up with the new demand; causing a real disconnect between the employees and the customers.

The rush to meet customer expectations in real-time has thrown many businesses into a tailspin.

In addition to being caught unprepared for such a change in the way we do business, companies must face the reality that in some industries, consumers already have a negative outlook.

People are preconditioned to distrust brands due to years of customer service failures, bad press, poor management and poor product delivery to name a few.

According to Convergys 2008 Scorecard during the last recession, 40% of customers who have a bad experienced won’t report their complaint – they just stop doing business with you. The same holds true today and it’s a risk you cannot afford to take especially in times like these.

According to Morning Consult, a consumer trust survey company, treating the customer well, providing refunds if products don’t work, delivering on their promises consistently and great customer service are at the top of the list of expectations to build consumer trust.

"That is why putting customer experience and innovation at the TOP of your Go-Forward plan during and post pandemic is critical to your future."

While new sales, pipeline and prospecting was at the forefront just 45 days ago, the challenge we face now is keeping our current business and customers happy to avoid unnecessary attrition as we focus on rebounding.  Because the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70% and only 5-20% for new prospects (Marketing Metrics), it’s not only worth it financially be an EXPERT at customers satisfaction, it’s absolutely crucial to your survival.

Based on historical research, smart companies that modify their business approach so they can quickly meet consumer demands and needs after business resumes using similar strategies and tactics as listed below are most likely to rebound successfully and even thrive post-recession. Let’s explore…


Customer Emotions Are at an Extreme High

Obviously, depending on your business, some products are in short supply if not on-hold. If you are selling these items, your challenges are obvious. Getting product to customers is a top priority. Regardless of what is causing the friction, consumers expect businesses to have it figured out without hesitation, mistakes or delays. Understandably, and to no fault of your own perhaps, patience is wearing thin.

With consumers and employees out of their routines, facing ever changing circumstances – including home schooling, remote working, or even unemployment – people are losing their fortitude with the world in general. If you are in customer service, you are most likely taking the brunt of the frustration – justified or not!

So, how do companies deal with this uncertainty, change and confusion AND meet customer’s needs all at the same time?

Customer Experience: Organizations should be training employees on how to speak to clients and deal with difficult situations where emotions are at an all-time high. Sometimes just changing their words or showing empathy and understanding with very specialized scripting practice, can maintain control of the call or transaction and achieve a favorable outcome.

    1. Start by reviewing calls, procedures and outcomes so that you can create better responses in advance.
    2. Hold scenario and script training with your team to prepare them for these situations. Practicing these emotional challenges before they happen are key to getting better results.
    3. If you don’t have quality training in place, look for an option that has off-the shelf training that covers customer experience, exceptional service, proper objection handling and how to manage difficult situations so you can implement quickly – time is of the essence.
    4. Make sure to also incorporate company policy, product and skill training so that your employees can deliver on your promises.
    5. You can review cases and examples then provide your staff with the proper wording, tone and strategies to cope with difficult customers. Review some examples in our Deal Killing Customer Service


Customers Want Relevant Communication

Communication is a catch 22. Customers expect stores and operators to constantly communicate what’s happening, yet they also don’t want to be bombarded. Our initial consumer survey shows that people are receiving more communication than ever. Marketers have increased promotions, offers and marketing communication – hoping to drive awareness and sales. Likewise, operations must stay on top of messaging regarding its staff and delivery as well as product and policy updates – hoping to keep everyone informed of changes and progress.

With communication coming from all angles, consumers are starting to become irritated and overwhelmed. With that said, the goal should be to maintain contact with customers in a timely and relevant way but also respectful and understanding as well; knowing that line is difficult to balance.

What is the best approach to manage customer expectations and how does one know when too much is enough or not?

Customer Outreach: The estimated number of touches in normal circumstances to reach a prospect or customer is about 12 touches. In times of distress or recessions that increases to about 16, according to a recent study. The question becomes how to reach out without creating too many irrelevant or inappropriate responses that might push your customer away rather than draw them in.

    1. Make sure to put yourselves in the customers shoes. What would you want? Consistency and cadence are important – don’t barrage the customer.
    2. Reciprocity is the key here. Have a ‘pay it forward’ attitude – clients will appreciate that and remember far beyond the crisis.
    3. Monitor and test messaging (i.e. open rates, click throughs, likes, reactions, etc.) Look for trends on opens and reactions in social media, email and other forms of interaction to see how customers are responding to those messages. Use that data to form content around what is relevant to customers.
    4. Likewise, monitor opt-outs, negative responses or comments by your customers. These are gifts! Even though they are painful to hear, they can give you evidence of what is not working so you can implement change quickly allowing you to respond accordingly.
    5. Don’t just rely on internet and email communication alone. You can get back to the basics by sending letters, ‘thinking of you’ or postcards. You can send educational pieces, videos or even take the time to facetime your client.
    6. Train and educate your employees to listen to your customers. Document and capture any issues that you can use to your advantage in new policies, strategies or even new products and services moving forward.
    7. Be creative in how you approach customer outreach. You can review more strategies and examples of the best practice customer outreach strategies in our latest ARTICLE.


Make It Easy to Do Business with You

In some cases, businesses did not adapt fast enough to the new way of doing business either remotely, virtually or in some on-line fashion. Being prepared to function as a virtual business, especially for small businesses or brick-n-mortars that may not have typically operated this way, was a bit of a surprise and instant challenge. Who could have ever thought the entire world would shut down for a short period of time – much less for months?

Then there is the challenge that some may face and that is – not having the proper training content, procedures or systems to help your staff respond to customer expectations and needs fast enough. Many companies were simply not equipped to deal with the thrust of delivering or training in this new way.

On top of that, consumers even more demanding than ever. They expect us to have solutions immediately and aren’t flexible or forgiving if we DO NOT. Our preliminary research shows that customers are finding (or at least they FEEL), it’s difficult to make purchases, payments or have challenges getting their problems solved.

For some, this was a great testament to the groundwork laid or their ability to adapt and respond quickly during a crisis. But for others, it’s a wake-up call to be prepared for anything in the future that could interrupt business as usual.

What can companies do now, in the aftermath of the most shocking business disruption of our time?

Pivot to a New Business Model: Companies must think of changing their business by investigating what has strategically worked in the past and adopt new approaches based on customer feedback. In the near future, consumers are going to purchase based on psychological factors not demographics per se, so we must know what those changes are going to be in order to respond and shift to new ways of doing business.

    1. Start by investigating what recession CEOs have done historically to capitalize on down markets and use those lessons to design a model that responds quickly to new customer needs.
    2. Analyze your current customer base. Create an outreach plan mentioned above and listen to what customers are saying. Understand how their needs will change and what you should do to adjust and respond accordingly.
    3. Start segmenting your customer list and prepare your offering and messages to meet the new psychological buying patterns of tomorrow.
    4. Then, prepare for new prospect opportunities based on these new psychological purchasing behaviors. Position yourself in new markets and segments as necessary.
    5. Design a marketing, messaging and promotion mix that is aligned with your sales strategy to meet the NEW demands of your customer.
    6. Your pricing, product and service delivery should meet the new demands of the new economy that will take place.
    7. Don’t forget, innovation is important. Creating new ways to do business easily, efficiently and creatively will be required moving forward. You can start with understanding your core competencies. We show you how to do this in our ZONEMastery™ Retreats.
    8. Most importantly, becoming an expert at training your staff on these new procedures, products and delivery is going to be essential in the new economy. Designing your system doesn’t have to be complicated – you may just need simple guidance.

One thing we found, from our extensive research into patterns of historical companies, is that the recession CEOs that were most successful and thrived during and post-recession had a very balanced business approach to investing in operational efficiencies AND strategic growth. This balanced approach positioned them to achieve greater sales and profits, far beyond their peers.  They were also poised, steadfast and led their teams through extreme turbulence with urgency and strategic focus unlike their counterparts that strategically retracted and severely cut during recession periods.

The reality is that this event has caused everyone to take a hard look at their business and service models in one way or another.  If you were prepared to serve your customer or train your team virtually, good for you! But for most, blindsided and off-guard are understatements to say the least.

If you ARE struggling to make these shifts or need fast solutions and you aren’t sure how to approach business differently – don’t hesitate to sign up for one of our FREE disaster relief, business consulting calls where we diagnose your challenges and help you think of new ways to navigate these unchartered waters. Our goal is to give back to the business community and help companies not only survive this epidemic but thrive for years to come.

Complimentary 60 min- Disaster Relief Call – speak to one of our Sr. consultants for one hour to determine the best options for helping your business move forward.

Apply for FREE Resourcestake our 2-min survey and receive FREE services, products and classes as they are launched right into your inbox. Each week, new on-demand training is released to those who have applied here.

Grow With Us – or visit our Resource Center  – GrowthSmart is a global strategic management consulting firm that delivers world-class marketing, sales, leadership, customer experience and performance training to enterprise, mid-level and small businesses around the world.

, , ,

Get Access to Complimentary Tools and Resources

Our team publishes great content, toolkits, and business growth resources. Periodically, we publish new courses, create new giveaways, and provide new material for business leaders like you to use in your business.

Sign up now to get access to materials as they become available to learn new skills in sales, marketing, branding, training, customer experience training, and more. Be one of the first to discover new strategies from our experienced, hands-on pros as they are launched.

No pitch, no fuss, and no hidden fees. Don’t wait. Take advantage of additional resources for your business prior to planning your next growth initiatives.