Remain Reachable And Retain Your Customers
In February and March, 2020, hundreds of thousands of businesses around the country were suddenly forced to conduct “business as unusual” as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation raising concerns about the potential impact on lives—and livelihoods. Essential businesses remained open, while those considered to be non-essential were forced to either close their doors or consider other ways of doing business without the need for physical interactions.
In May, restrictions around the country began to ease in some locations. In many, businesses were left on their own to determine whether, and in what manner, to reopen.
But, whether you’re open for business or waiting until the time is right for you, your staff and customers, remaining reachable is key. An unanswered phone or busy signal can lead to lost customers, something no business can afford.
Consumer Frustration on the Rise
While consumers understand that COVID-19 is having impacts on the businesses they interact with, their levels of patience vary widely and tend to be fleeting. An AI and machine-learning analysis of one million customer-service calls from 20 companies, reported in Harvard Business Review, indicated that over a two week period companies’ in the study “saw the percentage of calls scored as ‘difficult’ more than double from a typical level of 10% to more than 20%.” In addition, the “study saw hold times balloon by as much as 34 percent.”
Customers are increasingly findings themselves facing situations where:
- The only response they receive when calling a restaurant for a pick-up or delivery order is a busy signal.
- The phone rings and rings and rings only to drop off into silence.
- Calls routed by agents are dropped as they struggle to connect with newly remote coworkers.
These situations are unacceptable for today’s savvy consumers. As Accenture reports in COVID-19: Responsive customer service in times of change, the level of consumer fear, uncertainty and frustration is creating new challenges for organizations. It also creates opportunities, they say. “Providing compassionate customer service will likely generate an outsized increase in positive brand perception and customer loyalty post-crisis,” they write.
Fortunately, today’s virtual phone service technology options offer a variety of cost-effective, accessible and easy-to-use options for ensuring that customers and other callers can get through to you when they need to.
You Don’t Need to Answer the Phone to Answer the Phone
Sole proprietors and very small businesses whose employees may be furloughed or laid off often don’t have the ability to be physically available to answer incoming calls. Fortunately, they don’t have to be. Virtual phone service options mean you’ll never miss a call and that callers can find the support they need 24/7. Here are some options to consider to help address customer needs while minimizing the impact on your staff, and you.
- Virtual PBX. Customized and hosted PBX phone systems can fit the needs of companies of all types and sizes. You can present a professional image and provide prompt responses to incoming calls, no matter how small your organization.
- Auto attendant or auto receptionist capabilities. Auto attendant lets you route calls to the right person, no matter where they are. That means that if your staff is currently geographically dispersed, you can set up routing patterns to ensure incoming calls get attention.
- Voicemail and voice to email. Callers don’t mind leaving a message if they are confident they’ll receive a prompt response. Offering voicemail combined with a voice to email option helps you ensure that incoming messages get to where they need to go and can be attended to even if the recipient is involved in another activity.
- Professional recorded voicemail greetings. Professional greetings can be set up to address FAQs and concerns callers have while managing their expectations for a return call or follow up. In many cases, your pre-recorded greeting may provide the information callers need without any need for follow up.
- Virtual triage. Setting up different extensions and options based on caller needs and automating the process of forwarding calls to the right place.
Don’t just assume, though, that simply having these options in place, or available, will automatically meet customer needs and demands. You need to take steps to manage their expectations.
Managing Customer Contact Expectations
Small businesses have an opportunity to “train” customers to interact with them in certain ways, but they must be explicit about doing so. Manage expectations by telling customers through other forms of communication how they can most effectively get in touch with you. Offer personalized voicemail greetings to provide information and direction. Include information on your website and social media channels. Train all staff to explicitly inform customers about your channels for phone contact, your response times and other sources of information (e.g. FAQs, website, etc.).
The backbone of caller response strategy, though, is a virtual phone system that offers the right options to meet your company and your callers’ needs efficiently and seamlessly. That’s not just a priority during COVID-19—it should be a priority at all times.