Welcome to the adaptive workforce. Maintaining continuity in your small business means adapting to change, including how and where you do business. Remote working, shift planning, and reconfiguring your office or place of business are all part of the plan now as we navigate into a new normal.
The good news here is three-fold. First, we’re all adjusting together. Second, learning to be flexible in different work environments is fast becoming a desirable skill as more businesses embrace a hybrid on-site/remote working approach. Third, technology can help.
We’ve compiled some best practices to help your small or medium-sized (SMB) team maximize customer service whether you’re working on-site, remotely, or shifting between the two.
First things first, take care of yourself and your work family. Making sure you and your team are well is the best way to ensure your customers will be well taken care of. Everyone is adapting to new circumstances in their own ways. Everyone has different situations to navigate outside of work, as well. A little mindfulness can go a long way.
Here are some ideas for scheduling self- and team-care into your routine, whether you’re safely working in person or remotely:
Power sync in the a.m. Kick your day off with a virtual meeting. Connect with your team, and talk about what worked and didn’t work yesterday.
Promote self-care. Encourage your team to take time away to check in with themselves. A five-minute break can help people bring their whole selves back to work.
Schedule check-ins. Be proactive about creating an environment that encourages people to connect. Collaborative apps and online tools can be great for this, but phone calls work, too. Continue to foster the human connection people usually get in person, through digital or analog means.
Provide supportive tools. Support and enable your work-from-home and in-field workers with tools that work seamlessly and easily, as resources allow. A customer relationship management (CRM) system can help employees feel more connected to their team and their customers, strengthening cross-team collaboration.
Leverage productivity apps. Many companies are offering free extended trials of products built for remote teams. From project management apps to full customer support solutions, there might be a new tool out there worth trying.
Compassion and empathy are critical now when it comes to supporting your customers and colleagues. Emotions and stress levels run higher during difficult times. The added wrinkle of adjusting to remote work and new office configurations can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Some teammates will take to the new circumstances quickly, while others may still struggle to adjust to the new work environment, such as collaborating via online tools instead of face-to-face. Be as patient and understanding as you can.
Keep empathy top of mind to set the right tone for all of your interactions. Even a simple, "How are you doing today?" can do wonders. Here are a few ways to make sure your service team prioritizes empathy with customers, and with each other:
Lead with an understanding tone. Great service strives to understand and resolve the customer's issues. Take the same approach with your teammates, too. Lead every interaction with understanding, whether you’re helping a customer or talking to a colleague. Take a light-hearted cue from PepTalkHer’s social media for inspiration.
Expand your terms and conditions when possible. A little flexibility can go a long way right now. Relax your policies to help customers as much as you can. Headspace, maker of app-based tools for meditation and mindfulness, is offering a free one year subscription to anyone currently unemployed in the United States. While you might not be in a position to give away products and services, if you can, lengthen exchange and return periods, and reduce or waive service charges. Offer whatever you can afford to build extra flexibility on the customer support front. Adopt the same mindset with teammates, too — be flexible!
Offer easy ways for customers to reach you. Make it as easy as possible for customers to reach out to you during this time, particularly if your offices or retail locations are closed, or only open under limited hours. Meet them where they’re most comfortable. That might mean adding extra hands to help with phone support. It may mean offering dedicated support hours via video conferencing. Whatever you can offer, the more you tailor it to your customers, the better. Check out SeaTow’s website for a great example — they have a dedicated contact page, and a sitewide footer with clearly marked options for phone, email, and live chat support.
Be Transparent with FAQs and updates. Clear communication is vital during stressful times. That goes for internal communications as well as customer-facing messaging. Post frequently asked questions (FAQs) and updates. Write them in the most straightforward way possible. Make clear what you are and are not offering, and you'll save everyone time and frustration. This is always a good policy, but it's even more meaningful in turbulent times. Sunbasket’s COVID-19 FAQ page is a great example.
Like any other new skill, the art of blending in-person and remote work will take some time to develop and master. Set yourself and your team up for success with the right tools, techniques, and mindset, and you’ll maximize your customer service efforts in no time.
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For more business and leadership inspiration, check out our entire Leading Through Change series.