By Frank Vos, Business and Management Consultant at Vos Consulting (Pty) Ltd.
The new abnormal might be here, but the cornerstone of a successful business is still after-sales service provided by real people. One year later, we find ourselves in a new abnormal world that has engulfed society and business alike.
Desperate times call for desperate measures but also provide the ideal breeding ground for innovation. Remote working and digital meeting platforms have grown faster in the last twelve months than in the previous decade.
Old and new technologies have provided means to bridge the communication gap resulting from the regulations on the physical distancing between people. Some companies have taken to it as a fish takes to water; others are still stumbling through barking dogs, crying babies and technical glitches at remote (read home) locations. Some claim to have more successful meetings now that they are held online. Others struggle to get their point across. Certain companies are concerned about maintaining the company culture, especially for new employees.
Some fundamentals haven’t changed. People are social beings
COVID restrictions brought many families closer. Sadly, some of those gains were offset for many workers by the growing distance between colleagues and customers.
Few businesses are aware of the physical distancing’s psychological fall-out instead of concentrating on how to prevent almost-empty offices and ivory towers from turning into sandcastles. Their focus is on survival and opportunism, identifying alternative products for new markets and holding onto market shares with a sales force that is severely handicapped by not being able to meet buyers.
The emphasis on generating revenue and cost reductions is logical
There is a vital contributor to your business’ sustainability in these difficult times that have suffered because it relies heavily on people contact and efficient communication; an area that is particularly vulnerable to less oversight and management. But it’s this part of your business that, if not given the attention it deserves right now, could well become your downfall.
Professional Customer service
More than ever, your customers need you when your product or service is giving problems or when they need information. They have enough to worry about to keep their businesses afloat and want answers fast. That means;
1. Be available and have procedures in place
A serious obstacle to providing excellent client service is remote working in a B2B environment. We need to understand that although our choices are limited and we make the best of what we’ve got, working remotely is simply not conducive to giving customers the care and support they need.
To hide behind the ‘fact’ that at the remote location, your computer is offline and or you have connectivity issues might have been credible and acceptable at first as we all went through a gigantic learning curve. However, it’s simply not acceptable any longer.
If you have to have service staff work from home, you owe it to your customers that your staff are fully connected and available; not just to clients, but in particular to their colleagues in different departments.
2. Accountability must still be upheld
- Management must spend more time on customer service matters at the highest levels to identify problem areas before declining service levels damage the relationship beyond repair.
- If you haven’t got it in place already, now is the time to invest in automatic monitoring systems, i.e. calls in, calls out, computer activity, search activity, search restrictions and so on. People are people. People are fallible. Being away from the office offers many enticements and distractions. Employees need to know you care and that you know how much effort they’re putting in because you measure it.
3. Be careful, and don’t fool yourself. Virtual is not real
The Virtual Assistant (VA) and Chatbot revolution might take care of all the tedious things you and your staff shouldn’t do – or so the technology is sold. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve yet to have a satisfactory encounter with a chatbot or VA; running on artificial intelligence or not.
- Your customers are fighting for survival. Switching to different suppliers because of poor service has become an attractive option. Speaking to a human being about your issues is a lot more comforting and reassuring than being addressed by a machine.
- The ‘time-saving’ that VA supposedly offers is meaningless if your staff don’t use that time to increase contact with customers, like regular follow-up phone calls or pre-emptive service calls.
All done? For management, it means that the time should be spent motivating staff (see 4.)
4. Managing employee engagement
As it is under current conditions, management is pretty stretched, and stress levels are higher in organisations than ever before. That’s understandable, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore your employees’ mental and psychological wellbeing. Working in an after-sales/service/customer support department is stressful by nature. Sadly, in South Africa, the positions in such departments are not well paid, and staff’s inherent competency levels are matched accordingly.
What can one do?
- Give them your ear
More than ever, management must interact on a person to person level with service staff regularly in order to listen and inquire about their wellbeing.
- Give them control
Empowering staff serve as a great stress reliever and a significant contributor to employee engagement. This is the time to review the potential for increasing authority to act. Give staff broader frameworks to work within and empower them to take decisions on matters that otherwise would have escalated. It makes staff and your customer feel good about a service issue when it is dealt with speedily and efficiently. Now, isn’t that what professional service is all about?
COVID has brought enormous challenges. But regardless of what we sell, our clients, more than ever, need reliable, efficient service. This will set you apart from your competitors – nothing else.
Frank Vos is a Business and Management Consultant with a particular interest in growth strategy development, organisational efficiency and employee engagement. He is the author of the recently published book ‘Beyond Burnout’ which explores the ravages of stress on Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Behaviour.