6 Steps to Deal with a Customer Service Crisis

Customer service matters every day of the week, but rarely are the stakes so high than during a crisis. During a customer service crisis, you can either lose customers or forge loyal ones. When things aren’t going right, that’s where your customer experience — and your business — shows what it’s made of. 

Research shows that 59% of customers will stop shopping with a company after several poor customer service experiences — but 17% will leave after just one bad experience.1 So in a crisis, businesses need to get back on their feet and provide good customer experiences quickly. After all, 70% of a customer’s journey is based on how they feel they’re being treated.2

There might’ve been a technology failure. Your website might have gone down. Or an error might’ve occurred in your supply chain and now customers are banging on the door for answers. It might be that you don’t have enough agents to deal with demand, leading to long wait times. Or you might’ve had a PR disaster and customers are voting with their feet.

Whatever the reason, you need to deal with it. Whether you’re currently in the midst of a crisis or setting up a customer service crisis management plan for the future, these tips can help you continue to provide excellent customer support when you need it most.

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1. Define your crisis

Running a business and customer service function is rarely plain sailing; there are always common problems to resolve. But what elevates an everyday problem to a customer service crisis?

A customer service crisis is any situation that compromises a company’s ability to deliver good customer service. Knowing how to spot a customer service crisis and, where possible, what might trigger one is essential. After all, you can’t solve a problem if you don’t know it’s a problem, and you can’t avoid a repeat if you don’t understand what caused it in the first place. 

Customer service crises will differ depending on the type of business. For example, an issue with your distribution and delivery could cause a customer service crisis in eCommerce. For the travel industry, dates and locations’ prices might not show up on the website, causing a customer crisis. Causes of crises can include:

  • Technology failures: Data breaches, cyber attacks, server outages, website downtime and other technology mishaps can have ripple effects on customer service.
  • Supply chain disruption: Product recalls, sudden product shortages, and natural disasters, to name but a few, can have knock-on effects and impact your customer service function. 
  • Shortage of customer service agents: A surge in demand combined with a shortage of customer service agents can lead to an overload of customer queries. 
  • External events: Events like the COVID-19 pandemic can have huge effects, causing both localised and global customer crises.

While customer service crises can be frustrating for both customers and businesses, they also offer an opportunity for businesses to listen to their customers and learn from their mistakes. By taking the time to address the root cause of a crisis, businesses can improve their customer relationships and build long-term customer loyalty.

2. Create a customer service crisis management plan

Call centre and customer support agents are on the front lines during a customer service crisis, so having a customer service crisis management plan in place gives them, and your business, critical information to help quell the crisis.

This document should outline the steps to take when a crisis hits. A well-designed plan should include: 

  • A set of questions customers will likely have — with prepared answers for your customer support team to use.
  • The level of scope agents have to offer discounts, refunds and effect cancellations etc.
  • Essential information for your customer service team on how to deal with customer complaints, as well as a procedure for escalating issues to management. 
  • Who they should contact in the business for further information.

Using this information can help train agents quicker so they can respond faster when you’re in the midst of a crisis.

And provide self-service information for customers

If you’re in the midst of a crisis, you might not have time to pull this information together quickly. Before any crisis hits, your business should create a knowledge base that includes FAQs and products or services information, and have it clearly accessible on your website. By providing answers to the most frequent customer questions, customers can answer questions themselves, and reduce the strain on your customer service team. 69% of consumers first try to resolve their issue independently, making a knowledge base vital during times of crisis. 3

A customer service crisis management plan and self-service information for customers act as essential sources of truth for both your business and your customers. 

Suggested reading: Interested to learn more about the changing customer service landscape? Check out our ebook — A New Approach to Customer Service

3. Increase call centre headcount

Peak periods often mean businesses need more agents to deal with the increased demand. While you can prepare for your known busy periods, customer demand can still sneak up on you unexpectedly.

Without the ability to get more customer agents in at this time as more customers are trying to get in touch, a customer service crisis won’t sneak up on you — it’ll hit you suddenly.

Scalable customer service allows you to scale your call centre headcount up and down, quickly and easily, depending on your business’s demand. 

  • Scalable services: Keeping your entire customer service function in-house year-round often leaves your business unprepared for a crisis when you need to scale up quickly. Using scalable services lets you increase or decrease your call centre headcount to match your demand — and with high-quality agents. 
  • Rapidly deployment: Agents with campaign- or product-specific knowledge, who are already trained, can be rapidly deployed to your call centre without spending time and effort to train them — by which time it’s too late to help alleviate the crisis.

4. Provide different channels of support

When it comes to customer support channels, using only one channel can create a bottleneck. And it can frustrate customers who have to wait a long time for customer service, perhaps on a channel that’s not even their preferred choice.

If they already feel dissatisfied, asking them to stay on hold, stationing them in a long queue on ‘live chat’, or having them repeat their concerns isn’t going to turn them into loyal customers. 

So to make sure people are responded to quickly, and on their preferred channel, your customer service support should be omnichannel. The channels with the highest satisfaction rates are:

  • Email — 61% 
  • Live chat — 56%
  • Social media — 48%
  • Phone — 83%.4

Other than these four channels, customers often interact with businesses using automated chatbots (17%), mobile apps (16%), or texting (14%).5 Good customer relations often entail providing support through several channels. Only then can a company be certain that it can build a strong relationship with its consumers.

But, remember, these channels need to be consistent too. It’s no use if one customer prefers live chat but the interface is hard to use or they have to wait a long time for a response. In fact, 75% of customers just want a consistent experience, regardless of the channel.6

5. Get the best agents 

It’s one thing to increase your call centre headcount to address increased customer queries, but the crisis could be exacerbated if you don’t onboard high-quality agents to deal with these queries well. 

But how likely is it that the best agents are going to live close to your call centre? Not very. An outsourced, distributed customer service model, where agents can work from wherever they are, gives you access to a wider talent pool.

The advantages of a distributed customer service model include:

  • Campaign-specific agents: Many agents already have experience in the industry they’re working in or the specific product. 
  • Experienced in crisis management: These agents are trained to deal with crises calmly and effectively, all the while providing excellent customer service.
  • Emotional intelligence: Clear and transparent customer communication during a crisis is vital. Cancellations and refunds must be processed for people who are often angry and stressed — the best agents understand this and personalise how they interact with customers.

6. Pay as you use

If you’re increasing your customer service headcount during peak times or to help you through a customer service crisis, getting in high-quality agents and providing different support channels should be a priority.

At the same time, however, you don’t want to be locked into long contracts, drawn-out recruitment, or massively over-provision. It might solve the crisis in the short term but, if you’re not careful, can create another crisis if you’re slapped with a hefty fee. And during a crisis, you can be at the mercy of whatever price is being offered. 

Instead, using scalable, outsourced cost-effective customer service means you only pay for what you use — and never leave customers waiting.

Creating customer satisfaction in a crisis

Crises happen from time to time. But with proper planning, they can be dealt with swiftly — and even be used as a learning opportunity to improve customer satisfaction going forward. Mistakes happen, but they’re not fatal: 78% of consumers will forgive a mistake and continue doing business with you. 7

Odondo is an outsourced, distributed customer service model. Odondo means no overheads dripping down into the customer service outsourcing pricing, while you don’t have to spend on long-term resources or training — we do it for you.

Whether you’re a smaller business engaged in crisis management planning and want the ability to scale up, or a larger company that quickly needs to increase headcount, we deploy high-quality agents to join your customer service team — helping stop a crisis before it happens or get you out of one. These agents are trained specifically for your campaign to help you create a seamless customer experience.

To get access to high-quality, campaign-specific, scalable customer service agents, get in touch for a quote today.

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1  Customer Satisfaction: Why It’s Important in 2022.

2  111 Customer Service Statistics and Facts You Shouldn’t Ignore.

3  Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020.

4  Customer Service Statistics.

5  Customer Service Statistics.

6  111 Customer Service Statistics and Facts You Shouldn’t Ignore.

7  40 Customer Service Stats to Know in 2022 

Aamir Baloch

Aamir is one of the Co-Founders at Odondo, where he obsesses over the details to deliver a strong and compelling proposition for each of his clients.

Prior to Odondo, he was CTO at one of the UK's largest price comparison websites, with contact centres in the UK and India. In his spare time, he loves reading, politics, tennis, and playing the piano (badly).

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