What does it take to make someone’s day better? The simple answer is ‘be kind’.
The pandemic has encouraged many of us to take time to focus on the needs of others. From helping neighbours with shopping to adapting our businesses to provide what customers need, it has been a time to connect.
Planning with Empathy
The uncertainty has impacted everyone to some degree. Our financial and emotional resilience continues to be tested. Isolation reduces the physical health risks but has put our mental health and digital skills to the test. It has left many feeling more vulnerable than usual, myself included.
We need to channel this deeper understanding to drive creative and innovative ways to support our vulnerable customers going forward. UK businesses have shown that they can quickly implement new policies and processes. They recognise that to remain relevant, they must provide what customers want. Let’s harness the lessons that we have learnt when planning the new return to work strategy.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) defines financial resilience as:
“The ability to cope financially when faced with a sudden fall in income or an unavoidable rise in expenditure.”
Before the Coronavirus outbreak, the ONS had undertaken a financial survey. This identified that 73% of UK households, where the main earner was an employee, had sufficient financial assets to cope with a 25% fall in income for 3 months.
The research suggests that around a quarter of the population faced financial hardship as soon as lockdown began, and others will now be close to using up savings. Whilst the Government has provided funding to support employees and the self-employed, many households have seen a drop in income.
Getting those Outstanding Bills Paid
No company can afford to provide goods or services and not get paid. However, when chasing unpaid invoices or dealing with overdue payments, we need to be kind. What changes to the usual policy and processes will help those experiencing financial vulnerability?
One measure that was offered by companies was a 3-month payment holiday to help customers manage their finances. This was welcomed, but the end of that period is fast approaching. What happens next?
I’ve been providing training to an insurance company on ‘Handling Upset Customers’ to help prepare their staff to use a caring, yet professional approach. What would help your team to feel confident during difficult conversations?
Why not provide all team members with a list of debt crisis organisations that they can signpost customers to? To make this easy, Helen Pettifer Training offers a free signposting resource document.
We are all weathering the same storm, but our experience of it is different. Some have been working night and day to keep others safe; they may be physically exhausted. Many have struggled without company and companionship, whilst others are grieving the loss of close friends and family. Now throw in the stress of home-schooling or losing your job.
When interacting with customers, we cannot assume that we know how they are feeling or coping. I suggest encouraging your team to ask each customer ‘How is this situation impacting you?’ and then listening to the response, before closing with ‘Thank you for sharing that with me’.
This may mean that calls or interactions take a little longer than usual. It also means that your employees might make someone’s day better, rather than worse. You could earn the reputation of being a caring company. That will carry a lot of weight as we rebuild customer relationships and trust.
Technology has been a lifeline for many during the lockdown. It has enabled people to work from home, to keep in contact with friends and family and to shop.
Some companies have taken a proactive approach to help those who are new to online banking, online shopping, and other digital services. This has helped non-techy customers to access essential goods and services whilst self-isolating. The Telegraph recently reported that online shopping has doubled for the over 65’s since last year and the lockdown has certainly played a part in this.
Technology will continue to play a crucial role as lockdown eases, but it is important to remember that many people are not digitally literate. Customer support services need to patiently assist those who are unfamiliar with logging on. What’s more, there are still many UK households without digital devices or access to the internet. How can these customers continue to be served?
Provide Clear Communication
Over the past months, so many changes have come into force. Even the way we undertake routine tasks now requires conscious thought. For vulnerable customers who have been in isolation since March, venturing out could be a confusing and daunting experience.
Your company should have a Vulnerable Customer Policy in place and now is the time to ensure it is put into practice. Give your staff the tools and time to patiently address the needs of all customers. Ensure that you offer clear and helpful communication at all times.
As we emerge from this pandemic, now is the ideal time to actively invite feedback from customers. What is your organisation doing well and are there any gaps? What more could you be doing? Responding to their comments with positive actions could fuel the growth of your business.
The pandemic has impacted us all. It has brought challenges and hardship. The uncertainty has left us all feeling more vulnerable, yet it has also showcased the best of humankind. We’ve had to adapt; we’ve shown our abilities to resolve problems and we have been more considerate of others. Let’s take these lessons forward as we plan for the future.