Since the mid-1980s, companies across the country have used the first full workweek in October to celebrate National Customer Service Week. The week, which the U.S. Congress proclaimed a national event in 1992, has a twofold mission to not only encourage organizations to recognize their customer service representatives’ hard work, but also highlight the critical role that customer service plays in successfully running a business.
Owing to the challenges introduced by COVID-19, this year’s event—set for Oct. 5-9—will certainly have a different tone, but it would be unwise to abandon the celebration altogether. After all, the quality of service can make or break customer retention in the best of times, but data from McKinsey & Co. shows that the pandemic has driven a bigger change in consumer behavior. Since the pandemic began, 77% of consumers have abandoned brand loyalties in favor of testing out new products and brands.
In this stressful atmosphere, customer service teams are more influential than ever. Judicious shoppers will expect stellar experiences, so company leaders must ensure their customer experience teams are taking care of customers to keep them coming back. If you think it might be time to pandemic-proof your own CX model, read on. I connected with five entrepreneurs to learn about the innovative customer service ideas they’ve employed since the onset of the pandemic.
1. Todd Gurley, president at Redbird Advisors
Todd Gurley and his team have always taken a personal approach to customer service, but they’ve had to modify their methods in the past few months. Instead of meeting clients over lunch, for instance, they might engage in a Zoom call. Regardless, they’ve remained devoted to developing relationships through consistent communication and touchpoints.
Gurley welcomes the chance to be brought into his customers’ worlds and encourages other businesses to approach service from a customer-centric standpoint. And when asked what keeps his customers coming back, he narrows it down to relationships and results. “Do what you say you’re going to do and do it on time,” said Gurley. “Deliver—it’s that simple. We know people are looking for silver bullets in times like these, but we’ve found that being thoughtful, steady, and reliable works no matter how good or bad the times may be.”
2. Safwan Shah, CEO at PayActiv
Safwan Shah’s customer service philosophy is all about making people feel good. That’s why, as soon as the pandemic hit, Shah authorized his CX representatives to give away $50 to $100 to customers in need—no questions asked—and removed fees for a select period, saving users $2 million. Since then, PayActiv has released a no-fee option for some users and reduced the cost for others.
These decisions cost millions in revenue in the short term but have paid off unmeasurably in loyalty. “Our customers know they can rely on us to act,” said Shah. “We responded to the crisis swiftly, and they saw us walk the walk when we eliminated our fees. They see us as a trusted partner with a heart that respects the humanity of its workers.”
3. Jesse Lear, founder at Epicurean Properties
When the pandemic hit, Jesse Lear was surprised to see other companies’ CX dropping to abysmal levels—but he saw it as a rare opportunity to set his company apart. “We immediately placed an even higher priority on customer service,” said Lear. “We started answering calls even faster, surprising our customers with little gifts, and going above and beyond to make even the tiniest issues right.”
By refusing to settle for less, Lear has held onto customers. “We were able to thrive during a time when the rest of our industry was suffering, and I believe that was largely due to our obsession with delivering five-star customer service, even when it wasn’t easy,” said Lear. To other companies weighing how far to take their CX changes, Lear recommends moving full steam ahead. As he puts it, “Adequate isn’t adequate.” To wow people, brands have to go the extra mile, even if that means doing something costly upfront to win great reviews and a constant stream of referrals.
4. Doug Wilber, CEO at Denim Social
As the leader of a software company, Doug Wilber is, by most measures, part of the tech industry, but he doesn’t see it that way. “I like to remind my team that although we’re a social media management software company, we’re not in the tech business—we’re in the people business,” said Wilber.
The pandemic has made this mission even more important, as many clients have had to accelerate their adoption of social media. “For our customers, relationship-building has historically been done in person,” said Wilber. “Almost overnight, that wasn’t safe or possible. We’d been helping teams implement social media strategies for years, but the pandemic intensified our customers’ needs and timelines.”
Accordingly, Denim Social account managers doubled down on their efforts to add value. They not only implement the software, but also support customers as they launch, refine, and expand their social media strategies. “We’ll only be successful if our customers are getting value from our technology,” said Wilber.
5. Cheri McDonald, founder at Break Free with Dr. Cheri
As a therapist, life coach, and influencer, Cheri McDonald will be the first to tell you that her business couldn’t exist without customers. Consequently, she’s made CX her No. 1 priority. “There is the philosophy that we are as good as the six people closest to us,” said McDonald. “It is my policy to be one of the six people available to my clients.”
What does she suggest for keeping customers returning rain or shine? For one thing, you must offer innovative ways to be available to your customers. “Especially during times of isolation, people are craving stimulation and refreshing information, ideas, and creativity,” said McDonald. “By going digital with my services, I’ve gained even greater insight into my clients, as they invite me into their homes. This insight has proven to enrich the service by being able to offer even more personalized tools that fit into the animation of their world.”
Beyond showing up, McDonald recommends practicing intentional listening, seeking to empathize with customer dilemmas, and authentically expressing what you do (and do not) know. Only then will your relationships evolve into masterminded partnerships that never need to end.
Customer service isn’t just a nice-to-have arm of your business. It’s an essential piece of your operational puzzle. This October, honor your CX superheroes as you brainstorm ways to take your customer experience to the next level. Trust me: It will pay off tenfold.
This article was written by Rhett Power and originally published on Forbes.