How to manage your support team during a crisis

How to manage your support communications during a crisis

Main illustration: Susan Payne

Supporting your customers with efficiency and empathy is challenging in the best of times. But when an unprecedented event like COVID-19 hits, what do you say and how do you say it?

Right now your support team are probably facing an array of challenges. Depending on the nature of your business, you may experience an increased volume of conversations, more requests for refunds and cancellations, and perhaps even dealing with customers who are understandably on edge.

“You’ll want to provide your customers with fast, transparent answers”

We know that responding to customers with efficiency and empathy is likely a priority for you – you’ll want to provide them with fast, transparent answers.

We created this blog post to help you reduce your Support team’s load and provide your customers with the personal support they need. Below, we share tips on how to proactively message customers and respond to inbound conversations in a way that’s helpful, respectful, and mindful.

Proactively communicating with customers

During this unprecedented time, your customers will likely have lots of questions. You may want to proactively reach out to them to ensure they’re supported with all the answers, information, and reassurance they need. Sending an empathetic, genuinely helpful message will require some careful consideration. Here are some steps we recommend taking:

Make sure the message really counts

Naturally, your customers’ attention will be a little more divided during a crisis. So, it’s more important than ever to make every message count. You can achieve that by being respectful of people’s time and needs. Before you write a single word, question if you really need to message them at all. If in doubt:

  • Only send messages that genuinely help and proactively answer questions that your customers care about.
  • It almost goes without saying, but now’s not the right time to promote your product, attempt to upsell customers or even reach out unnecessarily.

Define your customers’ needs and how you’ll help

One of the best ways you can avoid meaningless or even unwelcome communication during a crisis is by defining your customers’ needs upfront. Get incredibly clear and specific on exactly how you’ll help them. For example, you might want to answer frequently asked questions that customers are writing or calling in with, such as:

  • Are you offering product delivery?
  • Are delivery times operating as normal or are you experiencing delays?
  • Do you have a contactless delivery option and how does this work?
  • What steps are you taking to protect your customers’ and employees’ safety?
  • How are you handling cancellations?
  • What refunds might they be entitled to and when can they expect them?
  • Do you have any relevant resources? Depending on your customers’ needs, relevant guides, docs, or how-to videos might be helpful.

Unfortunately, some of your customers are going to be experiencing real financial and emotional difficulties during this time. If your business is in a position to help, you may want to consider offering a discount, free tool, resource (like an ebook) or something else. Make a conscious decision whether to address this offer in your proactive message or whether it’s best to reserve it for people who contact your team and really need it.

Focus on active, engaged customers who genuinely need your support

Even when you have an important message to share, it’s unlikely that everyone on your sender list will want or need to hear it. For example, people who no longer use your product or service are unlikely to care about how you’re responding to the crisis, simply because your business is no longer relevant to them and their needs.

Instead, focus your efforts on messaging engaged recipients – these who have recently used your product (at Intercom we use the “Active less than 30 days ago” filter), placed an order in your store and/or contacted your support team.

Segment specific groups of customers

Of course, different groups of your active customers will have different needs. Rather than sending a one-size-fits-all message, it’s far more empathetic and personal to:

  1. Segment your customers by needs (whether that’s by location, plan or engagement level)
  2. Tailor your message to each group

For example, if you work for a B2B SaaS business, sales-owned customers may require a more personal approach than self-serve customers. Equally, if you run a food delivery service and are experiencing delivery delays in a specific city, only local customers will need an update.

Send your message in context (when customers need it)

Another empathetic approach is to send your message in context where possible. One of the best ways to do this is to send an in-app message rather than an email. Not only will you reach customers who are actively using your product, you’ll also ensure you’re not interrupting them at an inconvenient time or adding to an already overloaded inbox.

Practice email etiquette

Be mindful that during this challenging time, some customers who are experiencing stress may be more likely to hit unsubscribe on your email or even mark it as spam – this is especially true if it feels unnecessary or irrelevant to them.

“If you do need to send an email, be respectful of your customers’ time”

During a global crisis like COVID-19, spam filters are also on high alert, due to many businesses sending a large volume of emails – sometimes unnecessarily. If you do need to send an email, be respectful of your customers’ time and abide by email-compliant rules by:

  • Making sure your email content and context is relevant to your customers’ needs.
  • Sending emails in a predictable cadence of smaller batches. Going from 100 emails a day to 10,000 can cause email providers to mark your message as spam.

Focus your message on your customers’ needs

When the crisis is over, your customers will remember how you treated them, what you said, and most importantly how you made them feel. What you say and how you said it matters now more than ever. Here are some tips for focusing on your customers’ needs:

  • Address the crisis and your customers’ needs upfront, right away. Make it the first thing you talk about.
  • Emphasize that your employees and customers are the most important thing right now (and always).
  • Prioritize clarity over cleverness. Avoid any language that may be misconstrued as a joke or sales message, for example.
  • Create a help article or blog post with all of the information your customers need to know on how you’re supporting them during this time. Link to this in your message and let your customers know you’ll update it with any changes.

Prepare for an influx of replies

Empathy should extend to your hard-working team too. If you’re messaging a large group of customers your team may receive an influx of responses.

“Positive feedback will help give your team a much-needed motivational boost”

As well as sending your emails in smaller batches, you might want to consider making some temporary changes to your processes, including:

  • Creating a separate inbox for “CS Incident Management”, then automatically routing replies to this inbox.
  • Dividing and conquering by selecting a specific team of support reps from each region to clear out the inbox at dedicated times.

Don’t forget you might get positive feedback and messages of support from customers too. After you’ve thanked customers, tag any positive feedback you get and send it to your team – it will help give your team a much-needed motivational boost and keep their spirits high when they’re incredibly busy.

Respond to inbound conversations with empathy

No matter how comprehensive your proactive communication is, certain industries will likely experience an increased volume of inbound conversations. You’ll want to prepare your support team and processes, so you’re empowered to respond with efficiency and empathy, even when tensions are high. Here are our tips:

Empathy means providing fast, efficient help

When you’re experiencing an influx of difficult conversations, empathy doesn’t just mean saying the right thing. It also means providing fast, efficient help and answers. That starts with optimizing your workflows and surfacing the most pressing conversations and resources.

  • Prioritize difficult conversations. Set up priority rules to make sure that any customers who have complex queries or who are experiencing emotional distress can reach a member of your support team, as soon as possible.
  • Create and update help resources, like your help articles and/or videos, so customers can help themselves.
  • Give your customers fast access to the right people with contextual routing.

Rely on bots (only where humans aren’t needed)

During a crisis, you’ll find many of your customers asking the same questions, like, “What are your delivery times?” or “What’s your refund policy?” You can use bots to automatically resolve these simple, repetitive questions.

If you’re using Intercom, you can set up Resolution Bot to instantly resolve customer questions – before they even finish typing. Check out more tips on supporting your customers during COVID-19 using Intercom here.

Now more than ever you want to display proper bot etiquette (or “botiquette” for short) and make sure your bot doesn’t come across as tone-deaf during this highly sensitive time.

If you’re using bots during a crisis you need to exercise particular caution. At minimum:

  • Review your bot flow and tone and ensure every interaction still makes sense for customers.
  • Don’t try to answer difficult or emotional questions with a bot. These are best saved for your brilliant support team.

Need support? We’re here to help

It’s not just your customers who need help during this unprecedented time. When you’re managing a busy inbox and difficult conversations, your diligent support team needs support and resources too.

We’d love to help you by creating more content that will empower you to support your customers during this challenging period. Are there particular resources you want and need? Let us know here.

Just remember this too shall pass. And we’re with you every step of the way.

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