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Updated: Apr 24, 2020
It’s a different world since COVID-19 reared its ugly head. Small businesses are facing some of the most significant challenges than they ever have before and quite possibly ever will. But just because you’ve had to tweak your business model or close your physical doors for a while, it doesn’t mean you need to abandon customer service as you know it.
On the contrary, loyal customers will have more questions than ever. Chances are they will be looking online for the answers. Businesses that remain nimble and that can meet at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds are the ones that stand the best shot of making it to the other side of this pandemic.
The benefits of bringing customer service online via mobile, desktop, and tablets are twofold: customers who might otherwise be experiencing frustration from the lockdown can have an enjoyable experience engaging with your business online. Additionally, digital customer service helps you manage to keep your brand relevant to the community throughout the pandemic.
Chances are if you’re a brick-and-mortar company, you’ve had to transition some or all of your business online.
Restaurants that used to accommodate patrons have moved to delivery and are launching live, interactive online cooking classes. Hair salons and barbershops are launching how-to videos on YouTube, Zoom, and other platforms and are selling color kits for customers. Gyms and fitness centers are similarly starting to produce trainer-led videos to keep people active during the pandemic.
Recognizing how to improve your customer service and bringing it online is an extension of whatever steps you’ve already taken to keep your brand relevant and supported throughout COVID-19 — not an either/or. You don’t want to cut off other customer service methods cold turkey, as it could compromise the potential benefits both for you and your customers.
Your customers most likely used to reach out by phone or by popping in during the workday. While the physical visits might be impossible right now, you could nudge your customers in the direction of online queries and other digital customer service methods while still fielding calls in the interim. This gives them the option to choose. Think of it like the omnichannel approach by retailers. During standard times, they offer customers support across channels, from mobile to in-store to telephone orders and support. You could take a similar approach while shifting customer service engagement from face-to-face to online.
During these challenging times, when cash flow is tighter than ever, there’s no beating a free way to provide digital customer service. Social media is one way to accomplish this. Customers are becoming increasingly comfortable posting questions and even complaints online. So, ignoring social media can be incredibly damaging to your business – especially now.
Whether you focus on images via Instagram, events on Facebook Live, or written content on Twitter, customers will likely be expecting to see you on one or more of these platforms either for updates or to speak with someone directly. The real-time nature of social media means that you can often respond to customer inquiries in a matter of minutes, not hours or days.
Another digital customer service technology taking businesses by storm throughout the COVID-19 business crisis is chatbots. While they’ve been around for decades, chatbots, which are kind of like the Alexa of instant messaging, use artificial intelligence to respond to customers via “written or human speech.” And, they are taking on a whole new meaning throughout the pandemic. For example, Google Cloud has unveiled an AI chatbot that delivers information tailored to COVID-19. Plus, it gives other businesses the ability to add that data to their chatbots.
Digital tools could be useful, as you consider how to improve customer service. This is especially true if you’re down to a skeleton staff as a result of COVID-19 and don’t otherwise have the manpower for live customer service. By integrating digital customer service tools such as text messaging and chatbots, you could continue to engage with your customers in an efficient, automated way.
To help decide which type of conversations could be automated and how best to improve customer service with these tools, you could use the extra time on your hands to perform some data analytics. Or, comb through the records of past customer-service calls. Find those issues that are most pressing for customers and go from there.
As a reminder, you might not want to go 100% digital with customer service as people still tend to appreciate some human component to customer service when possible. You might want to reserve the live calls for the more complicated issues that require some critical thinking.
You could also find chat services that are native to specific operating systems. Chat tools will make it more convenient for customers to engage with you. For instance, software company LiveChat has introduced Apple Business Chat, which lets businesses communicate with their customers via Apple products. The conversation takes place in real-time with a live representative from the business via a Messages icon on a company’s website or iOS app.
There is nothing wrong with having some fun with your strategy for how to improve customer service by shifting from face-to-face to online. For instance, a UK rail ticket business has been servicing essential workers by supporting 24-hour direct messages for speedy replies. They showcased one of their customer service representatives on social media who keeps listeners entertained with an “online DJ session,” which it says is drawing listeners from beyond the region.
It’s been about two months since COVID-19 changed the small business community in one fell swoop. But the pandemic isn’t expected to last forever. Now might be an excellent time to examine what your customer service model will look like when life returns to normal. In doing so, you can decide whether you will keep an element of the digital customer service experience even when the coast is clear.
If COVID-19 has impacted your business, you’re not alone. Small businesses across the U.S. are dealing with cash flow constraints as they try to juggle their other responsibilities and maintain great customer service. To help with the cash flow side of things, Funding Circle can help. Under the CARES Act, your business could be eligible for an emergency relief loan under the Paycheck Protection Program. Use our Paycheck Protection Program calculator to see what you may qualify for then apply directly on our site to get the funding you need as soon as possible.
Jessica Holcomb is the Content Marketing Manager at Funding Circle, specializing in small business marketing and social media. She has a degree from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Prior to Funding Circle, Jessica was a Marketing Manager at a successful social games company and a freelancer for many small businesses in the Bay Area. Her work can be seen in top retail, gaming, and financial small business resource sites.