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Posted: August 31, 2009

Five tips to weather the economic storm

Great customer service can keep you afloat

Christopher Carrington

Customer service has the power to escalate or ease a crisis situation -- depending on how it’s performed. Using today’s technology tools, unhappy customers can instantly broadcast their complaints to millions of people.

Try to cover up or evade the truth, and you could create a tsunami of negative response. On the other hand, most consumers will be reasonable and understanding when provided with quick access to truthful information.

How your customer service team responds could actually end up improving your reputation and bottom line. A friendly, helpful voice on the other end of the phone rather than a busy signal will communicate through actions that your brand stands for doing what is right. It’s not easy to come out of a crisis with a stronger corporate image, but by following these five tips, it can be done.

1. Establish “as-needed” access to additional agents.

When a crisis hits, companies usually have little advanced notice. This makes it nearly impossible to locate enough staff using traditional hiring methods. There’s not enough time to place an advertisement, review resumes, interview prospects and run background checks – a process that takes on average 12 weeks. 

 Instead, companies need to plan ahead and establish access to a pool of agents that can be tapped into on an as-needed basis.  This is most efficiently done through a relationship with an outsourced, virtual customer-care provider. Virtual or at-home contact centers have quick access to thousands of pre-screened, high-quality agents. In addition, most also have groups of “stand-by” employees. Companies with pre-established partnerships can tap into both of these ready resources to locate agents in less than a day. 

2. Ramp up fast.

One of the worst things that can happen during a crisis is for a customer to ask a question and the company representative doesn’t know the answer. To avoid this, agents must be quickly and thoroughly trained and equipped with the necessary information.

Normally, employees must drive to a central location to attend classes during normal business hours. This, however, is not acceptable when time is short. Having the ability to remotely train people in their homes saves time and allows agents to get up to speed faster.

3. Provide clear, honest communication.

Have you ever heard the saying, “Control the message or it will control you?” In the absence of clear communication, customers, investors, employees and the media tend to come up with their own stories.

Creating a concise, proactive message that includes actions customers can take is the best way to ease concerns about your products, your services and the company in general. Once the message is established, make sure it is accurately delivered to all audiences.

4. Have a call routing system.

The likelihood of overwhelming your existing staff with high call volumes is greater during a crisis than at any other time. Under these circumstances it is important to have a strong call routing structure to ensure calls can be sent outside your existing network with minimal time and expense. Once the crisis is over, the calls can be re-routed back to your internal staff with no interruption to service.

5. Answer all calls.

This is the bottom-line – during a crisis all calls must be answered. On top of extra agents and a strong IT infrastructure, companies should maximize the use of an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system to proactively communicate to customers and ensure no one hears a busy signal. The investment required to support this concept is minimal when compared to the cost of losing existing customers due to frustration or lack of service.

Right now, executives have their hands full navigating today’s turbulent economy. Preparing for a future crisis might be viewed as something that can be dealt with later, or worse, a waste of time. But considering the devastating effects a crisis could have on your business operations, advance planning is critical -- especially when it comes to customer service.

 For companies without extensive in-house resources, virtual contact centers are a cost-effective, proven solution.  They provide the staff, infrastructure and experience to help you respond with quality service that reinforces why consumers trusted your brand in the first place. 

With a little planning and the right partner, your company can not only survive an unforeseen event, but emerge with a stronger brand and more loyal customers.

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Christopher M. Carrington is President and CEO of Alpine Access, Inc. a Denver, Colorado-based provider of call center services using home-based customer service and sales employees. Carrington has more than 25 years of business service experience. Alpine Access clients include Office Depot, the IRS and a number of Fortune 100 financial institutions.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

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