(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
The Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce (SRCC) Topics@Twelve monthly event was held both in-person and virtually on Tuesday, April 13. The topic for April was “Customer Service in the Pandemic.” Guest speakers were Carrie Rathbun Hawks and Bob Hoffman, both public relations experts with decades of combined experience. Rathbun Hawks and Hoffman are also friends and business partners – and Rathbun Hawks has been an SRCC board member for 16-years.
Hoffman explained the push behind the discussion came from his own experience when he concluded customer service was “really lacking” during the ongoing pandemic. He offered he thought customer service was actually poor pre-pandemic, too, but that it had really gone awry with the onset of COVID-19.
The discussion was broken into segments including defining what good customer service is, the impact of the pandemic, modeling success and also customer service tips for now and the future.
Rathbun Hawks and Hoffman suggested that knowing the customer, though obvious, is a first priority. They also stated that employees/staff need to fully understand products and services, they need to listen, empathize, follow through and develop analysis techniques to evolve toward better customer service. Listening is extremely critical as many people in the business world and elsewhere are not always the most receptive listeners.
“People just want to be heard sometimes,” offered Rathbun Hawks. She advised empathizing with others, trying to figure out where a customer or client is coming from. “I think that is really important and can go a long way with people, as well. To be able to say ‘I understand this is frustrating, I’m so sorry, this is just different for everyone.’ It’s a really good way to empathize with people.”
Regarding follow through – this area of customer service has radically changed in recent months with numerous avenues of communication open to customers/clients, so it is critical for businesses to monitor and incorporate a plan of action regarding each avenue. Some of these avenues include traditional phone systems, email, social media venues, texting, etc. The business world needs to be savvy to each of these avenues in order to act accordingly and professionally.
Rathbun Hawks and Hoffman also included information from a March 2020 study by Tethr, an AI-based company that evaluated over a million customer-service calls across 20 companies. The Tethr study revealed dramatic increases in customer service anxiety and related complications as business representatives struggled with appropriate responses to customer service questions. The Tethr study also revealed how the pandemic affected different parts of an organization/business in differing ways – meaning employers needed to offer various customer service plans for a broad assortment of possible challenges. A number of these inter-business, inter-departmental complications were not problems companies had dealt with prior to the pandemic.
Some tips offered for good service include clear communication methods on how your business is responding, educating people on how to interact with your company, seeking ways to innovate or offer new products or services – and looking for ways to help.
Some upcoming events SRCC has planned include the Annual Dinner and Awards Night on Thursday, June 10 and a Ladies Golf Outing planned for Thursday, June 17.
Joe-Lee’s Crosswind Café provided lunch.
For more on the Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce, call (989) 723-5149.