How to Excel at Customer Support During a Crisis

Customer support can be daunting even at the best of times. But when a crisis hits, it becomes so much more challenging… and so much more important. 

As you face refunds, cancellations, unreasonable requests, aggressive complaints and more, your customer support reps are your first — and often last — line of defense. Right now, your entire business hinges on their ability to connect with customers and solve their problems. 

It’s in your best interests to help them in any way you can. And that’s what we’ll cover today. 

In this week’s article, you will learn how to deliver exceptional support to your customers, even in tough times. I’ve prepared this advice specifically to guide your support team through coronavirus, but it will work for any kind of crisis: shipping issues, your website going down, the market crashing… you name it. 

You will learn:

  • The hidden reason people reach out for support… that has nothing to do with solving a problem.
  • An easy way to help your team write the most empathetic support messages — even when they’re short on time and stressed.
  • How to tell someone “no” in a way that will make them happy and satisfied with your customer service.

And more. Let’s start with the #1 skill for anyone working in customer support right now…

(If you’d prefer to listen to this week’s article instead of reading it, click here to jump to the audio version.)

The image shows a customer support rep at his desk. The desk is in a boxing ring, and the rep is on a call, sweating. Behind him, The Draw Shop's mascot is rubbing his shoulders a la boxing coach.


1. Listen to what the customer REALLY needs


When customers are anxious and stressed, they will often contact you with messages that are tough to unpack. Angry complaints about minor issues; questions that are extremely vague — or hyper-specific and obscure; unreasonable requests; long-winded messages about nothing in particular — you name it, you’ll probably get it.

Listening to your customers is the best thing you can do in these difficult situations. But how can you understand someone in distress when they’re not being very clear?

Great question! To answer it, you need to understand that customers contact support for many different reasons…

…and solving a problem is only one of them.

Just as often your customers simply want to vent their frustrations, to receive reassurance, to feel validated in their point of view — or even to distract themselves! And underneath all those different motivations there’s a subsconscious need to feel seen, heard, and understood.

Anyone working in customer support should keep that in mind, especially now.

Train your teammates to ask, “What does this customer really need?” whenever they encounter a difficult or confusing ticket. If they can’t identify and solve the problem directly, they should at least empathize with the customer and relate to their frustrations. Sometimes that’s all it really takes to get them to cooperate and guide your team to the root of the issue.

And speaking of empathy, here’s another helpful strategy for crisis-proof customer support…


2. “Recycle” your empathy to get your team through bad days


Your customer support team is in a difficult position. 

On the one hand, they’re expected to write the most detailed, thoughtful, empathetic response to every customer. And on the other hand, they’re supposed to spend as little time as possible on each ticket.

That means, your support reps have a choice to make every time they pull up a new request. Should they take the time to connect with the customer — and sacrifice the KPIs…

…or prioritize efficiency — and risk being seen as unhelpful or rude?

Luckily, there is a third option.

Ask your team to prepare short, empathetic “tidbits” they can use in conversations with customers. I’m talking about short fragments, 3-4 sentences tops, that they can inject into their support messages.

Here’s an example to show you what I mean:

“Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention — I’m happy to look into this for you! I will update you within 24 hours, or as soon as the issue has been resolved.”

Here’s another one:

“It was my pleasure to help! If you have any other questions for me, please let me know.”

Little phrases like these can go a long way to communicate a caring, friendly tone in your support messages.

Your teammates can create these tidbits on a good day and keep them at hand. Then, when things get tough, they can deploy these over and over again — to reduce response time, delight customers, and keep themselves from burning out.


3. Don’t just say no — focus on solutions, even partial ones


I don’t need to tell you that this is a challenging time for everyone. You should expect that customers will reach out to you asking for things you simply cannot deliver. Maybe it’s a feature your product doesn’t have, a request you can’t meet, or a deep discount you can’t provide.

Train your customer support team to respond to these asks with something more than, “I’m afraid we can’t do that.” Your customers are looking for solutions, and even a partial solution beats nothing at all.

So teach your team to identify the next best thing that’s in their power to do, and offer it to the customer.

For example, let’s say that someone wants a free trial of your product or service… but you don’t do free trials. What’s the next best solution your support team could provide here?

It could be…

  • A discounted rate for the first month, so the customer can test-drive your solution without breaking the bank.
  • A personalized hands-on demo, so the customer can decide if your solution is worth the investment for them.
  • A test account for them to play around in and see first-hand how everything works.
  • Concierge onboarding to help the customer get up and running with your product or service, so they can make the most of it as soon as possible.
  • A more affordable plan that has most of the features your customer is looking for.

You get the idea — focus on the things you can provide, not the things you can’t. And please give your support team the autonomy they need to come up with out-of-the-box solutions for your customers!


4. Share positivity and good vibes wherever you get them


Even in good times, working customer support is hard. In crisis mode, it’s very easy for your teammates to focus on the negative things that happen and forget about the positive.

Don’t let it happen. 

Find ways to remind your support team that they are making a positive impact on your customers and the world. Here’s how you can keep them connected to the results of their hard work:

  • Invite everyone to share work wins, big or small. Sharing things like positive interactions with customers will help to keep everyone’s morale high — not just the lucky person who had a nice experience. Ask your teammates to post these in chat or bring them up during team meetings.
  • Whenever someone goes above and beyond to do a great job, shine a spotlight on them. Acknowledging your teammates’ efforts will motivate them to keep up the good work and a positive attitude, both of which are essential in a crisis.
  • Don’t be the only one acknowledging your team’s successed. Encourage them to notice each other’s hard work and talk it up in reports, during meetings, and in chat. Top performers are often hesitant to take credit for themselves, but they are more than happy to give it when it’s due! Use that to create an atmosphere where everybody cheers each other on.

No matter how dire, every crisis will come to an end sooner or later. I hope that these strategies will help you save your relationships with customers, lighten your support team’s workload, and keep them inspired and motivated every step of the way!


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