How to adapt to meet customers’ needs during the coronavirus
- Anticipate the information your clients need – and provide it on multiple channels.
- Scrutinize your online presence (website, social media) to ensure messaging is up-to-date and your website is fully functioning.
- Ensure the tone of every message is warm, caring and supportive.
- Keep tabs on changing customer hot buttons and pivot quickly to meet customers’ needs.
- Address the needs of your staff so they can better address the needs of your clients.
Layoffs. Furloughs. Businesses that are closed temporarily – and others that may close permanently. Harried business owners with questions and concerns. COVID-19 has not only overwhelmed our healthcare system, but in many cases, our lives and livelihoods. How should your agency adapt to meet customers’ needs in this new reality?
Attention spans are short. Tempers are short. We’re all tired of staying indoors and afraid of the unknown: When it will end? And what happens afterwards?
Understandably, your insurance clients are demanding answers, and they want them now. That means we’re not just concerned about client retention, but we’re feeling the urgency to address their needs now. And that’s not always simple.
“Particularly in times of crisis, a customer’s interaction with a company can trigger an immediate and lingering effect on his or her sense of trust and loyalty. As millions are furloughed and retreat into isolation, a primary barometer of their customer experience will be how the businesses they frequent and depend upon deliver experiences and service that meets their new needs with empathy, care and concern,” said a recent McKinsey article.
Customer service matters even more during a crisis, Hubspot agreed, with data from their recent customer satisfaction study, comparing survey results pre-COVID and again in April, in the middle of the pandemic. We checked in with six experts whose advice we respect, to bring you a list of items you should consider as you struggle to adapt to meet customers’ needs, providing top customer service in these novel times.
Provide the information your customers need.
They’re not coming to your office. To community events or networking events where you can talk face-to-face. Instead, they’re calling, emailing, looking at your website for answers and chatting on social media. If you employ chatbots, they’re also looking for answers there. In fact, Hubspot says that onsite chat volume has increased 29 percent since pre-COVID and continues to rise. One way you can adapt to meet customers’ needs is to provide them with as much information online as possible – before they ask. That way, you can answer many of the questions that otherwise they would be calling you about.
A recent Nationwide survey of 400 independent agents, as published in Property Casualty 360, said more than half of agents had clients asking for an explanation as to what their policy covers, advice on how to cut costs on their insurance or suspending payments due to the coronavirus.
Here are some ways you can adapt to meet customers’ needs, providing what they need, when they need it.
- Be sure your website, social media profiles and your Google My Business listing all show your updated hours or state that all employees are working from home but can be reached with specifically listed contact information.
- Have your carriers agreed to extended payment terms or specific commercial policy changes? Be sure to state that on your home page, linking to a page with more information.
- Add a COVID-19 knowledge base to your website with the latest updates from CDC, WHO and your state and local authorities.
- From talking with your customer service team and other agents, determine the top 10 or so questions that they get asked and the answers they provide. Build a “How can we help?” webpage that provides answers in short, easily understood sentences. An FAQ of sorts. Be sure to include phone numbers and email addresses for pertinent team members, should the answers needed not appear on your page. Your goal here is to cut down on phone calls by providing answers on this page.
- Manage customer expectations. If possible, create an auto-reply email that says something to the effect of “We appreciate your call\email. Thanks for reaching out. Please know that our response time may be slightly longer than normal because we’re taking care to address each concern thoughtfully. Rest assured we’ll get back to you as quickly as possible.”
- What other ways can you adapt to meet customers’ needs, perhaps creating self-service on your website, such as paying their premium? Investigate your options with your web builder.
- Create individual social media posts of your frequently asked questions and answers.
- Consider a series of emails that answer these questions and provide additional links to helpful articles you’ve read. Be sure to add your contact information so that they can reach out to you.
- Now’s a great time to review your digital user experience, fixing any slow loading pages, broken links, etc. that may frustrate your website visitors. If your website is not mobile-first or at least mobile-friendly, that’s an immediate concern that needs to be addressed.
Use a tone that shows care and concern.
Rather than focusing on cross-selling, up-selling, or gaining new clients, this is the time to offer your support. Of course, selling is crucial to your agency, but sandwich any marketing attempts between several messages of “how can we help?” Talk honestly and openly with your clients. “Transparency, genuine care and credibility outweigh clever marketing strategies at this time,” says strategy-business.com.
One idea is to create a series of short vlogs (video blogs) using your Microsoft Teams, Zoom or any other software platform you use for video meetings, where you can record yourself. Provide your personal lines clients with safety tips for the summer. Hurricane, tornado or wildfire safety, if those are appropriate for your area. Commercial lines producers, there are innumerable updates on OSHA’s website that provide helps for your clients. Check them out here, https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/; choose a few and recap the details in a vlog. Provide the links at the end of your presentation.
We’ve said it several times, but it bears repeating: Your customers want to hear from you. They want to hear you ask how they’re doing and offer support. They do not want you to try to sell them anything right now (unless they’ve recognized a need and bring it up in conversation). Showing that you care about them on a personal level will leave a lasting memory in their minds (and hey, it may smooth the way for renewals as well).
Here’s a great example from a blogpost on strategy-business.com: “A customer who contacts a call center might be delighted to have the option of a video call with a real person who’s also working from home and is willing to take as much time as needed to address her question. The video creates a human connection, and the entire [experience] shows that the company cares — it’s willing to prioritize the quality of the interaction over call-volume efficiency. This experience also shows that the company is taking care of its employees by enabling them to keep working — and to keep getting paid — from home.”
Keep tabs on changing customer preferences.
What is your staff saying with regards to changing needs and requests? How have clients been posting or responding on your social media pages? You may want to create a series of short polls on your social media, asking what are top concerns for your various lines of business. Use that input to help you quickly pivot to address those changing concerns or needs.
Don’t overlook your staff.
“In times of crisis, caring for customers starts with thinking first about employees,” said the McKinsey article. “As any flight attendant would advise during the preflight safety briefing, it’s important to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.” McKinsey’s research shows 60 percent of Americans are very or extremely concerned about their safety and the safety of their families; 43 percent are very or extremely concerned about their job or income (or not being able to make ends meet).
Once your team feels fairly secure about their roles in your agency, then they can better serve your clients with patience and empathy. You may want to consider additional online training or tools to better help them provide better customer support in this new environment.
“Every person on your team needs to think of themselves as part-time therapists, as they seek to improve the lives of your customers with every call,” says a recent Forbes article.
The article, written by Daniel Newman, goes on to say, “What does working with empathy require? It requires high-touch—even if it’s done by phone or video. Customers want to talk to real live humans. They want to be asked in advance what will make their lives better. They don’t want to be further stressed by getting lost in an endless phone tree or bot-chat that goes nowhere. What’s more, they want your people to be aware of what your company is doing to help its customers. That means: training and communication are needed at every employee level, every day to keep your team informed about how to help your customers most quickly. It also means that you actually need to follow through on what you tell customers you’re going to do.”
Customer service has taken on an added dimension since the coronavirus outbreak. A human touch, even if by email, is much more important. Timely, transparent conversations are crucial to providing your concerned or needy clients. Providing caring messages and responses during this crisis while quickly moving to adapt to customers’ needs will build stronger relationships that will endure well beyond the pandemic.