Seven Ideas to Deliver a Great Customer Experience During a Recession


Customers typically leave due to price, product or service issues. As a contact center leader, you may not have direct control over price setting or production quality. However, your team has an outsized impact on customer experience. While retail locations, distributors and marketers all have customer touchpoints, the contact center is where some of the most critical customer interactions happen.

Consider how challenging those customer interactions can be during a recession. Over the past six months, many people have lost their jobs or businesses. Or they are back at work with reduced hours. That means they need to cut expenses and possibly cancel service with your company. Other people are trying to work from home while taking care of children who are also at home, so they become easily aggravated waiting for the “next available agent” in the queue. On top of that, many people feel anxious about the impact of COVID-19 on their family and community.

All these stressors mean that customers may be understandably upset even before they interact with your company’s website, smartphone app or contact center. The combination of customers’ higher stress levels with the need to cut costs is driving more irate interactions, cancellations and social media outbursts. To combat that, pay extra attention to your contact center’s customer experience performance.

1. Build a Customer Experience Culture, Especially with Work-from-Home Agents

The key difference between this recession and previous ones is the number of agents working remotely. How do you build a consistent customer experience culture with remote teams?

Communication and reinforcement are key. Communicate customer service success stories. Leverage coaching sessions, virtual team meetings and town halls to celebrate customer service successes. If possible, share recordings of successful customer service calls, email and chats so that your entire team can hear and see what an agent did to provide a great experience. Share testimonials and “thank-you” tweets from customers so that agents can learn what is important from the customer’s point of view. Encourage agents to share their best customer service tips and success stories during team meetings or on a curated knowledge base page so agents can learn from each other. In addition, work with your sales, marketing and field service teams to ensure a consistent customer experience message. Use these ideas to build a work-from-home customer experience culture.

2. Include BPOs as Part of Your Customer Experience Culture

All parts of your contact center need to reflect that culture. If you use third-party contact centers—or business process outsourcing (BPO) providers—they need to be included in your culture.

Customers who feel stressed by COVID-19 and the recession will not give you a second chance. That means every touchpoint along the customer journey must provide consistently great service.

If you use BPOs for Tier 1 support or outbound upselling campaigns, your vendor’s service delivery needs to align with your in-house contact center standards. When interacting with the outsourcer’s agents, customers see them as being part of your company and they will judge your brand on that experience. For example, my smartphone provider outsources its outbound upselling campaigns. Even though the BPO’s agent uses the client company’s name when they call, I can hear a service difference in their lack of product knowledge and overly aggressive sales approach. The interaction just feels different—and worse—than the customer experience I have with their in-house agents. Do not let that happen to your customers.

Ensure that you work with your BPO(s) to provide consistently great service whether on-site or outsourced. That includes providing additional training, coaching and calibration sessions with your BPOs, if necessary. It may also mean building higher performance metrics—especially customer satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS) benchmarks—into their contract.

3. Leverage Self-Service Technology

Self-service is another way to improve customer experience and control costs. “The Aspect Consumer Experience Index: Millennial Research on Customer Service Expectations” report shows that nearly three out of four millennials prefer self-service instead of reaching a live agent.

Help customers help themselves. Conduct an audit for tasks that can be automated online. For instance, could customers review delivery times through a secure website portal rather than talking to an agent? The more tasks you can automate, the more staff time can be devoted to complex customer service issues.

Often, websites and apps are glorified brochures, listing product information and marketing slogans. In these cases, “Customer Service” typically consists of listing an email address or phone number on a web page. That just drives volume to the contact center for questions that should be addressed by a more sophisticated website or app. As a contact center leader, work with your marketing and IT departments to add functionality to your company’s website and smartphone app. Functions can include website ordering, delivery tracking, FAQs, video tutorials and suggested upselling items. This will reduce the volume of basic, easily answered inquiries to your contact center. In turn, it frees agents to focus on higher value interactions so they can help customers with more complex or emotionally challenging issues.

4. Prepare for Spikes in Contact Volume

Customers hate waiting for a live agent. Self-service can provide the capacity to handle contact volume spikes. In March, many contact centers were overwhelmed with calls, email and chats due to COVID-related inquiries. That created long average speed of answer (ASA) times. It also drove higher average handle times (AHT), as agents had to spend the first 30 seconds of every call calming customers frustrated by the long wait times. Technology can help build surge capacity by letting customers use self-service for common inquiries and transactions.

5. Provide Enhanced Training and Coaching

Agents need additional training for customer service and retention skills so they can help customers who feel anxious and financially stressed by COVID-19 and the recession. Unfortunately, training is usually one of the first things cut during a recession. That is a mistake.

Agents need MORE, not less, training during a recession because there are greater demands on their skills. Ask yourself: Do you think customers are more likely to be anxious, irate and prone to canceling their service during a recession? If so, train your agents how to handle those situations! Team leaders and your retention team also need to be trained to calm customers who have been escalated and negotiate creative solutions to retain them.

Proper coaching is essential to build upon that training. However, coaching is something that also tends to be curtailed during a recession. Again, ask yourself a question: Do frontline agents need more coaching and support when dealing with a higher percentage of upset customers each shift? With more agents working from home, do they require more frequent interaction with their team leader to maintain a customer experience culture?

6. Improve Your Knowledge Base Systems

Improving your contact center’s knowledge base acts as a “force multiplier” by making agents more efficient and effective when they interact with customers. Traditional knowledge bases and learning management systems work by having agents type in a phrase and read text for the answer. However, newer systems make knowledge searches easier and more effective. For example, ProcedureFlow provides visual call flows that are easy for agents to use for customer inquiries. Lessonly is another innovative system that uses multimedia rather than pure text to make learning easier for agents. Another example: InfiniteKM uses position-based searches so agents only see information that relates to their queue situation—such as a billing inquiry—rather than sifting through information that does not apply to their position.

7. Establish a Retention Queue

With self-service freeing up some agent capacity, consider moving selected agents into a specialized retention or “save” team. Provide them with additional retention skills training and upgraded authority to give special offers and credits to retain customers. When customers select “Cancel or change service” in the IVR, calls are routed to this specialized retention team.

The key is not to argue with customers or try to bribe them to stay. Instead, retention agents should be trained to use specialized skills to show empathy, ask questions regarding changing customer needs and offer solutions that help a customer right-size their account. They should also be trained to let customers go gracefully, if a mutually agree-upon solution cannot be reached.

Focus on Loyalty and Retention During a Downturn

Use these ideas to enhance your team’s customer experience and retention performance during this recession. Help anxious or upset customers find solutions so they can make the best use of your company’s products and services. That will build loyalty and help your organization thrive during downturns.