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Tax & AccountingJuly 27, 2020

Customer Service Best Practices in a Turbulent Time

Customer service is a key component of any successful organization, especially in times of turbulence and uncertainty. Whether you have a dedicated team or everyone is customer-facing, how you treat a customer is critical to your business development and growth. XCMworkflow customer service focuses on four fundamentals as part of our conscious commitment to exceptional customer service.

Prepare to pivot.

Accounting and finance professionals had a turbulent busy season. With remnants of the 2019 TCJA affecting current filings, a sudden shift to working from home for much of the country, changes to tax deadlines, the CARES act, and PPP interim rules still being released, is it any wonder that customers are reaching out more often?

With daily, and sometimes hourly, changes, customer service teams need to be prepared to pivot on the fly. To be successful in the midst of these rapid changes, you need to have effective, documented processes and procedures that empower your customer service team to react and respond. In less than nine days, we researched, validated, and applied more than 90 due date changes, allowing our customers to focus on operating their business. Without our commitment to documentation and continuous improvement of processes, we wouldn’t have been able to pivot and support our customers.

If the abrupt changes have exposed issues in your organization, don’t wait until things calm down, or until we reach the “next normal” to make changes. Now is the perfect time to review, adjust, and move forward with new operating procedures that support how you handle an influx of inquiries. Empower your teams to respond and support client needs.

Meet customers where they are.

Every organization and person has preferred methods of communication. Consider how your organization usually communicates with clients; chances are, 1-2 methods immediately come to mind, whether through email, a phone call, a client newsletter, or even social media.

These communications are standard and probably predictable - customers know when and what to expect. Unfortunately, you aren’t the only one communicating through these channels, and each communication adds noise, potentially diluting your message. Between constantly buzzing inboxes, social media and news alerts, video conference meetings, and phone calls, your message may get lost.

If your message isn’t being heard, your communication may need a more personal approach. My team has always prided itself on five-star service, but in recent months we have been even more laser-focused on a hands-on, personal approach. When a customer sends an inquiry that, in the past, may have automatically generated a ticket, there is now a higher likelihood that we will call them. By picking up the phone, rather than emailing, we eliminate much of the back and forth, can troubleshoot more effectively, reduce the time spent by a customer solving a problem, and accelerate the resolution.

Utilize multiple communication channels to rise above the noise – ask your customers about their preferred communication channels and use that information to meet them there. Modify your channel and format based on the information – rather than authoring a long-form email about a time-sensitive topic, consider picking up the phone.

Keep in mind the customers who need help but may not be asking for it. How can you communicate the effects of rapid changes? For example, we met our customers at their login to communicate these changes by adding a pop-up notification.

While changes are usually communicated by email and through release notes in the Help Center, the pace and sheer volume of changes happening within the application necessitated a multi-pronged approach. Adding a pop-up met our customers where they were, provided them with the information they needed, and removed the need to search for an answer.

Listen more than you speak.

With so much uncertainty, turmoil, and change, everyone is feeling some form of anxiety, whether acknowledged or not. Often by the time the customer gets to us, they are tired of struggling with a problem they can’t solve themselves, and they want an answer. It’s critical to let them talk and for you to LISTEN. Often the question being asked on the surface is not always the problem that needs to be solved.

Engaging in active listening and asking open-ended questions will help you better understand what the customer is looking to achieve and provide options to help the customer solve their problem. There is not a one size fits all answer to every question, which is why active listening is a critical tool that our customer service teams rely on to be successful. We focus on taking the time to listen, making sure the person knows they are heard, understanding the source of their stress, and following the issue through to resolution.

Focus on being a true business partner.

Look for opportunities to proactively reach out to customers, making sure to ask open-ended questions, and leaving plenty of time for them to speak. Rather than view calls as a sales call or project assignment, view them as an opportunity to strengthen and support a business relationship.

Sometimes it may take out of the box thinking and working with your customer to make sure that their need is met, but that’s what takes you from a vendor to a business partner.

As you respond to customers during these next few months, remember that they are feeling that same higher levels of anxiety and frustration that you are. When it comes to customer service, do a little bit more than the customer expects. Reach out to customers proactively and ask how they prefer to communicate or share information and resources to support the changes rapidly impacting their business. Even if all you do is reach out, ask how you can be a business partner right now, and listen to their answer, your customers will remember how you responded.

Michelle Walsh, Director of Operations for Firm Management

As the Director of Operations for Firm Management at Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting North America, Michelle focuses on building partnerships in the industry, maintaining strong client relationships, and engaging clients through communication and education. Michelle has 20+ years of experience spanning across industries and functions and was a 2017 Top 20 Under 40 Superstars honoree.