The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown so many challenges to brands across all industries. Many have had to halt their services, and only those deemed as essential or that can continue to operate online have remained open.
The travel industry has been hit the hardest. The research by the World Travel & Tourism Council estimates a potential GDP loss of up to $2.1 trillion in 2020, with over 330 million jobs at risk due to grounded flights with no clear date of when they can reopen. These types of issues also leave thousands of customers in limbo with regards to their holidays. Despite this being an incredibly tough situation, how brands handle customer queries and complaints will also reflect on them once everyone will be able to travel again. So, providing great customer service and support will go a long way.
Place customer care at the forefront
Those brands that show empathy towards their customers during the pandemic will be able to maintain a positive image and build brand loyalty. Placing customers at the forefront is crucial to retaining them once services reopen. Currently, while many of us are trying to reschedule holidays or get a refund, it’s incredibly hard to reach customer services from a number of big companies. The phone lines are busy and customers need to wait in the queue for hours. Or worse, the phones are automated and it’s impossible to speak to an agent. Yet websites are no better either. A lot of them have created a COVID-19 section with answers to the most common queries, but despite listing customer support or Help services, it’s still very hard to get in touch with a lot of operators to find out about a booking.
We appreciate that many brands are overloaded, attempting to keep up with customer contact at this time. So it is essential that the user experience for any perceived ‘negative’ user journeys is very simple with lots of proactive messaging.
Telling a customer clearly the timeframe they should expect a response in, with clear labelling of next steps, directing them to frequently asked questions while they wait, and reassuring them they are important is crucial. If the agents in the customer services can’t handle all the calls, the website needs to support them and offer resolution online as much as possible. If a customer is left wondering what happens next in a user journey, they are likely to be in touch more frequently which increases their frustration, harms brand image and ultimately, increases customer service demand further.
For example, Opodo has the customer support section on their website (with the webview available on the app), which makes it impossible to speak to a real person. To request a cancellation, you have to download their app as the option isn’t available on the website. A lot of queries refer to checking options on the booking page, yet they are very limited.
For example, a cancelled flight displayed on an airline website doesn’t show as cancelled on Opodo’s booking page. This is very misleading and a bad customer experience. Because the UX of the website and the limited information provided cause a lot more trouble, speaking to a real person would be far more beneficial. Their app has slightly more options in terms of managing a booking, but it’s still very limited and still has the same customer support section.
It would be better to list additional contact methods on the site, including live chat, email, SMS/Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook Messenger etc. so customers would have more options of contacting Opodo.
Create the user journey to help customers, not put them off
A lot of brands deliberately create a closed journey for their customers to only be able to navigate between a set number of menu options, and to limit them too. Airbnb is one of those. While it’s possible to reach out to an agent, this option is hidden and takes a few clicks to get to. Otherwise, customers have to loop between the preset questions and answers. If the hosts are difficult, it can also be harder to deal with them as customers are only limited to certain actions in their account. You need to really escalate and demand a resolution once you reach a customer service agent to get a result.
In another case, since the lockdown started, searches for DIY products have spiked as many homeowners started spending more time at home.
B&Q while continuing to trade online has set up a queuing system on their website before anyone is allowed to browse. Their argument is this gives customers a better experience, however, it also puts them off as nobody wants to wait to take a look around.
Although the initial burst of traffic could overload the website, it won’t be the case once it levels out. B&Q are potentially missing on some significant trade and losing customers to those brands with ‘open’ websites. If the brand is worried about visitors crashing the website, it’s worth considering load testing and scaling the website accordingly to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Offer a simple way to leave, to return later
When creating a customer journey, brands tend to focus on conversion and retention in terms of keeping the customer on their site or using their services for as long as possible. This, however, doesn’t always include customer services or the option to cancel the service. Customers don’t want to feel trapped and have no options. If a brand does this, it has very little chance of retaining a happy customer.
So, when designing a user journey with customer retention in mind, brands do need to consider how they will integrate their customer services into that journey to help their customers resolve any issues with as little friction as possible.
It’s also worth considering a simple exit strategy for the customer. If the cancellation process is simple, they may want to return to the brand in the future. For example, many gyms froze their membership so as not to lose customers, halting payments until they can reopen. This is a nice move and helps to retain customers, as many of them will want to go back to the gym as soon as they can as their brand experience is a positive one.
Automate services only when it makes sense
A lot of customer services tend to have automated responses or actions. However, they only work for certain queries. When it’s a trickier question or situation, customers prefer to speak to someone to explain everything.
It’s possible to automate a lot of the services, such as tracking deliveries, flight statuses, confirmations etc, as long as they’re straightforward and can be done automatically without any issues. However, when customers are upset and have a clear intention of asking for their money back, they may want to speak to someone if other avenues prove to be difficult.
But not all brands do this, and this leaves many customers feeling undervalued and diminishes their respect for the brand. We suggest automating the things that may not raise many queries and offering additional support to help anyone who would like to resolve an issue beyond the automated response.
First Direct saw that not being able to speak to an agent quickly enough was a big issue for banking customers, and it launched customer service that is always available and customers can speak to a real person instead of a robot. They’ve been highly praised for this approach and their customers always recommend them.
Provide a live chat
Many customers don’t want to wait in a queue on the phone. In addition to phone customer services, live chat is often one of the better options to offer customers to explain their problems much quicker. For example, O2 can easily resolve an issue without having to walk to the store or wait on the phone. Their live chat is easily accessible and they can reset many account settings remotely.
In difficult situations where many customers are affected by things out of their control, instead of limiting their communication, businesses need to show how much they care about their customers and offer as much help as possible.
Customer service plays a huge role in this and being able to reach it as quickly as possible is key. While automating certain areas of the customer service can be good and efficient, dealing with more difficult situations should be left to real people. And customers will appreciate the effort and the attention when a brand offers this.
The UX of a customer services section on a website or an app needs to help customers find the relevant information and reach out to an agent if they’re unable to do so. This approach will lead to a higher customer satisfaction and repeat trade in the long run. While the pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty, brands that take care of their customers will be able to come out on top in this situation.