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How should agents handle calls when customers are sharing their concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic?

Question:

How should agents handle calls when customers are sharing their fears and concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic – or other personal issues, for that matter?

Answer:

Although the current COVID-19 pandemic is different from anything we’ve experienced and worked through to date, fundamental contact handling communication or “soft” skills that have been around for years can still help guide interactions between customers and agents during these trying times. Here are a few best practices to follow:

  • Communicate on 3 levels:
    • Human – demonstrate courtesy and attentiveness through active listening, even short responses such as “uh-huh,” “yes,” or “no” during the customer’s discourse assure them that you are paying attention to what they are saying.
    • Emotional – verbally demonstrate that you are there for them and validate the customer’s concerns, e.g.,  “That sounds awful, I wish I could help you with that, but I can help you with…” and bring the conversation back to the original purpose of the call.
    • Business – once the human and emotional concerns are validated, take control of the interaction and lead the customer back to resolving the business issue. 
  • Be flexible and give the customer options; allowing the customer to choose what works best for them gives them a measure of control.
  • Be reassuring and confident about handling their business issue, e.g., “I will take care of this for you immediately”; make commitments only if you’re sure they can be met.
  • Repeat the steps, as needed
  • Wrap up the call by restating what you have done, or will be doing, for them and set a realistic time frame.

A few things to avoid:

  • Don’t use phrases like:
    • “It’s our policy”
    • “There’s nothing I can do for you”
    • “My system won’t let me do that”
  • Don’t give medical advice – unless you are a medical professional working in this capacity.

When it comes to communicating – in good and not-so-good times – remember that how you say something is as important (if not more so) than what you say.