This is Part 2 of a two-part series focused on how tech companies are responding to the coronavirus pandemic and economic uncertainty. If you’re keen to read about the impact on individual sectors of the startup industry, you can read Part 1 here.
While experiences of this global pandemic vary between (and even within) industries, we can all find grounding in the number of powerful lessons we are being exposed to. One of the factors that has served to unify us in the face of scary things is that we are all on the same playing field: the landscape is unsure for everyone. The best way to move through is to treat our employees and customers with the respect that they deserve.
At PartnerHero we’ve been fortunate enough to work with a number of companies that already knew the value of kindness, prior to this global pandemic. In fact, we think that is one of the biggest reasons our partners choose us over many, many other BPOs. The reminders of mass layoffs, rising numbers of illness and economic disrest, and other fallout have only served to boost that signal.
In this post, you can expect to glean some of the lessons that we’ve pulled from those highly empathetic companies, and learn how to apply them to your own.
Companies are learning the value of high-care
Companies in the startup world already value indexing high on emotional awareness of their customers. We are lucky to work with many of these companies and to be able to help them continue to get better at serving their customers. These businesses want to be seen as friendly, kind and empathetic, and they want to build that reputation not only with their customers, but also with current and future employees. This, we’ve found, is even more true in the face of a global pandemic and economic collapse. Companies and customers are taking stock of businesses that do well by their customers and employees, and even more so of those that don’t. How you react to your corporate hardships (or lack thereof) is important and will continue to affect you after this is all over.
So, how can you make the most of a difficult situation, both for your customers and for your employees?
Think about creative solutions
The easiest solution is not always the best. No matter whether your company is exceedingly resilient or has already been forced into difficult decisions, you’ll need to put on a creative thinking hat. This may mean experimenting strategically, implementing functions that you never thought you would, or leaning on tooling that seemed far out of reach at first.
Rather than erring on the side of being unprepared, take the situation seriously and ponder tricky decisions ahead of time to keep your whole company in the clear moving onward. For some companies, it may be unrealistic to keep on full functions of employees—there may be whole teams laid-off. But, before doing that, think about where your product could pivot, and what available opportunities employees’ skill sets may offer.
How can we keep employees?
Laying off employees is hard. Tons of companies are implementing hiring freezes and lay-offs, but many are still hiring. Before laying off your employees, consider ways to keep them on the payroll. Some ways that other companies are doing this are:
- Furloughing employees (furloughed employees are eligible for unemployment insurance)
- Transitioning employees to part-time or seasonal work
- Offering contract work to ex-employees
Ultimately, if your company is in true financial hardship and lay-offs are inevitable, be sure to do so with compassion. There are too many horror stories going around about terrible lay-offs and people left with little clarity around the decision. It’s bad PR, it will represent your brand poorly to potential future partners and customers, and it burns bridges with talented employees who could still refer people to work for you. Always err on the side of being human.
How can we use employees creatively?
Many companies are choosing to instead shift employees to working on different projects within the company than the ones that they were originally hired for. For example: one SaaS company that had a video marketer has pivoted from using that employee’s skills for marketing purposes, instead puting their energies towards one-to-many support documentation, videos, and webinars.
In their original role, the company wouldn’t have been able to make an argument to keep the marketer. But, with their new, shifted focus they are helping work towards the shifted goals of the company: boosting retention, rather than building new pipeline.
Support teams, marketing teams, and other customer-facing groups within a company all have skills that translate well and can quickly pivot. If you are one of the companies that have less volume than you did pre-COVID, think about ways that your skilled support team members might be put to use:
- writing documentation;
- helping with website copy;
- even triaging small bugs if the employee is technical.
On the flip side: if your team is inundated with volume, but other teams are suffering from lack of work, see how inviting other teams into the inbox may be a win-win. Many eCommerce startups aim to inflect their entire company with a customer-centric perspective. What better way to imbue that deep in your culture than exposing the whole company to the support experience?
At PartnerHero, one of our eCommerce partners has seen an influx of support tickets, so we are working with them to pivot internal, non-support employees to support queues and phone lines. Our Team Leads and Associates are leading trainings and supporting these employees through escalations.
What new opportunities are there for us?
As with BentoBox (see Part 1), there may be new opportunities waiting just under the surface for your company. See if there are opportunities to meet new demands in the digital landscape that your company and an existing team may be able to pivot towards.
Restaurants, mom-and-pop brick-and-mortars, and online dating apps have all pivoted their strategy in a small number of days to an extremely positive outcome. They are selling take out meals, home-made pizza kits, and even wine from their cellars. Do a team-wide brainstorm and see if you can come up with anything that fits the bill for your team.
Checkout what the online Marketing SaaS company Privy is up to, pivoting their energy into a resource called Shop Small that highlights amazing small businesses that sell online. With small businesses the world over struggling, and capacity to build marketing lists limited, Privy found a great way to leverage internal resources on a project that supports their customers and emphasizes their brand.
Proactively work to boost retention
The impact to the companies we support has been all over the map, and we’re happy to say that all of them have been successful in driving retention and customer happiness. We’ve been working with all of our partners to help ensure that they feel proactively supported to overcome the hardships that this time will ask of them. Here are a few of the ways that we’ve coached our customers to better their customer retention and shore up their business for the coming months.
Shopify has an excellent definition of building an omnichannel strategy:
“Omnichannel...is immersive and puts the customer, not your product, at the core. It’s about communicating in ways that are aligned with why they use a given channel and showing awareness of their individual stage in the customer lifecycle. Customers can purchase wherever they are—rather than treating channels as independent silos, omnichannel accounts for the spillover between channels and offers customer experiences within and between channels.”
At its core, omnichannel allows you to meet your customers where they are at. Have you ever had a situation where you called a support phone line and explained your issue,only to be told that you’d actually have to email or do live chat? And then, once you wrote your email or chat, you had to start the whole process over again and repeat everything that you’d said over the phone? An omnichannel-focused support strategy mitigates experiences like that by creating context for your support and marketing team, and generating a uniform, fluid experience for your customers.
According to a survey conducted by Aspect Software, businesses that adopt omnichannel strategies for marketing and support achieve 91% greater year-over-year customer retention rates compared to businesses that don’t. That’s a pretty big number, no?
We’ve found this to be true amongst our community of partners, and have proactively encouraged any of our partners that don’t already have an omnichannel strategy in place to work with our Optimization Team and start moving towards one. Added bonus: this has the potential to open up new roles and focuses for team members in the form of live chat, phone support, and other venues that you might not already be experimenting with.
Proactive support strategies
Finding ways to help your customers before they realize that they need your help can be incredibly impactful for retention and customer experience — like comparing your support inbox data with your customer journey lifecycle.
If you learn that, for example, your paying customers all reach out with account management questions about two weeks after upgrading from your free plan, there might be a good opportunity to send a proactive email or in-app message guiding them through common issues with account management. (And the resources you point them to will need to be developed by your team.)
It sounds like such a small thing, but it can have a huge impact on reducing ticket volume as well as boosting customer satisfaction and product stickiness.
Offer pricing deals/exchanges
Many companies are trying to do right by those that are struggling and are offering deals on their products or packaging. Not only is this a great way to get new customers in the door, but it can slow churn and show a sign of good faith to customers that are already using your product.
Wouldn’t you rather keep a customer with the potential to return to their MRR pre-COVID, than entirely lose them and burn a bridge? Offering deals to help keep customers from churning may be a great investment in your relationships to make over the coming months.
This is some of the secret sauce that makes us ParterHero. Customerization—yes, you’re reading that right—is the customization of products or services using information from personal interactions between a company and its customers. When a company is able to establish a dialogue with individual customers and gain such a deep understanding of their needs and desires that it can respond by customizing its products, services, and messages on a one-to-one basis, it has been customerized.
For example, when a customer reaches out for support from one of our partners, we work with our partners to make sure that every team member has the full context of every conversation that customer has had with us. The support team knows of every feature request, every CSAT score, and every bug that the customer has come up against, and is able to customize the conversation around this information. It’s like the Cinderella’s shoe of customer experience.
This is one of the most important things that we’ve tried to urge our partners towards, in the face of the economic downturn, regardless of past, current or potential purchases. We believe that businesses will have to relearn how to engage at a personalized level that has been lost over time, while still keeping interactions quick and seamless. This isn’t the time for bulk, untargeted emails, auto-replies, and buggy apps. We are all working together to be better.
We take the same approach in working with our partners. Partner onboarding, communication, and feedback is integral to all of our programs, but never one-size-fits-all. We know each of our partners deserves a tailored approach, and we deliver on that with each.
We know that the experience of COVID-19 - economic and personal - can be disheartening at best, and downright soul-crushing at worst. We’re glad to be able to provide you with resources to understand where some of the innovation coming out of this incredibly dark time is heading. Beyond that, though, we hope that you’re able to take a page out of our partners’ books to move forward with a person-centric approach while boosting your retention and surviving something difficult and scary.
Remember: we do together what we can’t do alone.
If you have questions about any of the tactics we cited above or you have interest in building a custom outsourced CX team to support your business during this transition, please contact us.