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Managing customer service during COVID crisis – How Cos are going beyond the brief

Pandemic or not, Customer remains the King. As companies grapple with the challenges and disruptions brought on by the global pandemic and multiple lockdowns, the customer care department is possible one of the hardest hit units of an organisation.

It is in crisis times like these that companies need to go beyond the usual to serve their customer with speed, quality and empathy, while at the same also taking care of their employees, most of whom are working from home, with compassion. With customer care executives working from remote locations, they are often bereft of the office infrastructure and intervention of their supervisors or team leaders.

How a customer’s queries and grievances are addressed in these times will go a long way in making or breaking their bond with the company. It all adds up to the overall customer experience, which will be remembered long after the pandemic is overcome.

However, amid such a challenging scenario, there are several companies that are doing exemplary work to service their customers, as well as take care of their employees. Most companies took various steps to protect their employees, be it call centre workers or customer relationship managers, from the effects of COVID-19 and to maintain a strong internal communication process to connect and stay engaged with their employees.

Take for instance the airline companies. Though severely disrupted by the pandemic and very tough and rigid protocols, they have gone beyond the brief to allay fliers’ anxieties and ensure the safety of their passengers. BFSI companies had swiftly transitioned to digital and have started offering several of their services online with minimum physical contact or visit to the bank. Technology is being leveraged in a major way for this contactless service.

Vistara has been at the forefront of providing seamless and hassle-free travel experience to millions of customers. Commenting on how the airline company is engaging with their customers in these times, Vinod Kannan, Chief Commercial Officer, Vistara, said, “We have been able to delight our customers by keeping them at the center of everything we do. We ensured full compliance with all health and regulatory requirements mandated by various authorities in India and internationally. Alongside, the way we handled customer concerns and queries through this unprecedented crisis is a true reflection of our commitment to high quality of customer service.”

Vistara’s website and social media platforms were constantly updated with state-specific information and travel advisories for customers’ reference and convenience. All customer queries were addressed timely with utmost empathy and concern, and the same has been appreciated by the customers as well. “We have also taken various measures on ground to ensure a safe flying experience for customers across all critical touchpoints. In line with COVID-19 travel guidelines and social distancing norms, we incorporated a touchless check-in and arrival experience for all passengers while ensuring row wise staggered boarding and deboarding of the aircraft. Vistara kept a sharp focus on leveraging biometric technology for a seamless customer experience. Interactions between cabin crew and passengers have also been minimised to ensure maximum safety and social distancing,” Kannan added.

He further said that Vistara will continue to invest in technology and projects to further improve self-service, communication and information flow to customers, including the launch of a chat-bot on the website. Vistara is in the process of implementing many more such measures in the coming months. “Our customers have empathised with us and recognised our efforts in these difficult times, and we are grateful to have their full support,” Kannan said.

As the pandemic unfolded last year, companies like Tata Capital acted with speed and also exercised caution at every step. Their strong digital ecosystem enabled them to work virtually without any disruptions. They stayed connected with their customers and employees and carried out their functions seamlessly.

Commenting on their approach and how Tata Capital managed to navigate during the pandemic, Abonty Banerjee, Chief Marketing and Digital Officer at Tata Capital, said, “Our customers were facing their own share of financial challenges. With the aim to empower our customers and help them emerge stronger we launched ‘Shubharambh Loans’. To promote this offering, we unveiled a new campaign, ‘Karz Nahi Farz Bhi’, as well. This campaign and product offering gave us the opportunity to build a deeper connect with our customers.” She further reiterated that one of their key concerns was the safety of the employees and their well-being, for which the company took continuous measures to keep them protected from the virus.

On the road ahead, Banerjee said, “We will continue to innovate and offer products that are best suited for our customers across the spectrum. We will further enhance our Service capabilities with the aim to provide best in class customer experience. As we expand our digital footprint, we will also add new branches to our existing network and expand our geographical reach as well.”

With the second wave of COVID-19, and the re-imposition of curfews/ lockdowns, every business has been impacted, including consumer durables. Saurabh Baishakhia, President – Appliances, Usha International, noted, “The current market situation is challenging because when there is a brake/ break in sales during a peak season, we need to recalibrate our strategy. Having said that, this year we were more prepared than we were last year, having learnt our lessons well. We were prepared and had our customer support services, supply chain logistics, and inventories in place. All our call centres have been operational and offering customer support wherever and whenever required. We are also giving customers an option to visit our website and seek assistance in choosing the right product for their home. Additionally, for ease of communication our customers can reach out to us through WhatsApp and we are also providing video/teleconsultations to consumers for simple queries.” 

This apart, Usha has adopted an omni-channel strategy with an emphasis on offline as well as online channels, all the while ensuring the perfect equilibrium between digital and physical strategies. Towards this, the company has created a booking platform for most of its products and is home delivering goods with contact-less deliveries in sanitised boxes.

Speaking on the impact of the multiple lockdowns, Keshav Bhajanka, Executive Director, CenturyPly, said, “The lockdown has not only effected manufacturing, manpower availability and transportation, but also hampered lead generation, physical meetings, decisions on orders, client and trade relations. Following COVID-19 guidelines, we often face logistical problems such as opening go downs for material delivery or getting our dealers to process orders. There are COVID-19 affected employees, trade partners and vendors hampering delivery timelines.”

According to Bhajanka, innovation, customer centricity, approaching the business from the perspective of safety, empathy, adopting digital drivers are some of the strategies that are helping during this pandemic. Launching relevant products and solutions for customers, digital availability, solving their issues with digital infrastructure, on time communication have also helped.

On how CenturyPly is engaging with its customers, Bhajanka said, “At CenturyPly, our prime focus remains customer convenience. We have transformed our operations by adapting digital ways viz. foraying into e-commerce with Flipkart, Amazon, or through our own portal, servicing orders on digital leads, giving e-brochures, etc. Customers can communicate with us on social media, WhatsApp, calls or emails. Additionally, we would soon launch complain service digitally.”

He further said, “Not only with customers, we have employed the digital operations for most of our systems, which are now cloud based with remote access for employees to operate from home under lockdown scenario. Various suites of applets have been implemented to reduce physical connect with distributors and dealers.”

(Edited and additional inputs by Shanta Saikia.)

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