Customer service agents worldwide must have heard the word ‘contingency plan’ quite often in 2020. Only this time, it wasn’t the usual fire safety drill but a global event that would change how they live and work forever. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a wave of change that nobody could have anticipated – a rapid transition from the familiar office environment to indefinite Work from Home (WFH) and an avalanche of customer calls, chats, and emails, all within a span of weeks. 

For many businesses, e-commerce included, contact center service levels hit new lows, and productivity suffered a major blow. Even if you take the pandemic out of the picture, there are several other situations where contingency plans can be critical, including power or computer server outages or flooding during the monsoons. Contingency planning and management are thus essential for the very survival of your business. 

What is a Contingency Plan?

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A Contingency Plan is a documented strategy for responding to emergency situations that can disrupt normal operations. In the context of customer service, this may mean a data breach or systemic billing errors, triggering a surge in customers reaching out for reassurance and information.

A strategic contingency plan can help businesses react to an emerging situation systematically and utilize backup resources, as appropriate, to minimize customer impact and restore normal operations within the shortest possible amount of time. Reassigning agents to priority queues, outsourcing to external customer service providers, or switching to manual dialing are some ways to handle them.

For e-commerce brands with no physical presence of their own, staying connected to customers is critical, especially in an emergency. While 60% of e-commerce brands offer phone and chat-based support, KPIs like response time and first contact resolution often do not get the priority they deserve. Many brands do tell their customers if service disruptions are expected. However, it is necessary to include your contingency planning Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in your customer service policy. 

Why Should Contingency Plans be a Part of Your Customer Service Policies?

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The customer service team is the first point of contact for customers in an emergency. Customers instinctively reach out to customer service in case they encounter a problem with their order. If the problem affects multiple users, contact volumes can increase quite quickly. By proactively providing details on your contingency plan on your website, you can tell customers what they can expect over the next few hours or days. This reflects a transparent and customer-centric attitude on your part- something customers are sure to notice!

For example, at the pandemic’s peak, supply chain bottlenecks affected e-commerce deliveries to millions of customers across the US. This meant that essential supplies like hand sanitizers and face masks could not be delivered to families and communities in the grip of a lockdown. The e-commerce giant Amazon responded by putting the public interest first and putting all non-essential deliveries on hold – until essential orders were fulfilled. 

Other brands made exceptions to their standard returns policies to accommodate customers. Customer service teams took the lead in approving refunds and arranging exchanges for such customers on a case-by-case basis. 

This is an example of why contingency management should be a key part of your customer service policy. It can go a long way in reassuring customers that you are willing to communicate with them and take steps in their best interests in an emergency. 

Here are 4 more reasons why contingency plans should be part of your customer service policies:

1.  Builds Trust: 

It is natural for customers to be concerned when they are unable to contact customer support. Hearing “All our agents are busy assisting other customers; please stay on the line” endlessly while on hold can trigger frustration in most people. Especially when there are no FAQs or IVR messages explaining the nature of the problem and the steps being taken to address it. 

The solution: update the Service Terms and Conditions page on your website with information relating to hours of operation, self-service tools, and response time. This will reassure customers and help in reducing helpdesk ticket volumes. 

2. Allows you to make the right decisions:

Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu once said ‘no plan survives first contact with the enemy. This is especially true during an emergency. You need to think on your feet and make split-second decisions. However, if you do not have a plan of action, you could end up making the wrong choices in the heat of the moment. 

A documented contingency plan can help you visualize and practice strategies for loss prevention and business continuity- before a crisis is upon you. 

For example, international customers may not always understand emergency instructions in English. To cater to them, you’d need to use multi-lingual IVR recordings. 

3. Customer Retention:

In the post-pandemic scenario, customer loyalty cannot be taken for granted. If customer service is not reachable and a refund they are waiting for is delayed, a customer may simply stop buying from you. As word spreads, you may lose out on orders worth millions of dollars. To avoid impacting the bottom line, it is critical for your contingency plan to include exceptions such as refund and return

Some retailers are going a step beyond extending returns windows to let customers claim a refund and keep the item they wanted to return. While this may appear counterintuitive, the cost of doing so pales in comparison to the logistics and processing costs of managing returns. 

4.  Employee Retention:

In the United States, customer service attrition hovers around 30 to 45 percent. In the event of high volumes, agents may burn out and call in sick or quit the job altogether. While you might offer overtime to your other team members to make up for the loss of staff, it is not sustainable in the long run. To deliver their best, agents need to be backed up by clearly defined processes and systems. 

For example, a crisis management strategy for redistributing call/chat volumes to partner locations can help build trust among your team and help you retain them long-term. 

Last Words

Outsourcing to a strategic partner can take the pressure off your team during a crisis. Helplama has been trusted by businesses worldwide to provide on-demand, flexible support to their customers when it is needed the most. We need no minimum volume commitments from you and or legal contracts signed before we work with you. Our Zero-Risk Guarantee has you covered in case you aren’t satisfied. Contact us today for more information!