How Company Culture Impacts Customer Service in the Era of COVID-19
When it comes to differentiating your company from others who provide similar services, organizational culture is one of the most important factors. It's considered by 77 percent of job seekers when applying for jobs, and poor culture was the reason one in five Americans listed as the reason they left their job between 2014 and 2019. Replacing those employees (at an average cost to the company of 150% of their annual salary) cost businesses an estimated $223 billion over that same time period.
Trickle-down economics of customer service
Those billions of dollars don't include the potential income your company can earn – or lose – from your customer base, either. A strong company culture empowers employees to continuously serve their customers with the same level of customer service excellence that likely brought those customers to the company initially. Whether in good times or bad, customers will remember how they are treated; if the organization remains focused on creating a positive work experience for its employees, this positivity trickles out to the customers.
Does a World Pandemic change things?
Certainly – but exactly what changes is key to whether an organization retains not only its employees but its customers. Even with an astronomical unemployment rate giving a false impression that employers have lots of options when it comes to hiring employees, the cost of training a new employee is far greater than the cost of keeping and nurturing existing employees. Further, gaining a reputation of "firing and hiring" employees does not promote a positive company culture. Employees who become fearful of job loss often lose sight of the importance of doing good things in the workplace, let alone serving the customer with the expected level of excellence the organization may desire.
What types of external factors cause internal changes?
Whether you are a business owner or a customer, how often are you being told that things have changed because of COVID-19? In light of so many people losing their jobs, which directly reduces their disposable income, if they still have any, it seems odd that businesses would treat people with less respect these days when the futures of these businesses is very much at stake. And, consider this: many of those 26 million people will return to work - maybe not tomorrow but they will return - and they will remember how they were treated. They will recall those organizations who respectfully worked with them to find reasonable solutions to help pay the bills, to obtain the needed items such as prescriptions or food, to get enrolled in a state-prescribed health care plan. And when they do remember, they will very likely act with their pocketbooks.
Company Culture Success Stories
When COVID shutdown was no longer avoidable, these companies impressed us with how well they managed to support their employees and keep their culture alive in the face of unprecedented change.
A leading provider of financial management and human capital management software, Workday offered its employees a one-time cash bonus of two weeks-worth of pay to offset unforeseen costs of the pandemic. It also expanded its childcare benefits, gave employees free access to a meditation app to support mental health, and offered additional sick leave to anyone who contracted the COVID-19 virus.
Google is allowing its employees to work from home until the end of 2020 (likely longer,) and offered a $1,000 work from home allowance to cover equipment costs. This allowed employees to create a more sustainable home office environment and communicate better with the right tools.
Graphics processing company NVIDIA moved its yearly performance reviews up by six months in order to offer raises to its employees. Their HR team developed webinars and compiled online resources to help employees manage their mental health, and for their children they compiled over 200 resources for education, virtual field trips, and entertainment.
As an essential business, Target extended sick leave for all employees and offered high-risk employees 30 days of paid leave if they felt uncomfortable coming into work. They also offered financial assistance, giving every employee a $2/hour pay raise.
Social media giant Twitter was one of the first companies to send employees home with COVID-19 cases began rising in March. Then in May, CEO Jack Dorsey announced that employees would be given the option to remain working from home indefinitely. The company also provided employees with daycare reimbursements, continued to pay contract workers, and canceled all in-person events for the remainder of the year.
How to manage organizational change when external changes are in force
There is never a good time for bad customer service. With that said, how does a business owner/organizational leader identify what needs to change when external changes are occurring? Four steps are essential to the change management process:
There is never a good time for bad customer service. With that said, how does a business owner/organizational leader identify what needs to change when external changes are occurring? Five steps are essential to the change management process:
1. Acknowledge what, exactly, has changed to the marketspace.
Start with a focus on your customers – has there been an economic impact of some form?
In parallel, look at what has happened to your employees?
2. Identify what you can and cannot influence.
Start with your company culture.
Be transparent and honest. Don't hide the reality.
Look at your overall process health
What processes are still working
Which processes will need to be revised to work in the new reality.
The best current example is the transition to remote work and using technology for team meetings, workshops, training, etc.
3. Based on the outcome of Step 2, create a plan to implement change.
First, identify change champions in your organization who can help you implement the change.
Next, develop and share a timeline with all employees informing them of the plan:
What is going to happen
How it will affect them
When it will affect them
What they need to do to be successful
4. Implement the plan and carefully observe what happens.
Collect information and data along the way.
Capture and share what is working and not working.
Be prepared to make quick tweaks of improved processes that are not working as intended.
5. Take actions as quickly as possible to address the feedback from Step 4, and continue to monitor.
When you put this altogether, it's a formula for success - or failure. Employees are the heartbeat of an organization, and it's through employees that our services are realized by our customers. If we want to care for our customers and ensure they return to us for their needs, we also need to care for our employees and ensure they return to work each day, hopefully with a smile on their face even when things are so brutally tough.
There is no excuse to poor customer service. There is no "It's really tough out there" even when it is really tough out there. While we are all being asked to be patient and resilient and caring for the larger world within which we operate, at the end of the day, it is exceptional customer service that will differentiate your business for any of your competitors, not matter how tough the seas of life get.
Stay true to your mission; do not lower your standards for yourselves or others. Be compassionate and passionate but do NOT assume that your customers will simply understand.
Need ideas on how to improve your company culture or boost employee morale? Archimedes staffing experts are available for consultation for any size staff. Contact us for more information.