In a crisis—whether it’s a health pandemic like COVID-19, a natural disaster or another unforeseen emergency—those on the front lines make a difference. For sales organisations, that means sellers and customer service reps will take the brunt of the customer onslaught brought on by fear, uncertainty and doubt. Or, in certain industries, they may face a dearth of customers and panic and push sales to make their numbers—a misstep that could lead to diminished customer relationships.

These are difficult times, and they require careful crisis management. Regardless of the situation facing your organisation, your sales leaders and managers must act now to help your sellers and service reps guide your customers as they navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Here are four steps to take to quell customer anxieties and protect your long-term relationships in the process.

  1. Focus on Emotional Support 

Relationships are at the heart of a sales organisation; if sales and service reps don’t constantly look for ways to build and maintain customer relationships, the organisation will suffer. Long-term customer relationships grow and deepen when sellers and service reps deliver exceptional defining moments—the moments when customers have an opportunity to evaluate whether you’ve met or exceeded their expectations.

In ordinary times, buyers’ high expectations and general disinterest in sellers make it hard to exceed customer expectations, so positive moments like these are hard to come by. Both bad and neutral experiences are a significant threat. Bad experiences cause customer defection, whereas neutral experiences erode customer loyalty: merely satisfied customers don’t give organisations feedback or opportunities to improve before they start looking to competitors.

But we are not living in ordinary times. In a crisis, particularly one where sellers and service reps can no longer engage face-to-face, it’s more important than ever to find opportunities to create positive defining experiences that exceed your customers expectations.

As sales leaders navigate this challenging and fluid situation, keep frontline sales and service reps focused on four skills that they can deliver at every customer touchpoint, even virtually.

  1. Respect: Customers want to know that you care about them and their needs.
  2. Solutions: Customers want help in solving their challenges, whether by offering options, correcting mistakes or making policies more flexible.
  3. Simplicity: Keep customer interactions at a high level; don’t bog them down in details about internal processes.
  4. Responsibility: Teams should be accountable and deliver what they promise.

When sales and service reps use those four skills to address customers’ needs, customers feel supported and understand that the company wants to help them, not just sell to them.

  1. Ensure Clients Feel Safe and Secure—Not Sold to          

Sellers’ and service reps’ goal in customer conversations is to uncover the pain points that help clients understand the need behind the need. Sales organisations must also recognise that these needs may shift—and shift frequently—during a crisis, which can cause “flight or fight” responses that distort your customers’ perception and impede their decision-making skills. Sales and service reps can fill this critical gap with an outside perspective.

Once customers recognise their needs, they attach emotions to it, such as frustration, embarrassment or concern. Then, when frontline reps express empathy by understanding and addressing those needs, it creates an emotional, rather than transactional, connection that builds customer loyalty. Sales organisations that find opportunities during a crisis to serve their customers’ needs, not just to grow sales, will create partnerships that blossom further in the months after a crisis passes.

  1. Prepare Frontline Employees to Answer the Hard Questions

During the COVID-19 crisis, sales and service professionals are likely to encounter customers who are stressed out, afraid and angry. These customers may want information, or they may want a refund or to cancel a service. Leaders and managers need to create an accessible crisis management plan with talking points and action steps to prepare frontline teams to handle these difficult situations.

Instruct reps to talk about policies on refunds, credits, cancellation and rainchecks. Determine whether your organisation will loosen or suspend these policies during the crisis, and share details with reps on the key dates that their customers need to know. Explain any decisions that will affect customers and create approved language guidelines for your teams to use when addressing customer concerns. Anticipate and prepare answers on frequently asked questions, but make sure this is a living document: add to it as your reps report common customer questions.

  1. Take Care of Your People

Above all else, recognise the stress on your own teams. The projected timeline of the coronavirus crisis may lead to burnout and hurt the quality of your teams’ performance. Additionally many countries now see more people practicing social distancing and working in new environments, with challenges like a lack of childcare or access to essential services.

Bring in extra help where you can, and acknowledge the stress of their role. Keep them informed to lower their anxiety and to enable them to provide consistent, high-quality support. And acknowledge and praise their efforts.

Take Steps Now to Arm Your Frontline with the Skills to Handle a Crisis

Preparing your employees to handle a crisis isn’t simply a smart business decision; it’s also the right thing to do. As we navigate this crisis together, sales leaders and managers have a critical role in protecting the business. Equipping your frontline sales and service reps with the necessary skills to soothe anxious customers will strengthen your organisation and lessen the impact of COVID-19 on your customers.

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