COVID has turned traditional customer service on its head. Due to the overwhelming surge in demand, everyday tasks such as answering the phone needed to change. But as the situation evolved, retailers became more adept at anticipating customer needs.
Norm Coburn, owner of New England Spas with three locations in Massachusetts, realized his company needed to update its processes to create less friction for customers. “[We’re] trying to connect the shortest distance from the customer wanting something to getting it,” Coburn says. “We’ve looked at that and eliminated some obstacles and created more clear paths.”
Coburn has been a Sundance® Spas dealer for more than 30 years, and says his team specifically looked at how they onboard and communicate with customers, helping to fill the long gap between ordering a hot tub and it being delivered. Though the post-sale follow-up email drip system New England Spas uses has become common for dealers, Coburn took it a step further and began sending customers a series of gifts as well — a window cling sticker, a New England Spas thermal coffee mug and a cover lock key for their incoming hot tub on a New England Spas keychain.
“[Customers] know that we’re trying,” Coburn says. “When they make enquiries, we respond to tell them our latest line of sight.” New England Spas works with its vendors to ensure communication to end-users is coherent and timing is aligned.
New England Spas added an online chat service and third-party call service to answer the phone when employees can’t. “We revamped our scripts and provided more training so that [the call service employees] wouldn’t sound as dorky on the phone,” Coburn says. “Neither is as good as talking to one of our staff, but we wanted it to be less obvious that these people were not our staff.”
When the company emails customers to ask for a review, it now also gives the option to ask a question, which is then routed to the appropriate place, cutting down on frustrated customers and potentially negative reviews. Also, with all the new hot tubs New England Spas has been delivering, Coburn wanted to ensure customers could get any needed service quickly and efficiently, so the company simply made its “Request Service” button bigger on its website.
“That goes into a pool, where up to five different call center staff pull them off in the order they were received,” Coburn says. “The customer then receives phone calls and email schedules, allowing for all our service requests to be processed,” Coburn says. “We created a single funnel that makes it easier for customers to get service.”
Strengthening digital services also assisted Phoebe Briley, president of Jacuzzi Hot Tubs of the Triangle located in North Carolina, with her goal to consistently meet consumer needs. “Being able to meet customers in a way that is flexible to their lifestyle has been really helpful; being accessible by way of Zoom, text or a phone call and having that openness and flexibility has been important,” Briley says.
Every person has a different lifestyle and Briley acknowledged the need to assist where able early on, impacting her business positively just by means of caring. “You don’t have to wait for a customer to walk in anymore and having that flexibility has been key,” she says. “If you appreciate that someone has a busy life and they have kids or are maybe taking care of their parents and need to go grocery shopping, you could help them not stress out about driving in traffic. It helps build that relationship and be there for that person.”
While all the technology is helpful in both anticipating and meeting customer needs, for Coburn his staff are really the ones who make the difference.
“Everybody’s been working really, really hard,” Coburn says. “My team has been putting in endless amounts of overtime and not complaining, just getting the job done. I’m very grateful for them, in addition to my vendor suppliers, and the opportunity that we have to do the kind of business we always thought would be great.”
For Briley, it is her and her husband running the show and they know the key to giving the best possible service to their consumers is by making sure they take some time to themselves. “Balance is huge in life and getting rid of stress is the most important thing,” Briley says. “We are helping real people with real problems and we’re assisting them by selling a product to help improve their lives.Putting your business and yourself where they need to be for the customer and taking that stress away from all has been so important.”