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Providing Top-Notch Customer Service During COVID and Beyond

  • May 4, 2020

Susan Ricca, vice president of Verisk Customer Support, discusses best practices for providing top-notch service and help navigating new challenges during times when customers may need it the most.

Related Article: Improving Customer Experience in the New Normal

Having a cohesive team, managing a work life balance and keeping the lines of communication open are crucial to during a time of crisis. Susan Ricca, vice president of Verisk customer support discusses her thoughts as to why these points are so important. Even taking it a step further by discussing ways to keep your agents in tune and in-sync and general best practices to keep you customers at ease during challenging times and how “it's more important than ever for service teams to strive to provide value, in order to drive customer retention, especially during customer inquiries.”

Susan D. Ricca
Susan D. Ricca is vice president of Customer Support at Verisk Analytics, responsible for leading multi-functional customer service and client services teams with a focus on driving a consistently great low-effort experience for Verisk customers. She leads collaborative initiatives with team leaders across Verisk’s service community to continually improve the operational effectiveness of these teams as well as establish unified best practices and business continuity processes across the global Verisk Service Community. Susan has been serving Verisk customers for more than 35 years. 

DOUG TOPKEN: I'm Doug Topken, host of a new Verisk podcast series on business issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. During times of crisis, a company's customer service team is critical in helping customers navigate new, and sometimes unprecedented challenges. In today's podcast, we'll discuss some best practices for providing top-notch service to your customers, at a time when they may need it the most. With me today is Susan Ricca, vice president of Verisk customer support, with more than 35 years of experience working with various customers and managing our customer support teams. Thank you for being with us today, Susan. 

SUSAN RICCA: Thank you for inviting me, Doug 

DOUG: Susan, regarding the current situation, why don't we jump right into it by talking about the most important things customer service teams should be doing. 

SUSAN: Absolutely, to jump right in - first and foremost, when an event happens, don't panic. You need to be that pillar of strength and resiliency and set the example for your team and lead by this example. Remain cool calm and collected to your agents, because if your agents see that you're comfortable working in a new trying circumstance, then your team members will feel that same comfort. And your calm positive energy is passed along to your agents, which will, in turn, be passed on to your customers. Personally, I just remind myself, this is a new adventure. It is just another day working with a great team of service professionals, just that we're not working in the same location. 

DOUG: So, how do you do that especially when your team is working remotely. 

SUSAN: Well if you don't normally have work from home agents, make sure that they're aware of your expectations – that they need to be equally as effective at home, as they are in the office. In fact, a work from home policy can be very effective. If it is presented and discussed during normal circumstances. The middle of an event is not the time to bring it up. Most importantly, let your team know that their health and well being is of paramount importance to you. And just keep reminding them of that. 

Also remember that your team needs to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and you think it's important for everybody to do that. So many of us are working more than ever, during this event, that the computer seems to beckon to us to work more hours and more hours than we usually work in the office. So some fun reminders or team activities such as asking the team to take pictures of what they did over the weekend, not working or encourage them to take some breaks throughout the day – all of these will go a long way and help everyone's physical and mental health during an event. And then the other thing to talk about is staying connected. Maintain your environment of communication and boost morale through activities like team meetings and team-building events, and even consider inviting the kids and the pets to a trivia contest or a group puzzle. Everybody loves a virtual lunch or a coffee chat and most of all, a virtual happy hour. And all of this will go a long way to maintaining a connected team. 

DOUG: That's excellent Susan. Let's turn to dealing with customers. I would imagine some of the calls coming in are quite different than they usually are, maybe in terms of entirely new challenges, they're running into. Can you share some best practices for handling such calls? 

SUSAN: Sure. Some of the calls really are quite different than usual, but first and foremost show empathy to your customers. If you're capable and fortunate enough to be able to function at a normal capacity during an event like this. Remember that your customers may not be as fortunate. Remind your customers that you're here to help them succeed because they're looking for your stability and strength. And it's okay to keep the conversation light and cheerful and let your customers hear you smile, it's always important to retain customers and create loyalty, but retaining customers during an event like this is more important than ever. Overall we strive for that consistent low effort customer experience. We want our customers saying that working with your service team made it easy for them to resolve their issue. 

DOUG: I'm sure there are other best practices that apply regardless of the situation. Can you share the ones that resonate most with you? 

SUSAN: Certainly. Senior managers seem to be saying that now it's more important than ever for service teams to strive to provide value, in order to drive customer retention, especially during customer inquiries. What you can do is help your agents look to educate customers on new or better uses of your products or services, help the customer achieve a goal, strive to anticipate their next need by not only resolving their customer concern but as Gartner calls it, practice next issue avoidance. Give the customer that extra info or tip to help them avoid the next potential interaction. Ultimately, when the customer interaction is complete, they feel confident that their company made the right decision when deciding to do business with your organization. The customer should feel that they're able to achieve more with the products and service they purchase from your organization, and that next potential issue has already been avoided. This will take time to determine the product features to promote as well as how and when to incorporate them into your interactions, but it will be well worth your while in the increase in customer loyalty. 

DOUG: Taking this a step further, what can companies do to prepare the customer service function for the next crisis? 

SUSAN: Well, I'm a firm believer in an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And there are multiple ways to prepare. First, companies need to treat their service teams like the essential IT services that they are. Service is an extremely important part of the customer experience. These are our frontline agents working with our customers at all levels on a daily basis. Investing in cloud-based CRMs and cloud-based communication platforms, especially for a live channel is very important. Customer Support agents should be able to assist customers from anywhere and everywhere effortlessly. Now let me tell you about a recent Gartner study that indicated that in the span of one day, customer service agents on average use 8.2, different systems and tools, and customer interactions. They have 23 colleague interactions with supervisors appears, while resolving customer issues. And they encounter over 130 different support interactions between those systems and colleagues. Therefore, just as we want to ensure that our customer-facing applications are up and running, and we meet our SLA's, we need to ensure that our agents can access those 8.2 systems, so they can assist our customers at all times. So then how do you have those 23 colleague interactions while working remotely? You encourage your team to use your messaging systems to ask questions and confer with colleagues, whether that be text message or I.M., and then you also need to make sure that your knowledge base that your agents and your customers are accessing through self-services up to date. As we just said it's not easy to ask for help when you're off-site, and the volume of interactions may have increased, therefore make sure customers and your agents are receiving up-to-date information. Remember, a confident and relaxed agent will lead to a customer feeling confident in the service that they're receiving.   

My last points are around being prepared, also means that your agents are comfortable working remotely, whether on a scheduled basis or a business continuity event. If your agents are working from home it's good to have them work from home periodically. Also, anyone that knows me knows that this is my number one priority. In addition to having a well thought out business continuity plan, I highly suggest having business continuity drills. The team should get notification from your normal emergency system, whatever that may be. And it also reinforces your agency to keep their contact information up to date and ensures that they're comfortable with that element of surprise, and have the equipment and are mentally prepared to work from home on a moment's notice. Once again have a plan for managing your remote agents and to sure that you're comfortable with their productivity, I suggest that you consider using a system or dashboards to confirm that they're just as efficient from home, as they are from the office. 

DOUG: Well, this is truly been a time, unlike any other. Do you have any other thoughts you'd like to share Susan? 

SUSAN: Sure, Doug. I have one more thing that I'd like to add. I have to admit that the one thing that I'm really enjoying during this work from home event is hearing the voices of the kids and the dogs in the background. It reminds all of us that we're people, not just some learning working machines, we have families. We have pets we have loved ones, and most importantly we are all in this together, working to help each other. 

DOUG: Thank you, Susan, for sharing your insights with us. We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today to learn more on this and other COVID-19 related topics, be sure to follow us and visit We hope you enjoyed this podcast and invite you to join us again. Until next time, stay healthy everyone.

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