By Nick Sellers
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we interact with brands, and what we expect in return from those brands.
A Deloitte report says that “during these unprecedented times, businesses and consumers are having to adapt to new ways of working and this is already having a significant impact on customer service teams.
“The organisations that manage this crisis by supporting customers who are in need will be the ones that come out of it with an enhanced, or at least protected, reputation with their customers.”
In a sense, it goes deeper than that because business is no longer just about business. If COVID-19 is teaching us anything, it’s that profit and principle are now closely bound together.
What does this mean for brands?
I would argue that the pandemic has shifted corporate purpose from simply creating shareholder value to building stakeholder value.
For example, earlier this year, a UK insurance company said that it wasn’t their “intention to benefit from the lockdown” and announced a stay-at-home refund to its car and van insurance customers totalling £110 million, in recognition of there being fewer drivers on the roads.
Call it altruism or pragmatic customer relations, it’s an example of a company recognising this shift in trajectory from shareholder to stakeholder value.
Since the pandemic took hold across Europe and internationally, short-term decisions on immediate survival have given way to a catalyst for change; a recognition that corporate reputations were being tested as never before. Some have responded well; others less so.
Underlining the importance of corporate reputation, the marketing services group Weber Shandwick last year interviewed more than 2,000 executives from companies in 22 markets.
Its report on corporate reputation in 2020 found that, on average, those surveyed credited the reputation of the business with 63% of its market value. A third rated it at 76% or more.
Corporate reputation, pre-COVID-19, was therefore recognised as an asset with very real financial impacts on income and profit.
What does this mean for Customer Service Outsourcers?
How we behave as businesses, building long-term economic and social value, competing responsibly and creating relationships with employees and our clients’ customers is more important than ever.
In other words, the personal support we give to staff and the service we deliver to customers will define how we – and the brands we support – will be judged after the pandemic. Doing the right thing now will reap its own benefits later.
Now, the asset of reputation is of vital importance for the outsourcing sector because good customer service, for many companies, has become a cornerstone of how brands are perceived.
This year, we don’t simply want service, we want a brand to speak to us: to make us feel special and that we matter as individuals.
An article in CEO Today makes the point that a “more stakeholder-focused model [means] businesses positioning themselves as part of society, with equal responsibilities to employees, customers, the community and their shareholders, rather than solely as a conduit for channelling profits to investors.”
One of the ways to achieve that, the article argues, is enhanced customer service. It concludes: “The trade-off for shareholders on the receiving end of reduced dividends is simple, and very attractive – a stake in more robust businesses that are better able to survive whatever the future brings.”
For the outsourcing sector, providing customer support and service excellence is about understanding the major shifts in behaviours that are taking place, and how those behaviours fuel corporate change. The more those are understood, the better prepared we will be for what lies ahead.
Simply, if we can encourage positive perceptions about a company from its customers then we are helping build long-term stakeholder value.