Helping Frontline Teams Recover From Covid Stress to Better Serve Customers

Helping Frontline Teams Recover From Covid Stress to Better Serve Customers

Gathering Useful Patient Insights to Drive Patient Experience Culture

The pandemic disrupted every type of business and for staff who were able to keep their jobs despite the shutdowns it’s important for companies to assess how the changes and stress impacted company culture and the ability of staff to delight customers.   Leaders faced operations decisions they never imagined they would need to make and in some cases decisions that catered to customers complicated life for staff. 

The 2020 State of Work report conducted in October 2020 by Skedulo Comany found that 34% of workers in the field said they were unable to deliver the same level of customer service as they did before the pandemic.  This must be considered for future strategy.  There was one bit of optimism when respondents saw a positive impact when companies were more open to invest in new technology to make their jobs easier.

Different types of businesses were forced to manage the pandemic in different ways.  Grocery stores faced high demand with little ability to hire and train new staff. The existing staff and store managers faced exhausting schedules trying to keep the shelves stocked and lines of customers moving while product was often delayed.  Hospital staff faced the impact of new waves of seriously ill patients and the fear of contracting the disease with limited protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic.  Medical facilities were sometimes forced to reassign staff to new positions with little notice or consultation. Call centers in many companies experienced soaring call volume without the ability to expand staff and financial hardship calls with ever changing policies made things difficult for the caller and the agents.  Retailers faced new occupancy laws where staff had to stand guard and restrict customers entering.  Sales staff used to face to face relationship building with clients lost access almost overnight and the impact goes on and on.

As communities and businesses plan to reopen, it’s important for company leaders to understand how the pandemic disruption stressed staff members and their ability to offer exceptional customer experiences.  Some of the most common stressors include:

  • Uncertain Scheduling and Income: many service companies faced restricted or expanded hours of operation wrecking-havoc with a sense of security or certainly for frontline workers. 
  • Personal Health Concerns: customer-facing staff experienced constant anxiety of being exposed to the virus in order to maintain their income. Some companies did a great job preparing to minimize exposure and others did not.
  • Customer expectations changed: As consumers feared for their health their expectations for how to access products and services may have become more demanding, less understanding and less patient. As frontline staff had to become the mask or socially distance police, this may have been a thankless and stressful situation for staff and customers.
  • Disrupted supply chain/technology: Typical work for frontline staff may have been disrupted by low availability of supplies and products. The need for remote contact solutions was new to many and some didn’t have time for  effective reorientation to new ways to communicate and work.
    The ability to keep customers and staff happy during the twists and turns of an international pandemic is not something business to consumer or business to business organizations had prepared for in most cases.  There is an opportunity now however to evaluate the impact on staff so that pandemic stress is well addressed for future performance and satisfaction.
  • Remote for the first time. Although having the ability to work remotely helped many staff feel safe, the isolation of serving customers without co-worker support and the distractions that can come with a home office was a stressful situation for many.  Now that some workers have gotten used to remote work, there may be new stress if they’re asked to return to the office.

Some post-pandemic stress recovery steps to consider:

  • Don’t assume the impact staff has experienced, take the time to check. Consider some primary research with staff to better understand any ways their confidence in the company or their ability to perform well were negatively impacted. Anonymous surveys with open=ended questions can improve understanding for future planning.  Overall, it’s important to understand the state of staff personal and professional well-being as a factor toward future customer satisfaction.
  • Develop a thoughtful post-pandemic appreciation plan. Whether your frontline staff were pushed to work many extra hours, lost income from restricted hours, were reassigned to roles they didn’t prefer or faced constant customer complaints, consider new and personalized ways to express appreciation for the commitment despite the stress.  Senior leaders offering personal notes or visits to departments, thank you gifts, bonuses and more will help people move past the pandemic shock and hopefully refresh their commitment to customers moving forward.
  • Assess training gaps. With decisions being made quickly and roles changing there may not have been time to develop effective content and training for staff.  Gather input from teams on training improvements that will help in the future.
  • Policy reviews. Customer needs for safety or financial hardship support required a variety of operations and customer service policy alterations.  Based on months of pandemic responses, work with teams to see what policies should be addressed to reduce customer frustration making life better for staff.
  • Refresh remote systems.  If remote working is desired moving forward, take time to identify ways remote staff can still collaborate well with colleagues, have easy access to management for guidance and to strengthen an overall sense of teamwork.
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Diane S. Hopkins

Senior Leader Healthcare Practice for Extens Consulting

Discover what we can do for you and your business to succeed in Care.

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