• March 30, 2020

Gartner Outlines Customer Service and Marketing Priorities to Mitigate Coronavirus Disruptions

As the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads globally, Gartner, has identified three impact areas where customer service leaders and four areas where marketing leaders should focus to manage risk and ensure continuity of operations.

"Though service leaders are familiar with business continuity and disaster recovery planning, pandemic planning is very different because of its wider scope and the uncertainty of impact," said John Quaglietta, senior director analyst in Gartner's Customer Service and Support Practice. "The global and dynamic impact of COVID-19 requires planning for longer recovery times and many scenarios because pandemic events are so fluid, and things can change quickly without notice."

Marketing leaders also face an uncertain and rapidly evolving situation as a result of the coronavirus, and they must take an aggressively proactive approach to prepare their organizationsfor disruption, Gartner urges.

"CMOs who wait for shifts in customer perceptions and needs, interruptions to supply chains and operations, or restrictions on mobility, travel and mass gatherings as a result of the COVID-19 crisis will only increase risks to their organizations and miss potential opportunities to build customer loyalty," said Augie Ray, senior director analyst at Gartner for Marketers. "The key to managing risks and finding opportunities in such a period of significant uncertainty isn't to predict a single likely outcome, but to recognize the range of possible scenarios."

Gartner recommends service leaders focus on the following three areas:

1. Operational Continuity

Continuity of operations in service and support organizations is largely delivered by agents, operations staff, and management. However, this is being threatened by increased absence due to quarantines.

"Since service and support are labor-intensive, having large numbers of staff miss work due to pandemic-related issues can severely impact delivery," said Deborah Alvord, senior director analyst in Gartner's Customer Service and Support Practice. "Delivery impairment has both short- and long-range effects on organizations' ability to deliver service to customers and meet related service goals according to customer expectations."

Service leaders should maintain continuity of business operations by completing a workforce planning assessment and determine outsourcing and work-from-home options. Additionally, they should implement and promote digital and self-service channels.

2. Staff Morale

Unpredictable work conditions create additional pressure and demand on employees, fueling anxiety, morale, and retention issues. Gartner recommends service leaders establish programs that promote employee well-being, focus on employee engagement, and include employees in business continuity and disaster recovery planning.

3. Customer Demand

Communicating with customers during the life cycle of the pandemic is critical. It is important for service leaders to consistently provide updates on developing events and how those events affect the organization's ability to provide service and support. If customers should expect delays, let them know in advance to reduce unneeded contact volume. Where possible, service leaders should use a multichannel strategy to communicate updates, process or policy changes, and changes in service caused by COVID-19. This can be done via inbound and outbound channels such as SMS, interactive voice response (IVR) and phone.

Marketing's Needs

As they deal with their own problems, marketing leaders must take immediate action in monitoring customer channels for unexpected changes to customer behavior and purchasing needs and prepare for potential disruption to budgets, plans, campaigns, and strategies in the months ahead.

Gartner recommends marketing leaders take the following four actions to better prepare their organizations for disruptions related to the coronavirus crisis:

1. Build COVID-19 Contingency Plans

The key to mitigating risks associated with COVID-19 and identifying opportunities is rigorous scenario planning. Marketing leaders should create three scenarios, spanning from best- to worst-case, and consider the potential impacts to customers, the marketing team, and brand strategies and tactics. While scenario-planning, it is prudent to coordinate with functional leaders across the organization in legal, finance, supply chain, IT and operations.

2. Monitor, Report, and React to Shifts in Customer Behavior

Maintaining customer-centricity is of utmost importance during times of stress, greater needs, and quickly changing expectations. Marketing leaders must not only monitor customer values and sentiment against a global backdrop; they should also improve real-time listening to detect shifting customer sentiment so they can react immediately.

In addition, as marketing leaders make decisions, they must carefully weigh short-term interests versus the value of sustaining and nurturing longer-term customer relationships.

3. Prepare Marketing Teams for Interruptions and Challenges

The actions that marketing leaders take now will set the tone, internally and externally, for how their organizations will weather the crisis. From an internal perspective, it's important that marketing leaders anticipate how business disruptions will impact existing marketing operations and formulate strategies to protect and adjust budgets. In addition, CMOs must assess the needs of employees and prepare for alternate workplace operations.

Externally, marketing organizations should be ready for rapid changes toward at-home and digital delivery of products and services. Marketers must also consider changes that may need to be made to customer policies and procedures to stay attuned to the empathy that customers need and expect.

4. Review Marketing Plans for Potential Impact

Failure to anticipate potential change to campaigns, promotions, event marketing, sponsorships, and other marketing strategies will leave marketing teams in defense mode . Marketing leaders' scenarios should consider how restrictions to events and travel will impact sponsorship activation plans or campaign messaging.

The coronavirus outbreak could also have significant impact on the timing of new products or campaign launches, and marketing organizations need to be agile in rescheduling or shifting messaging around these events. To avoid making reactive budget decisions, CMOs must begin to prioritize spending now and brace for rapid budget changes.

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