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How to improve customer satisfaction during supply, labor crisis

Transparency, minimizing returns and collecting customer insights from call center reps are some ways businesses can improve customer satisfaction.

The pressure is on for retailers and call centers to keep customers satisfied during the holiday rush.

But it goes beyond the usual pressure. Not only are businesses extra busy due to the holidays, they are also fighting supply chain disruptions and labor shortages amid a continuing pandemic. Put all this together, and businesses see a lot of unhappy customers.

"The challenges of supply chain make an already difficult job (in customer service) even more difficult," said Shelly Kramer, principal analyst at Futurum Research.

6 tips to improve customer satisfaction

There is hope, and business have the ability to improve customer satisfaction, now and all year long.

1. Be transparent

Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news, but businesses should let customers know that the supply chain crisis is affecting every industry. If customers know this, they may be more empathetic.

It's also important for organizations to let customers know about shipping delays ASAP. Many customers have tracking numbers to watch the progress of their orders, but by providing more detailed shipping updates, organizations show they value customer business.

Container ships off Pacific coast
Container ships float off the coast of Long Beach, Calif., as the supply chain disruption and labor shortage continues.

2. Encourage customers to take substitutions

The chip shortage the world is experiencing affects everything -- including computers, cars, transit, video games and other digital gadgets. But that doesn't mean chips aren't available at all. They are available -- just without all the bells and whistles.

"You're seeing people buying things with fewer features," said Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

The supply chain shortage doesn't just touch electronics, but also food, clothes and building supplies. But just because there is a shortage of one item, that doesn't mean something similar isn't available. That's why it's a good business practice to offer substitutions to customers.

Guiding customers through the shortages shows that companies value their business. And it goes a long way toward increasing customer satisfaction and retention.

Learn how the chip shortage is driving up computer prices.

3. Minimize returns

While organizations are short-staffed, processing returns can be a headache on top of an already rough job. So it's important for businesses to get orders right before shipping.

And sometimes that means fixing customer mistakes. It's easy for customers to click the wrong button or order the wrong item. Businesses should give customers a window of opportunity to make changes to an order after it is placed.

Some businesses, such as Amazon, already do this. After placing an order, customers have a chance to review, change or cancel it. Amazon even allows customers to change their payment method.

This keeps customer irritation to a minimum and improves customer satisfaction.

4. Add new services to manage customers

When businesses are short on staff, technology can help take pressure off employees and get customers quicker service. Some of these technologies include:

  • self-service checkout in brick-and-mortar stores;
  • customer service chatbots;
  • online waitlist apps for restaurants; and
  • automated emails providing customers with order updates.

5. Use a customer data platform

One of the most frustrating things that customers face when calling a customer service line is repeating the same story to different people and departments. Ensuring that all business departments see the same customer information can alleviate this frustration. This can also prevent repeat calls adding to an already tangled call queue. And this is possible through the use of a customer data platform (CDP).

This is the year of the customer data platform.
Shelly KramerPrincipal analyst, Futurum Research

"This is the year of the customer data platform, and I think we'll see more of that in 2022," Kramer said.

A CDP enables all business departments to see what's happening across a customer ecosystem in real time. It collects customer data into one system -- pulling from CRM, ERP, e-commerce, sales, service, marketing and local systems -- to create a golden record of the customer.

"To be able to have real-time insight into what's happening to your customers and pull in information from social is so valuable," Kramer said.

Some CRM vendors -- such as Microsoft, Salesforce and SAP -- offer their own CDPs. But there are many standalone CDPs as well -- including BlueConic, Tealium and Treasure Data. 

6. Collect customer insights from call center agents

Call center representatives are on the front lines and hear all the customer feedback that comes into a business. They have the information that business leaders need to hear.

"I don't think we have a lot of respect for people who are manning contact centers," Kramer said.

Businesses should take call center agent ideas and put them into practice. This includes having employees help create knowledge base articles. It will help make agent jobs better, and they will play a role in providing better service to customers. Happy employees equal happy customers.

Read more here about how knowledge bases benefit call centers.

Next Steps

How to create a customer satisfaction survey

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