Effectively working remotely is integral to making sure employees communicate sufficiently and efficiently with customers
Note: Written mid-May 2020, this article provides timeshare information and insights expected to be a relevant post-COVID-19 crisis and, indeed, long into the future.
If your currently troubled and disadvantaged owners reach out to you before you’ve communicated with them, you may lose a valuable opportunity to build trust and long-term loyalty. Obviously, amid the Covid-19 crisis, there has been a groundswell of customer inquiries and requests requiring reactive response.
The crisis also opened a whole new world of positive customer engagement, where companies can let customers know in both word and deed how much they’re valued. This is a unique time in history for companies to build rapport. Happily, many have followed through—offering everything from government-encouraged or mandated loan and payment deferrals to customized solutions designed to ease current customer challenges.
Bottom line, many consumers have been hurt financially. They’re stressed. They’re looking for help and answers, not excuses or incompetence. From our vantage point, no industry is immune from these challenges. We know it’s affecting our clients regardless of the asset class or size of business – from timeshare and hospitality to home improvement and energy efficiency.
The prime directive for companies is to provide caring, competent customer service today to retain that customer tomorrow. For example, loan servicers, lenders and originators must be sure they’re coordinating and communicating efforts to provide the clearest, best solutions possible for the customer.
According to thefinancialbrand.com,* this prime directive needs a lot more attention: “For only a third of consumers to think financial institutions care is a ‘huge emotional disconnect,’ according to Bob Neuhaus, Vice-President of Financial Services Intelligence for J.D. Power.”
Customer engagement must continue from the initial discussion and agreement through the term of the deferral process—regardless of whether or not those determinations involve lower monthly payments, longer payment terms or other modifications. The level of engagement and fairness felt by customers will substantially dictate the loyalty and longevity of customers in the future. Of course, companies must ensure they’re making agreements that sustain them as well.
For example, a Vacation Ownership customer may have both a loan and annual maintenance obligation. Ensuring the customer understands they will have usage rights beyond the COVID-19 crisis is paramount to the integrity of the product sold. In addition, perhaps lowering a $300 monthly payment and extending the term will lead to customer satisfaction while maintaining a reasonable level of company portfolio health.
As the timeshare industry works to address the “new normal,” creative incentives, perks and offers also can go a long way to assuaging customer concerns and frustrations. Review where vendor partners may be able to offer goods and services that can serve as goodwill gestures to customers. Given that many people may stick closer to home for the foreseeable future, items and services they can use in their home communities may be a good choice.
Proactive customer messaging, measures must be thoughtful
Having good and honorable intentions toward customers must be paired with effective, clear messaging and measures that make customers feel well treated, while spelling out the “rules of engagement” going forward so that everyone is on the same page.
To the fullest extent possible, messaging also should convey company stability, commitment, resilience and an ability to adapt to changing times and a challenging financial landscape. All stakeholders—from customers and employees to partners and vendors—need to feel as confident as possible that the company is handling the situation, not the other way around.
Messaging also must be well coordinated among aligned companies before addressing customers. For example, in our industry, originators and lenders need to be sync with loan servicers, and—as much as possible— present clear customer options today and expectations for tomorrow.
From 30,000 feet down to sea level
Strategies are vital. Successful execution in the trenches is where customer service loyalty and longevity ultimately will be won, however.
An article in mycustomer.com** addresses emotionally-intelligent customer service measures that will help win the day. The report notes that seemingly scripted or insincere verbiage can spell defeat: “Be genuine and demonstrate that the customer is an individual…Treat them like your best friend or a favoured uncle or aunt. Be very careful of dangerous (overused or disingenuous) phrases that should be avoided…‘I understand how you feel’ (unless you really mean it)…Your call is important to me/us…Be patient – show them you have time for them and are ‘really’ listening…Follow ‘the customer’s concerns’ not simply ‘the script’…Be driven by a solution, show acceptance of an issue and apologise if appropriate and move on – don’t focus on the problem.”
Effectively working remotely is integral to making sure employees communicate sufficiently and efficiently with customers. Again, the past can be a valuable teacher. Our company has been well-prepared because of a decade-long disaster recovery program that included remote access as part of five years of testing. That has stood us in good stead during COVID-19. Additional lessons learned from the pandemic will provide new and improved insights and measures down the road as well.
Key to success is having such team-oriented software as Zoom or Microsoft Teams that can bring home-based employees together whenever and however needed, and daily touch-base meetings within departments and among department heads. This has created alignment, and spotlighted potential leaders rising to the top. It’s been amazing to watch.
Hospitality industry bellwether of recovery, customer service focus
Besides customer communication, honoring and protecting physical health also contributes substantially to customer service. For example, in hospitality occupancy and sanitation must go hand in hand. Socially responsible efforts are focusing on cleanliness and sanitation in common areas and rooms alike to reassure and instill confidence.
As consumers start to venture out, accommodations awaiting them will need to be an oasis of comfort, customer service excellence and cleanliness.
Lasting profits tie to ongoing customer engagement
Achieving and maintaining passionate and compassionate customer service at all levels—not just in the crisis moments—will differentiate the “will-be’s” from the “has-been’s.” Companies that continue to be proactive instead of reactive will rule the day. Those that don’t will rue the day.
Concord Servicing Corporation President & Chief Revenue Officer Shaun W. O’Neill is a respected strategic thinker and subject matter expert who evaluates and initiates growth opportunities, and pioneers change across multiple asset classes. His focus is consumer lending, servicing, collections and loss mitigation. With Concord since 1997, he contributes regularly to conferences and trade associations, including serving as a longtime ARDA and Chairman’s League member. For additional information, please contact Shaun at firstname.lastname@example.org.