News & Updates

Mobilizing a Disaster Plan for Customer Support

By Ideas @ AppDirect / May 13, 2020

Mobilizing a Disaster Plan for Customer Support

During the COVID-19 pandemic, customer service and support teams face a double set of challenges. First is adapting operations to new work-from-home models while minimizing any impact to quality and efficiency of service. Second is quickly pivoting to help customers with new types of issues as they cope with change and uncertainty in their business and work environments.

As the “next normal” continues to unfold, what will it take for customer support organizations to not only succeed in overcoming current challenges but prepare for an uncertain future as well? For answers, we turned to Kam Rawal, Vice President of Channel Enablement at AppDirect. We spoke with Kam about how AppHelp, AppDirect’s white label customer services organization, has adapted during the crisis as well, the changes he’s seen already, and what he anticipates the future of customer support will look like as the pandemic continues to impact the world.

In the first part of this three-part series on the impact of COVID-19 on customer support, we’ll focus on how Kam and his team responded when the pandemic hit.

What steps did AppHelp take in response to unfolding events?

Kam: While no one truly anticipated the full ramifications of a pandemic on our daily business operations, we did already have a comprehensive contingency plan in place for remote work. This plan was originally developed for situations where there’s an extended power outage, massive snowstorm, other natural disasters, or some unexpected event that causes us to not be able to use one or more of our facilities.

We were able to take our plan and execute it quickly to get our team working from home in a very short amount of time. While the plan was thorough and really helped us move rapidly, the reality is that there will always be things that don’t go as planned on paper. For every situation where that happened, our team worked together to find a solution and overcome whatever unforeseen challenges came up.

Was there one aspect of the plan that you believe was critical to successfully adapting to the circumstances?

Kam: Yes, definitely. Technology was the centerpiece of the plan and, in fact, here at AppHelp, we’ve always made technology the centerpiece of our operations. This meant that we didn’t have to go out and find new solutions to the challenges we faced. Technology allowed us to get people on the phones from home very quickly. It meant that we could ramp up our use of chat or email to support more customers with one agent when needed. We could easily update our self-service tools to help customers with common questions about how they can pivot to work from home. The technology we needed was already in place.

What was the hardest part about shifting operations to a work-from-home model?

Kam: The most difficult aspect of this situation—and this goes for all types of businesses—is that working from home isn’t an option for everyone. Some people have living situations that don’t lend themselves to supporting a work-from-home model, whether that’s because they have shared accommodations or roommates, they live somewhere that doesn’t have adequate internet bandwidth, or they don’t have child care options.

How did managing and coaching change when the entire team was forced to work remotely?

Kam: While we support remote work as a company and have effective processes in place for collaborating and communicating with remote employees, the pandemic is really a unique situation. First, everyone has to work from home now because offices are closed. Second, there’s the emotional aspect and a level of stress that every one of us faces about the future and what it will look like.

Given this situation, we knew we needed to adjust how we manage our teams right now. Having everyone working from home requires a dramatically different approach to managing teams and coaching employees than when nearly everyone is together, onsite. For us this meant focusing on two important areas:

  • Communication: The biggest thing for us was to make sure that we communicate, communicate, communicate. Because the team is not together in one place, all the inter-office communication that happens almost by osmosis goes away. So instead, we started having daily virtual huddles and standups, both with the larger team and with individual teams and direct reports.
  • Social interaction: We need to be cognizant of the additional stress that working from home and social distancing is causing for everyone. We make a continual effort to provide as much social interaction for our teams as possible. For instance, we started a virtual open invite where we would meet and socialize online. These events are not about work, but just a way to see how people are doing. We tell jokes and have fun.

For more:

Check out part two and part three of this series, where we’ll cover what AppHelp is doing differently to support end customers during the pandemic, and share insights on the customer support function of the future.