6 Ways to Preserve B2B Customer Relations in the COVID Service Environment

The COVID-19 pandemic, quarantine restrictions, the consequent economic downturn, labor shortage, and fast changes in business technology have together added severely to the usual stress levels of business customers and employees. As a result, a shocking number of workers have reported abusive or inappropriate stress-related mal-treatment by customers and/or by other employees over the past 18 months or so, since the spring of 2020. Below are some tips for managing customer communications, to help protect employees and preserve customer relations.

COVID-Related Stress in the 2021 B2B Service Environment

Commercial sweeping business owners have their field services employees out in sweeper trucks on worksites dealing directly with their valued customers and office workers fielding customer service calls. During this prolonged difficult period, business owners and managers are advised to provide training and support for these front-line customer service employees on how to work in the new B2B customer communications environment of 2021.

Use the recommendations below for more effectively managing interactions in customer service. This extra attention to CS can help your business maintain a positive customer experience and protect employees from potential abuses by over-stressed customers in 2021 and through the remaining period of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Adverse Effects Of COVID On Workers

A recent survey of 1,000 professionals revealed that almost 40% had experienced toxic behaviors in communications at work during the months since the start of the quarantine. For this staggering percentage of workers, severe stress can lead to emotional, psychological, and physical decline of working conditions.

These effects often result in a diminishment of basic civility among staff members, which naturally filters through in customer interactions. When such poor communications quality naturally impacts customer satisfaction rates, even a well-developed workplace culture can crumble and damage team cohesion and customer relationships.

Ways Your Team Can Be a Positive Influence on Your Clients

The damaging effects of unusually high workplace stress over the past year and a half can overcome even the best of customer service employees’ abilities to manage frustration and growing anxiety.

Below are 6 tips for preserving team morale, protecting your business from the financial effects of increasing workplace negativity, and delivering service that continues to cultivate repeat business:

1. Openly recognize the unusual stress levels.

In addition to their responsibilities in solving problems for your customers, your employees bear their typical stressors at work, home, in their personal finances, etc., and they now struggle with compounded issues in all those areas due to COVID. You cannot eliminate the problems the pandemic has added to their lives but just letting them know you understand it can help reduce their stress at work.

2. Demonstrate to your employees that you care.

Often, small efforts can go a long way toward helping people feel better about their situation in challenging times. There are countless ways you can provide some easy, inexpensive, fun diversions during these difficult days. For example, you could simply put out some pastries or cookies and beverages one day per week, and/or put a TV in the break room. Just do some small things you think people on your team will enjoy.

3. Monitor workplace interactions.

Be aware of the signs of unhealthy communication. Recognize toxic interactions. Those are characterized by condescending words, comments, and gestures, passive-aggressiveness, an insulting manner, excluding, or other degrading treatment.
Sexually suggestive, racist, or discriminatory language is also toxic to a healthy work environment. Deal decisively with any of the above inappropriate kinds of interactions.

4. Demand conduct of mutual dignity and respect.

When you become aware of bad behavior from a staff member toward a customer or another worker, deal with it promptly in private. A stressed-out employee might not recognize his behavior as inappropriate. Offer examples of specific instances of problematic behavior, and help the employee understand the impacts of reciprocating bad customer behavior on the business and his/her future in it.
In cases of repeat offenders, promptly enforce rules against the toxic treatment of others in your workplace.

5. Protect employees from toxic customers or coworkers.

Of course, we all must learn how to get along with difficult people in the workplace and other areas of our lives. It’s an adult skill that every individual must develop to get along with other people and succeed in the various interpersonal interactions that constitute daily life at work and in parts of our personal lives. There are some circumstances, however, that require more overt handling to correct inappropriate treatment of workers or others.
Business managers need to provide training and practice to help employees develop proper responses to de-escalate or exit from encounters with customers who become abusive.

6. Provide a reasonable amount of downtime.

When employees are too overworked and overstressed with no relief for too long, the situation frequently does not have a happy or profitable outcome for business owners. The team can seem to be enduring well enough, only to unexpectedly break apart under the strain. Some business owners don’t notice the signs of impending failure until it’s too late. Or, they make the crucial mistake of presuming that downtime can indefinitely be treated as a nonpriority.

Then, employees suddenly quit, others are too burned out to perform well, customer satisfaction plummets, and profit margins shrink. Planning sufficient opportunities for downtime so people can come in refreshed and ready to continue facing the challenges of your business is a critical strategy for avoiding excessive turnover.
Business Team Leadership During COVID-19

Take actions to lessen the negative impact of COVID on your team. Discuss the unique COVID stress problem with your staff. Show your employees you care about their situation. Identify symptoms of workplace stress. Monitor customer reactions to interactions with your staff. Enforce your company’s rules against displays of inappropriate attitudes and interpersonal communication behaviors. Provide downtime opportunities.
Set the tone for the team by modeling consistency, providing means of pressure release. Manage your stress, and consistently demonstrate to your staff the workplace behavior you want them to emulate.