With consumers attempting to navigate quarantine and “shelter-in-place” orders, businesses that sell basic necessities are facing overwhelming demand.

This new level of demand is placing stress on both businesses that sell basic necessities and their employees. Many businesses are experiencing increased overall customer service inquiries, call volume, and website orders. They are needing to meet increased consumer demand while making unprecedented provisions for their own employees’ health and well-being (which we have written about here and here).

These challenges make communications with customers more important than ever. Companies may now want to remind their customer-facing employees about the best practices in communicating with customers about their complaints and needs.

Further, businesses can also save on headaches in the long run by implementing processes that 1) document their employees’ communications with customers, and 2) provide that discretionary decisions regarding serious customer concerns are raised with experienced legal counsel.

Five attributes of an effective customer-facing communications plan include the following:

  1. Train customer service representatives to keep thorough and accurate records. Remind customer service representatives to document the customer’s complaint, document their communication to the customer, document how customer service resolved the customer’s complaint, and document how the customer reacted to the resolution. If customer service representatives need to elevate a complaint, it is particularly important that they or their supervisor document how they “closed the loop” to resolve the customer’s issue. If the customer refuses to accept the company’s proposed resolution, the supervisor should document how the company concluded that the company’s product and its service were acceptable and appropriate for the customer. The company should also close the loop regarding any basis to be concerned about the product’s performance or the efficacy of the service provided.
  2. Train employees to thoroughly document their decision-making. For supervisors and other employees with discretionary decision-making power, remind employees to record why they resolved a customer complaint in a particular way. Years from now, companies may need to justify and explain decisions made today. That is extremely difficult to do without adequate records.
  3. Give decision-makers a direct line to corporate counsel. Where employees have discretionary decision-making authority over serious customer complaints and/or claims, provide those employees with direct access to a corporate attorney so that they can discuss what to do. In most instances, this will allow the attorney-client privilege to protect the confidentiality of such communications.
  4. Ensure mass communications to customers are vetted by legal counsel. Share mass communication to customers with corporate and outside counsel before sending it out.
  5. Ensure that an appropriate document management program is in place. We have suggested that you keep good records of the company’s final decisions and reasons but you do not want to clog email servers and electronic folders with everyday customer communications. That makes finding important documents harder later on. In consultation with counsel, companies should ensure that they have a document management plan that preserves the important documentation relating to customer resolutions while providing a process to automatically remove the emails and other documents that are not important. Various laws and best practices apply to how long a company should retain documents and how it must manage them. Knowledgeable counsel can help you create and maintain a document management program that complies with applicable laws and suits your business.

These communications processes are quick and easy ways to ensure that your company deals with and documents customer complaints and concerns appropriately and that you resolve serious customer complaints with appropriate final documentation.

Your brand wins when you put a communications plan in place so that your employees can efficiently and effectively serve customers.