Case Study: How the Largest Grocery Chain Stepped up for Customers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Article 3: Seeing around corners to see what will challenge your customer service team.

How the Largest Grocery Chain Stepped up for Customers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

It has been inspiring to hear the fantastic leadership, adaptability, and focus from the customer experience professionals we have spoken to as a part of this series. The head of the contact centers for the largest grocer in the US did not disappoint. His team served staggering numbers of consumers with a highly modified service model that put their contact centers into a vitally important role. Their advanced planning, combined with their customer service partners, allowed them to react instantly and continue to serve consumers by dramatically increasing the call center staff while migrating half of the workforce to a work from home model.

As a corporation responsible for providing essential goods to millions of people across the country, the company realized the need for contingency plans long before the current crisis. The company emphasized and strengthened its disaster planning after a snowstorm negatively impacted one of their call centers in North Carolina. Once that storm passed, the company realized how many of their other locations were at risk. They also realized their vulnerability when schools were closed due to such events, forcing workers to remain home. With several of their service locations susceptible to a variety of natural disasters, management kicked preparedness into high gear after this storm, which proved to be the difference that allowed them to maintain a high level of service through this pandemic.

GC Services is proud to partner with this outstanding company, playing a pivotal role in enabling them to adapt and scale to serve their customers at this critical time. Contact centers have some advantages in shifting staff to work from home since the core systems provide tremendous visibility into the work of representatives. With proper planning and sufficient management oversight, the physical location of where the agents are working is of no significant consequence. Also assisting virtual work was the company-wide adoption of video conferencing technology to connect teams in different company locations but also to connect representatives working at home.

When COVID-19 hit in late February, these critical foundational elements were in place and fully operational to help them get through the crisis. Being well-positioned for the pandemic allowed them to focus more on taking care of their customers when they needed the company most. The company chose to send agents home ahead of government-mandated shelter in place orders to protect their people and to ensure they could continue to serve their highly stressed customers, even in the face of dramatically increased demand. By erring on the side of caution, they have had no employees contract the COVID-19 virus in a work setting (just one contracting it from family exposure), and they effectively ramped capacity to over three times previous levels.

Management realized that this “new normal” was more than keeping the business running while their staff worked from home. They knew it would be essential to keep things more personal, such as merely asking their team how they were feeling every day. It wasn’t just about managing; it was about leading. Connecting with their employees on a personal level by fostering conversations about their children or pets during work hours helped to ease tension and connect with the staff that served on the front lines. Some of the lessons they learned allowed them to keep communication lines open through creating things like a virtual water cooler and by hosting virtual happy hours. By keeping things informal across all levels of staff, stress was reduced in the lives of their people whose home life had significantly changed.

Managing through this extreme level of chaos and change, as one of the few critical businesses we all rely on, put tremendous pressure and responsibility on the company and its staff. The company will emerge more robust, more agile, and more connected to the mission of serving consumers as a result of this pandemic. Some practices that will continue include:

 

  • Reduced building space: Many of the company’s staff will continue working successfully from their homes, which will allow the company to reduce its facilities requirement by an estimated 20,000 square feet.
  • Superior customer experience: The company quickly added call back support to free consumers from being stuck on hold for long periods.
  • Automation: Automated answers to frequently asked questions is now available in all support channels.
  • Triage training: The company implemented training to delegate complex issues appropriately, ensuring representatives can focus on urgent support activities.

 

With incredible foresight, a strong partnership with GC Services, and the ability to lead in rapidly changing circumstances, the company’s leadership has successfully taken care of its customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company will emerge from this crisis as a streamlined organization that is better able to absorb unexpected events in the future.

We Want To Hear From You

We are collecting the fantastic customer experience stories of resilience in the face of this tremendous challenge, and we’d love to hear yours. Enter your email address in the form below and we’ll have an interviewer coordinate a time to talk with you.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.