The Challenge

Customer care for CPG consumables, in general, is fairly predictable. These types of high-volume products tend to be the “Steady Eddies” of the marketing world. Historically growth is calculable, with ROI closely aligned to marketing spend.

When Harte Hanks won the business of a top CPG company, our intense agent training methodologies, low turnover, and comprehensive fulfillment operation were compelling competencies in our client’s decision to move their business. Training commenced in Q4 of 2019, and by the end of January, our customer care team was firing on all cylinders.

And then, with little warning, an unprecedented global pandemic flipped the switch. However, within this mega-brand portfolio of products, there just happened to be some of America’s most popular household cleaners, disinfectants, wipes and laundry detergents.

Covid created the perfect storm. Sales of cleaning products exploded as “panic cleaning” became an ominous activity. As grocery shelves went bare, a tsunami of calls and emails flooded in from customers frantically seeking products.

Customers were frightened and confused. Many thought they could buy products directly from the company, and some even became aggressive when they discovered that was not an option.

It is times like these that push the limits of customer care operations and tests a team’s resilience and competence.

And Harte Hanks was ground zero.

Our Insights

While Harte Hanks has often stepped into crisis management mode
on behalf of clients, particularly those in pharmaceutical and healthcare-related businesses, there was no playbook to address a rampant pandemic. Isolation, social distancing, masks and, of course, disinfectant and cleaning supplies were society’s only defenses.

Defusing emotional interactions requires conflict resolution techniques and a high degree of empathy.

We surmised that customer inquiries or complaints would most likely center on product unavailability. Since that was beyond our control, there would be a great deal of customer care counseling involved in almost every consumer interaction.

The sheer volume of calls meant unavoidable increases in wait times, which we knew would further exacerbate customer frustration.

Because Covid consumed the media, we predicted that customer call content would be highly reactive to, and track along with, breaking news, press conferences and the latest unproven remedies. This required us to constantly monitor the news cycle and prepare credible answers to customers’ heightened concerns.

Our Approach

Obviously, ramping up staff was our first priority. This was recruiting on steroids. We had to scale up virtually overnight, doubling our staff to support the volume, while at the same time restructuring for staff that was newly decentralized because of work-from-home requirements. As it was mission critical that we didn’t lose time, our Pandemic Instant Response Tech team was deployed to address any and all IT issues that could slow down implementation.

A key Harte Hanks advantage is our ability to repurpose agents. All of our customer care associates are required to participate in a Harte Hanks boot camp to shorten the learning curve when agents need to be dispatched to other product categories in emergency situations.

Through automated segmentation and analysis of customer inquiries, we were able to identify key drivers and isolate the most prevalent issues, further fast tracking our training. New agents were exposed to our intensive training modules, which truncated initial training by a full week.

We implemented emergency messaging on the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system to rapidly educate customers on key issues and, if possible, redirect them to less congested communications channels. This helped alleviate call volume pressure.

Knowing the most well-known products were in short supply, our content strategy diverted customers to other lesser known, but more available, substitutes that were equally as effective. This approach had the added advantage of creating trials for other brands in the client’s portfolio.

We also created a special “jump the line” queue in our CRM procedures when calls concerned fraudulent products or price gouging activity. These calls were immediately escalated to a joint client/agency task force for investigation and enforcement.

To address social channels, we utilized the Hootsuite platform, which enabled us to monitor all key social channels for saboteurs. When detected, we would migrate them to a private DM engagement to mitigate potential damage to the brand.

The bottom line: When the going gets tough, the tough Harte Hanks Customer Care team gets going.

The Results

Our client was recognized by The Wall Street Journal as emerging from the Covid crisis with exceptionally high customer satisfaction scores.

“(Our client) which has seen a surge in sales of coronavirus-killing cleaning products amid the pandemic… leapt to a sky-high 72.5 (customer satisfaction score).”

Despite this unprecedented onslaught, Harte Hanks had zero turnover amongst support staff, supervisors and team leads, which was a key measure of success for our client.

We expanded into new business with the client, including their professional products division.

Under the worst possible conditions, in the worst of circumstances, Harte Hanks helped protect our client’s brands and navigate their customers through a crisis. They emerged stronger than ever, maintaining much of the sales increase experienced during the pandemic.