Logistical challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have given many business owners an entirely new view of their colleagues and customers.
Meetings are now conducted in dining rooms and spare bedrooms; children, pets or partners might accidentally pop into the frame. Fears and frustrations, both work- and home-related, have driven candid conversations that likely wouldn’t happen in an office.
“Even though it’s impersonal, it’s almost ultrapersonal,” said Jill Billhorn, senior vice president of corporate sales for CDW, who spoke Monday as the opening keynote speaker at CDW’s latest Tech Talk. “I feel like it’s lowered the guard.”
Billhorn’s session, titled “Empathy: The Key Ingredient for World-Class Customer Support,” explained the value of acknowledging this emotional component during a time of chaos.
By putting the new and evolving needs of others at the forefront, businesses will not only to satisfy customers’ immediate concerns but provide a deeper level of service that goes beyond a standard working relationship — creating connections that have long-term value.
Doing so, Billhorn said, involves delivering new strategies and solutions quickly, making everyone’s mental and physical health a priority, and leveraging technologies that enable teams to pivot and thrive moving forward.
WATCH: Learn how empathy can be the key to building innovative customer experiences.
Empathy in Action Means Preparation, Pivots and Protection
In navigating the roadblocks and disruptions of COVID-19, businesses must do everything in their power to deliver customer experiences that are seamless and safe.
Fostering a sense of familiarity can, in fact, be compassionate.
Billhorn cited several recent examples of success, including CDW’s support for the NFL’s first-ever virtual draft, hosted in April — an event that, while surreal to some, ultimately kept the season moving forward for fans.
“We worked with the NFL to put a solution together to ensure a seamless transition to ensure the connectivity that was required was maintained and maintained securely,” Billhorn said. “It went off without a hitch.”
She praised strategic insights from Uber, which ramped up the food-delivery service Uber Eats after its namesake rideshare business took a hit due to social distancing. The effort helped meet a growing customer need and keep Uber’s drivers working.
And she cited an effort by the retailer Tractor Supply to purchase 3,000 Chromebooks so the children of employees in need can participate in remote learning.
Large or small, technological efforts that protect everyone’s well-being can be considered empathetic. These, Billhorn said, could include touchless checkout devices for restaurants and retailers, sensor-enabled safety equipment and digital signage for healthcare providers, and contact tracing and temperature scanning tools within a warehouse.
“The applications will be endless,” she said.
Why Empathy Matters in the Workplace
Taking care of staffers during the pandemic is just as important as strong customer support.
Billhorn cited CDW’s robust, around-the-clock effort to shift more than 7,000 workers into home office settings within 48 hours during the earliest days of the pandemic — plans that were crucial to guide clients facing the same hurdles.
“Our customers needed us,” Billhorn said. “How can we help each other even though we can’t be next to each other?”
Internally, she said, CDW has taken steps to provide virtual counseling services for its own teams, grow an in-house alliance network for Black employees, and offer donations to COVID-19 relief efforts and staff-chosen charities.
The company also offered its own clients virtual face time with CDW’s chief human resources officer to learn best practices for transitioning to remote work and safety tips for packing up a shared office space — an effort designed to foster peace of mind.
In the end, a culture of empathy can offer value to any element of business.
“It’s not just about product and services solutions” to meet new challenges, Billhorn said. “It’s also about what we can do around financing options, planning rollouts as your stores open back up — to be as flexible as we can, given your circumstances. We want you to be our customer after this is over. That way, everybody wins.”
Follow BizTech’s coverage of CDW’s Tech Talk series here. Insiders can register for it here.