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Not out of the woods yet: Changes to customer service due to COVID-19

With impersonal online ordering and curbside pickup, not many customer service representatives have been around during lockdowns to interact with clients.
With impersonal online ordering and curbside pickup, not many customer service representatives have been around during lockdowns to interact with clients.

By Nicole Attias

Customer service has become a hot topic during the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses have suffered due to the on and off lockdowns for extended periods. This has impacted the way in which business is being transformed. Companies who have not adapted to online transactions have really lost out. Change has been necessary, not a choice, and companies have taken dramatic steps to improve customer service.

The use of apps and retail websites has not only become very popular, but a necessity for everything from buying clothes to ordering food. This digital transformation has led to customers demanding faster, essentially immediate, service. Curbside pickup has become a requirement as businesses adapt to the changing needs of their customers—anything to keep a customer happy during these unstable times. Many restaurants have invested in heated outdoor patios during winter just to be able to continue serving customers. An additional challenge has been reaching the less technology-savvy customer base who are learning to shop online for the very first time

Some of the difficulties businesses have faced this past year include:

– Customers not being able to speak to a live person since majority of employees were working from home or laid off during lockdowns There is nothing more frustrating than feeling non-existent, often unable to reach a customer service agent on the phone even after waiting on hold for hours. While measures have been taken to speed up service through online ordering, addressing customer complaints has been problematic. Even at times when restrictions were lifted, there is a flood of people rushing to catch up with missed appointments or other needs that have been long overdue. Companies have tried to handle customer needs through automated means, but there are limits to what a robot can do and there is no way to replicate the empathy of dealing with a real person when a customer has a problem that needs to be resolved.

– With increased reliance on technology, human interaction has been lost. The sense of ‘togetherness while apart’ is just not cutting it. Human beings are not designed to function as sole entities for extended periods of time, and this includes businesses’ customers. The need to interact, even a simple hello and small talk, has been replaced with stress, social distancing, and isolation. This has left many people frustrated and anxious with the current situation.

Businesses and customers are not out of the woods yet either

As there is division between those who are vaccinated and those who are not, everything from gyms to restaurants and theatres will be greatly impacted. Business owners will be faced with the question of how to make their customers happy, but also how to maintain a relationship with those who may not be able to visit during this period of time.

The psychological state of both customers and employees are being greatly impacted as lockdowns become the new normal and the need for and viability of measures such as vaccine passports become a topic of heated debate. One thing is certain—whether a business is for or against vaccine passports, they need to be aware of the bigger picture and adapt quickly to balance complying with ever-changing regulations while finding innovative ways to meet the demands of their customers.

Nicole Attias, Owner of Prospect2Win can be reached at: Nicole@prospect2win.com 

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