I’ve seen it, actually seen it. And it’s quite incredible to witness.
Customer service seems to be changing and COVID could be a significant driver for what I hope is a permanent metamorphosis.
Desperation is an amazing motivator, and COVID exposed it as most businesses fight for their survival.
COVID has definitely forced businesses to act out of desperation to save themselves.
Lockdowns, capacity restrictions and vaccine requirements have all reduced the volume of business available.
And as organizations looked for ways to morph their business into something sustainable, one thing became remarkably clear: returning customers and customer referrals were desperately critical to their survival.
It’s amazing to me that this sudden realization hit business owners between the eyes, because it’s always been the case—it’s not a new concept. It shows, however, that in ‘normal’ times businesses are tempted to take their customers for granted and assume their loyalty can be counted on to deliver healthy financial returns.
When the wind blows even a turkey can fly.
COVID changed all that. The natural ‘winds’ of a relatively stable customer base and healthy economy had all but died, and businesses were collapsing with revenues in free fall.
That’s when many of them woke up and realized in an act of desperation that serving their customers in a more positive way was the way to stay alive.
For me, it’s incredibly perverse to characterize providing caring customer service as a ‘desperate act’, but for many businesses I think it actually was.
Up to the pandemic, businesses in general could be relatively successful by providing less than desirable—shabby—service and then COVID shocked them into realizing that better service was needed to survive the maelstrom they faced.
Brilliant customer service isn’t about a single act—the silver bullet—but is rather a number of small compelling acts practised consistently everyday.
Since the onset of COVID, I’ve noticed many businesses make these small moves and nudge their service levels just a wee bit higher:
#1. Tone of service
People seem to be more friendly. Everyone seems to have a common sense of purpose so it’s more natural for customer service employees to be kind and have empathy for the customer in front of them.
The conversation is more caring with a friendly tone that is rare when people share little or nothing in common.
There is more of a willingness on the part of businesses to be more open to accommodate someone’s request for something special that doesn’t fit within the rules and policies of the business.
A special pick up arrangement, booth location at a restaurant or timing for a dinner reservation are now handled with more of the customer’s wants in mind rather than conforming to the organization’s standard procedures.
#3. The apology
I’ve noticed that ”I’m sorry” is used a lot in conversation when customers don’t get what they’ve been promised.
Rather than almost a dismissive attitude on the part of the business when they’ve screwed one of their customers over, COVID seems to have introduced a much softer business approach with their willingness to accept some responsibility when things go wrong and to engage with the customer in finding a mutually satisfactory resolution.
The pandemic business is driven to increase product or service turnover, moving whatever inventory they have to the hands of the buyer as quickly as possible. It’s how sales can be maintained.
The result is that customers are able to get what they want perhaps a bit quicker—notwithstanding the supply chain issues faced by businesses today to get the inventory they need—than previously experienced.
There is a strong need for a business to ‘do it right the first time’ when it comes to delivering a product or service to their customer.
Any mistake made by the business in meeting the customer’s expectations results in rework and added costs (which they can Ill afford) that go with fixing the mistake, so there’s a strong motivation to avoid repetitive work to get it right.
Customers obviously benefit under these conditions; they get what they want, when they want it.
To reduce personal contact as much as possible, many businesses have gone to using texting as the communication tool to engage with their customers.
During a recent stay—maintaining social distancing or course—at Marriott’s Lagoons in Kauai, we were asked to text whatever in room service we need and a bag was hanging on our door knob in 15 minutes. Awesome!
They called it their Assistance at your fingertips service. It was friendly (with the tasteful and fun use of emoji’s), responsive and safe. I think it’s a brilliant blueprint for others to follow for the hospitality in-room services application.
I’m not saying that businesses are now delivering great customer service because of COVID. Businesses have a long way to go in my view to raise their service game beyond, in some cases, mediocrity and achieve a level of brilliance that is acknowledged as such by the people they serve.
What I AM saying, however, is that COVID just may have sensitized businesses to take care of their customers a little better, and maybe—just maybe—it will be looked back upon as a point of inflection that foreshadowed real change in the way customer service is delivered.
Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part.