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post-quarantine customer service

Customer Service in a Post-Covid World

As the first, and hopefully last, wave of coronavirus recedes, it leaves behind some marks in the sand.

The uncomfortable truth of the post-COVID world is that shoppers will return, but the business-customers relationship has changed. Maybe even forever.

Instead of a return to normalcy, we may instead deal with a new normal.

As Jack Kleinhenz, NRF chief economist, says: “Getting back to work or shopping in a pre-virus manner is difficult to predict at this time, with households likely to tiptoe back in rather than making an immediate return to the lives they experienced before.”

So what are the ways in which customer service has changed, and how can businesses deal with the consequences of these changes?

It’s good that you’ve come to our blog to ask these questions, as we’ve got all the answers you’d want.

The move towards online shopping and contactless delivery

contactless online shopping

Post-COVID customer service seems to be moving at a rapid pace toward digital interactions, e-commerce and direct-to-consumer shopping options.

The preference for shopping online is becoming the new normal, with 30% planning to shop more online in the future, even 28.3% of those 65+ say so and 33.8% of 18-24

Here’s what Blake Morgan says in her article in Forbes:

“Consumers plan to be cautious, even when the spread of the virus subsides—with substantial implications for economic and social recovery. Currently, 37% of consumers prefer to satisfy their core needs while staying indoors — including working, virtually socializing, consuming media, and making essential retail purchases.”

When the coronavirus outbreak grew too big to ignore it, click-and-collect and curbside pickup orders jumped 87% between late February and March 29.

While there will always be people who don’t treat safety precautions as anything serious, the vast majority of consumers will undoubtedly be vary of physical interactions for at lest some time after the quarantine is lifted.

This is why the focus on touchless payment, service and delivery method is not a gamble, but a well-educated bet.

Cleanliness and safety

We get conflicting reports on the consequences and nature of COVID-19, but the one thing that most researchers agree on is that we’re due for a second wave hitting the world in the near future.

As such, retailers will be compelled, or in some cases perhaps even forced, to provide safe shopping spaces that minimize the spread of coronavirus. This includes social distancing measures, reduced face-to-face interactions, rigorous safety protocols for employees, and more.

Basically, businesses need to become a typical housewife from the 1950s who’s awaiting guests. Scrub every surface, mop the floor till it’s shiny, and god forbid you overlook some speck of dust.

When it comes to the matter of cleanliness, coronavirus has been proven to be a harsh but strict teacher. Now, 87% of US shoppers prefer stores with touchless and self-checkout options.

Moreover, 95% of consumers want companies to implement physical protection and distancing measures.

Essentially, consumer trust is now not only about products or services but companies’ adherence to safety protocols.

One of the biggest challenges is rethinking the way we queue. Physically standing in line is a huge health hazard, as we can’t reasonably expect everyone around us to be as mindful of risks as we are.

Queues put everyone’s health at unnecessary risk, and it’s time for them to go digital, just like everything else.

This is something we at Qminder had to face ourselves as well, as previously our focus was almost purely on walk-ins, i.e. people casually entering your store or business location.

It would be an understatement to say that the paradigm shifted — rather, it went completely off the rails. We had to come up with safer ways for companies to manage crowds.

One solution is to offer contactless queuing tools. A customer could scan a QR code, either from a distance or even online, and enter the queue digitally.

This is supplemented with an online, real-time overview of your location via Visit Planner, showing how many people there are queued up at your location. Once customers have the means to accurately assess the visitor congestion situation, they have all the information to decide whether and when they want to queue up.

Self-service and self-checkout options

customer self-service options

It’s important to understand that more and more customers refuse to be coddled and have their hand held.

Instead of looking at businesses to solve their problems, customers prefer to be proactive. They are visiting a company’s website for answers, and reading self-help resources like knowledge bases and FAQ pages.

This is a widespread development. In fact, 75% of customers prefer self-help to resolve their issues, and 67% of consumers prefer it to agent support.

The period of uncertainty around COVID-19 has only emboldened customers to stop looking at businesses to solve product or service-related questions.

We have already covered the benefits of self-service before, and outlined self-service as the future of customer service.

What we found is that self-service is of mutual benefit to both the customer and the business. Self-service helps free up resources to concentrate on improving customer experiences.

What we’ve proposed for queue management is also essentially self-service: customers check themselves in, dictating the pace and nature of their interaction.

But there are more applications of self-service in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.

For example, look at the Amazon Go Grocery checkout model. It’s not only centered around self-service, it is also touch-free shopping. Contactless payment was just the beginning.

Similarly, QR codes, barcodes, Bluetooth and RFID could be used to eliminate physical interaction when completing transactions.

This omnichannel shopping experience was underway well before coronavirus, but now it’s kicked into high gear.

Keeping a human touch alive

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, 59% of customers felt companies had “lost touch with the human element of customer experience”. That’s a huge indictment of the retail space where everyone pats themselves on the back for supposedly being “close to their customer base”.

Whereas pre-COVID, transitioning to digital-only interactions was mainly for the sake of efficiency, now there’s a burden of having to make these online interactions feel human.

The bottom line is this: there’s nothing that beats a genuine human connection.

With all factors being equal, deeper customer relationships shall prevail. To make the experiences you offer stand out, you should concentrate on making them “sticky”.

What we mean is that you need to offer your customers convenience and personalized services. This is true for non-coronavirus times too, but in the post-quarantine world protection services should be personalized as well.

Following COVID-19, people might struggle to navigate the new normal. and need a human touch even more. For instance, making purchasing choices for essential items without being able to try out or see products in person could be difficult for some. The same is true for getting advice online or solving problems, an example being telehealth, without direct human contact.

One thing that should be emphasized is that personalization and automation don’t naturally gel well.

Many companies will find it hard to resist investing in what they believe is cost-effective automation. As RingCentral puts it, they will “introduce half-baked automation solutions and throw customer satisfaction out the windows to save a few dollars”.

Automate what needs to be automated, no more and no less.

Genuine communication with customers

customer communication

That’s easier said than done, though, as it’s the “genuine” part that most companies struggle with.

Think of it this way: how many different emails about COVID-19 have you gotten from companies during the pandemic’s beginning? Tens? Dozens? Hundreds, if you’re the kind of person who never unchecks the “please subscribe me” box?

And how many have you actually opened and read? My guess is somewhere close zero after the first one.

And even that first one you skimmed through, most likely.

The thing is, no matter the circumstances, 99% of corporate letters sound shallow and overly formal, almost perfunctory. “In this time of an unprecedented crisis, we must stand united. We, a faceless corporate entity, are committed to blablabla”. You could’ve written the same letter with your eyes closed.

Hell, your grandma could’ve written a better-sounding letter. (Shoutout to all the grandmothers out there!)

How are people writing letters like this different from chatbots, exactly? At least chatbots are taught to say something whimsical, add emojis or even use memes and gifs from time to time.

Chatbots are nowadays designed to emulate the emotions that the real people working in retail rarely exhibit themselves. At least not in earnest.

We, customers, have grown rather cynical over time. Our first instinct when we see some business preaching from the soapbox is to double-check our pockets.

“They’re just fishing for pats on the back as they’re milking us for more money.” That’s the prevalent sentiment, in no small part thanks to companies using the same corporate newspeak when communicating something.

71% of customers say that they will lose trust in a brand once they start feeling that it’s putting profit over people.

People want to be seen and understood, especially in times of crisis. Your tone and choice of words matter a whole lot here.

Ask yourself, are you reaching out to your customers because you want to help them or because you want to sell them something?

Believe it or not, COVID-19 has taught customers to feel the difference.

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In the words of Simeon Siegel, managing director at BMO Capital Markets:

“Right now it’s very unclear how long this impact will be — not only because we don’t know the duration of the virus but because there’s a latent fear that’s emerging as well. The longer the impact, the more lingering the fear and the more evolution there will be of consumer processes.”

The consumers’ behavior in the post-COVID-19 era could be reshaped by their fears and hopes.

At the same time, retailers’ behavior is an integral part of how it’s reshaped, as well. One cannot change without changing the other.

If there’s one lesson to be had from all of this, is that we should learn to keep together — even when standing six feet apart.

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