As COVID-19 continues to impact the country, it is obvious that few industries are exempt from the impact of the pandemic. In March, businesses were forced to take a step back and look at their business model to ensure that they were addressing their customer’s health, hygiene and safety concerns. On top of that, brands were also forced to address the other issues brought on by COVID-19 like supply chain, workforce etc.
As companies pivot to address all these issues, it is vital that consumer experience remains a top priority, especially given the impacts of the pandemic can negatively impact customer experience and in turn the customer’s perception of the brand. As customers become well-adjusted to the new normal, they are sure to remember what brands stepped away from their pre-COVID customer experience promise, even long after the pandemic ends. So, what can brands do to address the impacts of COVID-19, while being mindful of the past, present and future of customer experience?
First and foremost, keeping your customer’s safe is good customer service though beforehand it may not have been such a high priority. Modifications made to help insure the in-person experience is as safe as possible should be an expectation, not a goal. As hygiene and health become so prevalent in our society, brands should be making these modifications because it’s the “right thing to do” for your customers, and for your business, not just because these changes are mandated by the industry, or government.
What can brands do to address the impacts of COVID-19, while being mindful of the past, present and future of customer experience?
As an example, most restaurant brands have added six-foot markers to help aide in social distancing, reduced inside dining capacity, added plexiglass partitions to help keep both their customers and employees safe, instituted mandatory mask policies, and other safety measures brought on by the pandemic. On top of all of that, Nathan’s Famous, has also added partitions and anti-bacterial wipes to make customer’s feel safer using our self-service kiosks. Outside of the restaurant industry, airlines, hotels, ride-sharing and other service companies have followed suit with similar policies to help keep their customers safe.
How do these changes continue to serve the goal of good customer service? Simple, they make customers feel safe and comfortable, while also showing them that they are important to your company. Putting your customer’s at ease with their initial brand interaction has been a long-standing goal for service orientated brands, and as the world changes with the pandemic, this should include making them feel comfortable, safe and healthy when they interact with the brand. This true care and concern creates a point of connection between the brand and its customers, and should extend to employees, vendors, and other stakeholder as well.
With brands working on ways to provide customers their products in-home, the focus on safety should also extend to any off-premise interaction customers have with the brand – including takeout, delivery, catering, and drive thru. Specifically, for delivery, how can customers feel good about what they are ordering when they are not in store to see it prepared and packaged? A simple step brands can take is tamper resistant closure on all bags and containers. The commitment to your customer’s safety shouldn’t end when their order leaves the door and going the extra step makes them feel that much better about your product.
Most brands had pre-COVID offerings that just aren’t feasible with the new normal, like a sauce station or communal napkin dispensers. Rather than ridding your restaurant of these offerings all together, brands need to take the time to determine a way to continue offering these services without making customers feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Instead of depriving your customers of an offering like a free-standing sauce station, create an area where guests can grab pre-portion sauces in safe, sealed containers.
What the industry really requires is a cultural shift in how restaurants address the importance of health, hygiene and safety, for their customers as well as employees, in a way that doesn’t take away from the customer experience but rather enhances it.
What is the future of the restaurant industry post-COVID? The increased need for safety measures will remain, along with additional utilization of technology to keep customers and employees safe as well as potentially dramatic alterations of restaurant set-up and space. However, one thing that will not change is the need for quality customer service to create repeat customers and brand loyalists. Brands must be flexible and agile, with corporate teams that provide support, to ensure the customer experience does not suffer as we all navigate the new industry landscape.