About 16 months ago, the entire world was shaken by news of a deadly airborne virus spreading across the world. By March 2020, almost everything from schools to retail outlets were closed, people were encouraged to stay indoors, and the economy went into lockdown. The WHO announced that the world was officially facing the first pandemic in modern history.
Businesses that maintain a reputation as being ahead of the curve didn’t see something so catastrophic coming. The fact that there were several warnings of an imminent pandemic by health practitioners makes the lack of preparedness alarming.
Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that the warnings were ignored by almost everyone, even by leaders of the developed world. In any case, as governments scrambled to get everything back under control, so did businesses. The global population prepared itself for life after COVID-19.
Quality of Service During COVID-19
Now, with the worse of the pandemic supposedly behind us, and the economy reopening, people are rightly wondering what comes next. Millions of lives have been lost, and thousands of businesses across the globe have shut down. Those that could adapt have barely stayed afloat.
The service industry faced the worse consequences of the pandemic. Mass redundancies were a feature of the service industry throughout the pandemic. Since most service-side businesses require face time with the customer, many were unable to maintain their commitments to their workers.
Those that stayed had to deal with a sudden move to a virtual environment, lack of any training or support to function efficiently, while being expected to maintain standards. The situation played out predictably. Employees were unable to maintain the previous standards of service that customers were used to.
However, if ever there was a universal human experience, this was it. Customers and clients understood that the pandemic had affected numerous aspects of everyday business. Just as every other aspect of life had to be compromised on, they would have to do the same for the quality of service they received.
Customers were more than willing to put up with long queues to speak to a customer support representative, delayed shipping, low-quality products and services, delayed responses from companies. This was all done under the impression that the human race faced a collective problem, and that we would all have to make adjustments to get through it. Service quality post-COVID will be much better, we all said to ourselves.
After the Storm
Well, here we are. The pandemic hasn’t ended, but the economy is slowly reopening, and businesses are allowed to resume services with limited capacity. The compromises that we all had to make are surely behind us…right?
Well, not really. It doesn’t seem likely from where we stand. There are a few reasons we believe that the poor customer service that we got used to during the pandemic will become the new normal. Of course, this situation cannot be allowed to persist, but first let’s take a look at the reasons why service is unlikely to return to previous levels.
The Not So New Normal
Who are we even kidding? While the standard of service certainly deteriorated during the pandemic, let’s not paint the past as some utopia of customer satisfaction. The truth is, customer service has always been a weakness for a lot of businesses. A killer sales team paired with a poor after-sales team is a recipe for disappointment.
Sure, the standard of service deteriorated across the board during the pandemic, but we must ask ourselves – how much better was it really prior to the pandemic? Think back on all those long waits, the dropped calls, the late responses and you’ll realize that this situation isn’t really anything new. The only difference? Businesses now have an excuse.
“Companies can no longer cite the pandemic as a justification for poor service”
Many businesses used the pandemic as an excuse to correct a lot of the poor decisions that they had made prior to the lockdown. When people inquired as to the deterioration in quality, they simply cited the pandemic as an excuse.
In fact, many of the businesses that shut down during the pandemic weren’t very well run to begin with. Lack of proper administrative oversight, poor financial planning, sub-par labor practices led to their eventual collapse.
The deterioration in service was expected, but we should not expect anything better on the other end. This is discussed in the subsequent points.
The simple truth is, many businesses weren’t prepared to deal with a pandemic. When it arrived, they responded with panic rather than cool, calculated decision-making. The focus of almost all businesses shifted immediately from growth to survival. To cut their losses, many businesses let their employees go.
With a decimated workforce, the quality of care the customer received was always going to fall. Now that the economy is reopening, what should we expect the service quality post-COVID to look like? Well, we believe that unless consumers put pressure on businesses, it’ll be more of the same.
This is because businesses cannot immediately recover the large swathes of workers that they’ve lost. In many instances, rebuilding capacity to meet the demands of an economy returning to life is going to take a lot of time.
Until businesses hire and train a suitable contingent of workers, we can expect that our woes will continue.
What’s more, is that the pandemic hasn’t even ended yet. There is still a long way to go, and the next wave could be right around the corner. Workers would not wish to come to work in such an environment, and governments will want limitations on capacity to persist. As such, poor service looks like it’s here to stay.
The whole point of a business is the pursuit of profit. This is closely tied to the previous point. As the labor force returns, a few things are expected. Given the inflation that economies everywhere have witnessed, workers will wish for higher compensation. They will also want extra benefits such as hazard pay, and access to healthcare.
All these demands will drive up costs, which will reduce the corporations’ profits. Despite the fact that many organizations themselves have increased in value throughout the pandemic, they’ve done nothing to suggest that they’ll meet these demands. Even if they do, the number of workers will probably be reduced to act as a counterweight. What this means is that even if the quality of representatives improves, there will be fewer of them to go around.
Furthermore, there is very little faith left in business leadership to make the right call when it comes to consumer confidence. The pandemic is no longer a novel idea and has been around for a while. As such, one would expect that the brightest business minds on the planet would have found some creative solutions to the customer service problem by now.
They haven’t, of course. It just goes to show that the focus isn’t even on customer experience and satisfaction. Employees were rushed to remote work without any proper training. They were given no resources to deal with the variety of challenges that arise as a result of working from home. Add to that the fact that there was practically zero oversight from management.
All of this has continued throughout the pandemic with no solution in sight. This puts the planning capabilities of managers and business leaders everywhere in question. If they could not be trusted to ameliorate the very obvious problems of customer service before and during the pandemic, how can they suddenly be relied on to do so after?
The answer is simple, they cannot. Consumers everywhere will have to apply collective pressure on organizations to get their acts together. No business can exist without its customers, so why is it that customer experience and satisfaction seem to be at the bottom of everyone’s list?
In conclusion, the service quality post-COVID is not expected to improve in our view, unless massive changes are made to the way organizations behave. This will not happen unless customers apply pressure on business leaders. The pandemic isn’t over but using it as an excuse for poor service should be.
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