By Dale Lawrence
While many companies have moved most workers to work from home or built in social distancing, contact centers typically have a challenge with social distancing due to the concentration of configured desks in a relatively small space. Apart from cubicle pony walls, most agents can normally reach each other and frequently stand up, walk around and go for breaks together. This means that if one person carries the virus, it doesn’t take long to spread to others. Ideally the agents would work remote, however, many contact centers are unable to access all of the necessary technology to allow for remote working-from-home.
A recent scientific study of a call center in South Korea found that Coronavirus spread quickly but also how layout and quick action can prevent a much greater health and business problem. The call center was situated in a popular mixed residential/commercial tower and was situated on an entire floor.
Source: CDC medical journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases
Luckily, when the spread was discovered, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sprang into action and discovered one side of the call center had already experienced an outbreak. Any more delay would have seen the other side have the same fate. In addition to the call center floor, the health authorities tracked everyone who had visited the entire tower and tested for the spread of the virus. Their quick action likely greatly reduced the spread.
Source: CDC medical journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases
There are lessons to be learned by any contact center operational leader as we all plan how to configure our workspace during the next 18 months.
These are challenging times, but careful planning, common sense and rapid implementation can minimize the risk to your workers and business. The Propulo team is experienced at work design and human performance. We can support your preparation, business continuity strategy and customer experience service design.
At Propulo, our focus has always been on Customer Experience and operational excellence. Please visit our website (Propulo Consulting) for more business insights and leadership resources.
By Eric Michrowski
The COVID-19 Black Swan event has provided a unique opportunity for brands to demonstrate how they live their values, particularly as it relates to Customers. Some brands have stepped up and demonstrated their customer-centricity in challenging times. Others have tried to pursue profit over Customer loyalty.
If history repeats itself, these early actions will have a lasting impact on future profitability. There is no doubt that companies need to manage their finances in order to weather this storm. But those that do that while also taking care of their Customers are most likely to prosper in the future.
Let me share a few examples on both ends of the spectrum:
• For the most part airlines and hotels have had rapid customer-centric responses despite the incredible impact this crisis has on the sector with many of them likely on the brink of bankruptcy. Yet, some brands have been at the forefront with more customer-centric responses (i.e. Hyatt) whereas others have dragged their feet and mostly followed their competition (i.e. Marriott) or even tried to avoid allowing the cancelation of reservations across the board while being very slow to respond and later improving their policies ever so slightly based on an outpouring on customer complaints (i.e. Accor).
• Like most travel related industries, the car rental industry has been decimated as people have stopped traveling in large numbers. With surplus cars depreciating and sitting in lots, Hertz offered free month-long car rentals to Healthcare workers in New York, one of the most heavily impacted regions in the US. The cost of making this possible is next to none but it’s an incredible demonstration of values and customer-centricity. In contrast, a major hotel in New York is offering a discounted rate of $129 for first responders. While it’s a sizeable discount, it’s doing very little to provide shelter for those that need it at this time. Why not just offer the rooms for free or for a nominal fee of $10.
• When faced with temporarily distressed clients in long-term relationships, some firms with large margins decided to find a way to help while others stood by their contractual terms and offered to reduce expenses by an appalling 3% or less.
• When faced with early signs of an outbreak in the US, some conferences decided to reschedule at a large cost to them because they wanted to unquestionably do the right thing. Others dragged their feet until Governors forced them to cancel.
Recognizing that long term sustainability is an important consideration, it’s equally as important to ensure that you invest in key Customer relationships to build deeper loyalty when the recovery comes. The hotel industry has likely been the most proactive at this, particularly between Hyatt and Hilton. Small choices that put your customers first will make a significant difference in the long term. Customers will remember who was there for them and who was there for their pocketbook.
The following are six customer considerations in these critical times:
1. Reflect on your values. It’s more important than ever to be guided by your values in these in critical times. For us, we have a customer True North commitment to unquestionably do the right thing for our customers. That guided our decision to offer any COVID-19 support as pro-bono and dedicate all available capacity to build free resources.
2. Never put short-term profits ahead of long-term relationships. You might need to compromise on your bottom line and support some clients through even more difficult times. Remember the lifetime value of customers. Even if you lose in the near term, the lifetime customer value should guide decisions.
3. Do everything possible to hang on to your existing client relationships. Even if they become unprofitable. This will be an incredibly challenging time to get new customers. New opportunities are most likely to come from your existing clients.
4. Explore mutual win-wins (or even some win-lose where you lose but help your customers). Beyond price, there might be other ways in which you could help your customers win. Think outside the box in terms of what they might need. Or in some instances consider win-lose as most hotel chains did by allowing all non-refundable rates to be refunded without question.
5. Think about how you can give back through these challenging times. For us it was about giving free expertise. For Hertz, it was about giving transportation to healthcare workers to help them care for others. For others it’s been about producing masks, ventilators or other needed products for this crisis without trying to profit.
6. Don’t wait for your customers to ask or complain. Be proactive, reach out to see how they are doing through these challenging times.
Investing in your Customers now is the best way to ensure you recover well. At this stage it’s critically important to consider both how you manage through the crisis while setting yourself up for success on the other side. Customers are watching and will make decisions based on how companies showed up and what values were most important to them in times of crisis.
I have already identified a series of companies that I will never do business with again based on how they showed up over the last few weeks. I have also identified a series of companies that will receive a greater share of my wallet based on how they showed up
By Vicki Scott
As the world comes to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic our reality as consumers has shifted to one of empty store shelves, long wait times, changes in store hours and even store closures. However inconvenient this may be, it is important to note that retail workers are among the highest risk frontline workers next to healthcare providers and essential service providers. For some consumer-based businesses, they may even fall under the essential service guidelines announced by government; this may include grocery stores, drug stores, pharmacies, financial institutions and postal outlets. As such; workers in these industries do not have the option for self-isolation, we rely on them; whether they are customer facing or behind the scenes, to assist in providing us with the necessities we need daily.
In our present reality, it is important that we recognize the stress and anxiety felt by those working in retail. There can be uncertainty about job security for those facing augmented hours and closures, for others it can be the stress of higher than normal volumes with many in the industry comparing buying activity to that of Black Friday and of course, the risk of exposure. Those working in retail can see hundreds if not thousands of customers per day during peak seasons and this is no exception.
As such below are a few tips for customers navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic:
1. Be patient: expect long line ups, anticipate delays in delivery of goods, and avoid peak hours.
2. Show empathy: don’t make light of the situation as you may not know how the person in front of you has been impacted; it is also good to avoid political debate, or any social commentary related to the outbreak.
3. Respect personal space and follow WHO guidelines: they might be your friend or someone you have built a rapport with in the past, but it is important to avoid unnecessary contact both for your health and for theirs. Maintain the recommended fingertip distance and proper health and safety guidelines including those related to hard surface transmission.
4. Reward retailers that are doing it right! Shop at the stores that have clearly made changes to their operations, those that are ensuring the health and well-being of their employees, offering alternative delivery models for customers especially for seniors and high risk customers, those who are setting buying limits to minimize stock shortages and those who have made a commitment NOT to profit, price gouge or exploit from the pandemic.
5. Show your appreciation: know that the person in front of you does not have the option of self-isolation and just like health care workers they are putting themselves at risk to ensure your wellbeing; thank them for it!
For those working in retail; stay strong, stay healthy and know your efforts are not going unnoticed, we will weather the storm together!