The unfolding Covid-19 crisis presents the greatest challenge in recent history for retailers across the globe. Widespread closures, mass isolation and the effects of panic buying are impacting businesses across all sectors to an unprecedented degree. As they respond to rapidly changing circumstances, they shouldn’t lose sight of what is important to their clients and where they can make a real and genuine difference.
Brilliant retailers don’t do something to be seen to be doing it. They do it because it is relevant to their purpose and the right thing to do. As part of the Inspiring a Service Nation campaign – developed and launched before any knowledge of the impending crisis – the Institute for Customer Service has been calling on businesses to stand up and be counted for the good of the country.
This is going to be an extremely tough time for all – given the existential threat facing so many companies, but as Jon Stewart once said: “If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values, they’re hobbies.”
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How retailers respond over the coming months will be remembered by customers and employees for years to come. As we have seen time and time again, in difficult times, these are the real moments of truth – and when we emerge from this, the retailers that have connected with customers in an authentic way will be rewarded with ongoing loyalty.
As the pandemic continues, businesses that show effective leadership when it is most needed will be the first to rebound when things improve. Those that ramp up, rather than cut back, on appropriate customer contact during this time will send a clear message that people – not just profits – are their priority.
We’ve already seen numerous examples of retailers investing in their customer service offering over the past few days – from early opening hours at supermarkets for the elderly, vulnerable and key workers, to adjustments in home delivery lines to support social distancing. Some are offering advice on managing through difficult times or thinking differently about what they are doing for whom, and when. These gestures of support at a critical moment in customers’ lives won’t be soon forgotten and will help maintain a deeper relationship long into the future.
“Businesses that show effective leadership when it is most needed will be the first to rebound when things improve”
The extent of the restrictions surrounding Covid-19 mean that it is not just frontline retail workers that need to focus on the customer experience. Businesses across all sectors are being forced to look for new ways to engage and support their clients and customers in the absence of normal activity.
Good communications will be vital, and businesses can help their customers by providing practical advice and enabling their people to stay connected from a distance. From gyms offering online training classes to supermarkets providing practical advice on freezing food, as we move through this crisis, I am positive that those that remain agile and flexible to the ever-shifting needs of their customers will emerge with their reputations enhanced.
Innovation often springs up in surprising ways, and we are seeing this already across our diverse members. Some businesses are showing remarkable agility, like the Bristol gin distillery now producing hand sanitiser and the hotels which have started selling food essentials and giving beds to those in need. They are using their resources and initiative to help others while improving their own financial and reputational standing.
All of our research shows that customer satisfaction and experience has a direct correlation to business success, and that is never truer than in times of crisis. How retailers respond to these challenging times will have a huge impact on their future viability – and those that focus on retaining customers and building loyalty are the ones that will survive, and thrive, through uncertain times.
Jo Causon is the CEO of The Institute of Customer Service