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Unmasking the Impact of the Pandemic on Customer Service

Pandemic conditions since early 2020 have cast a transformative shadow over businesses and industries worldwide, with a notable consequence being the shifting landscape of customer experience (CX) and service quality.

Crunching our own data and analysing CX performance pre, during and post-COVID shows large variations across industries, and across clients within industries in terms of their ability to recover.

We explore some key industry case studies and learnings below.

Restaurants/Food Hospitality

We found some interesting differences across food and hospitality clients. Of note, a high-end restaurant where we saw their scores drop, and a slower recovery time. In our assessment of the scores and customer feedback, it would seem staffing issues are at play here.

The hospitality sector, particularly the fine dining segment, relies heavily on students and backpackers to fill casual front-of-house positions around small teams of full-time
employees. When these casual workers disappeared, this sector experienced serious understaffing and declining service outcomes. This sector had not returned to pre- pandemic levels, – as Restaurant and Hospitality Industry Association chief executive

Belinda Clarke said – “We’re missing over 100,000 workers in hospitality and a huge proportion of those roles are taken up by backpackers in seasonal areas.” Sydney Morning Herald, end 2022.

 

Our assessment? Lack of available stock meant car dealers did not need to try and sell until recently – salespeople did not necessarily have to ‘work’ for a sale for some time, as they sold all stock. Combined with staff turnover and lack of real-world sales practice and skill development for some time leads to poorer sales performance.

 

From our analysis, it would seem luxury car sales organisations have more in-depth training programs, more experienced staff, and stronger processes, and were better able to recover from this.

Many industries we work with were barely affected throughout the pandemic, registering only a short-term shift in customer service levels. Telcos, department stores, supermarkets/foodstuff retailers, gyms, and healthcare professionals only had a very minor impact customer service wise, despite many of these industries facing more specific effects of COVID (e.g., healthcare still wearing masks till recently, gyms requiring more obvious rigorous cleaning regime, the same supply chain issues as other industries, etc).

 

Others, like serviced offices for example, suffered badly from a true shift in consumer behaviour in their space but recovered well and now scoring in excess of their pre-COVID numbers.

We found the least impacted clients generally have the following characteristics:

1. A continuing focus on CX. This includes ongoing measurement of service levels, processes, and people – a keen example of the truism of “What gets measured is worked on,”

2. Strong sales and customer service processes. Processes are well thought out, well documented, clear, and well tested.

3. Strong training processes which coped ably with both the shift in staff during COVID, and difficulties attracting and retaining staff post-pandemic.

 

Those that bounced back quickly realised the following and acted upon it:

• Customer expectations evolved: The pandemic shifted customer expectations – health and safety concerns took precedence for example, influencing shopping behaviour and service preferences, and this shift in expectation remains.

Businesses had to quickly meet these changing expectations, revisiting their offerings, communication strategies, and support mechanisms to align with the “new normal.” Those who adapted succeeded in recovering quickly.

• There were limited training opportunities: Traditional in-person training sessions were difficult to conduct during the pandemic, with many industries still finding it hard to catch up on their training schedule. Remote training might not have been as effective in conveying all aspects of customer service, leading to a decrease in overall performance. Those who mastered remote training, maintained strong processes, and got back into regular training programs – these organisations are succeeding.

• Recognising employee stress levels and turnover: During the height of the pandemic, frontline employees encountered unprecedented stress levels, leading to fatigue and a higher turnover rate, leading to disrupted team dynamics and inconsistencies in service quality. Despite lockdowns ending, pandemic conditions easing, and a return to “normal” in many ways, stressors remain – many industries, retail, and hospitality in particular, are suffering ongoing staff shortages, and supply chain issues still impact business operations.

Leaders who work with their staff to manage negative impacts will succeed. With continuing disruptions, rolling supply chain issues, and changed customer expectations still in play, it would seem the pandemic hangover remains for many organisations.

How Mystery Customer Can Help

Happily, we believe mystery shopping can be a powerful tool in soothing the pandemic hangover. We can help in delivering the following:

Data-driven decision making: Mystery Customers shopper survey program provides businesses with objective data that can drive informed decision-making. The feedback collected serves as a reliable basis for identifying trends, setting improvement goals, and fine-tuning customer service strategies.

Unfiltered insights: Mystery Customer data presents businesses with an external, unfiltered perspective on their customer experience. By experiencing the business through the eyes of a customer, companies can identify pain points, strengths, and areas for improvement that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Enhanced employee performance: Frontline employees play a pivotal role in shaping the customer experience. Mystery Customers’ program allows businesses to evaluate employee performance objectively. With feedback based on real interactions, businesses can identify training needs, reinforce positive behaviours, and address areas of concern. This leads to a more motivated and customer-centric workforce, translating into improved customer satisfaction.

Identify process gaps: It is essential to identify and address process gaps that can hinder a smooth customer experience. By pinpointing bottlenecks and inefficiencies, businesses can streamline operations – creating a more seamless customer journey.

Brand consistency: Consistency is key to building a strong brand identity and customer loyalty. Whether it is adhering to specific service measures, maintaining cleanliness,
delivering a consistent tone of voice, or other key brand measures, it can play a crucial role in aligning touchpoints with the intended brand image.

Staying ahead of the curve: In a competitive marketplace, Mystery Customers’ shopper program allows businesses to benchmark their performance against industry standards and competitors. This information equips companies with the knowledge needed to identify areas where there may be gaps, and where they can excel and stand out.

Turning insights into action: Mystery shopping campaigns often deliver surprises. Some are pleasant and some are downright worrying. Knowing you have a problem is an important first step but driving change based on this knowledge is perhaps more difficult. There is a limited period in which to address any required modification of the sales process with sales and service teams, and often no way of assisting your teams in monitoring and redressing these issues.

The implementation of Action Plan reports that are triggered by mystery shopper visits has helped clients to reinforce key components of their sales process, increasing adherence to best practice policies, and resulting in a positive effect on sales. The addition of an Action Plan process to your Mystery Customer service will increase accountability, and conformity to best practices, highlight areas where more support and training are required, and will result in improved service experiences for your customers.

Mystery Customer can help construct a specialised mystery shopper program that suits your business and budget. Contact John today at0414 553 596.