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May 14, 2021 | 4 Mins Read

Living with COVID: Meeting People Where They Are

May 14, 2021 | 4 Mins Read

Living with COVID: Meeting People Where They Are


By Tom Paquin

In this week’s look at what our COVID-19 co-habitation looks like, we’re going to consider how service leaders can work with customers, given their new geography, new expectations for social interactions, and new predilections for working with technology. Fortunately, we’ve seen, over the last year, the various ways that businesses have begun to internalize these truth into a broader strategy. So let’s take those different areas that I mentioned before and break down some hypotheticals.

Tackling our New Geography
I’ve tackled this previously on here, as businesses have had to realign their strategies to work with a decentralized workforce. I’ve mostly considered this through its relationship to the home office, but I think it’s important to consider more broadly across service as well.

How will, for instance, our increased lean on home workers impact the telecommunications infrastructure? While the path of least resistance for most businesses is to cut costs, eliminate office space and the business internet plans that come along with them, and offer the savings to home workers in the form of a stipend. That might work for the businesses, but teclo companies might not be thrilled about the shift, certainly in terms of long-term estimates of the amount of their networks that are being used for commercial purposes.

It might, then, make sense to create “home worker” internet plans, perhaps sold directly to consumers, or to the companies for which they work, to offer preferred speeds and specialized service for business users. The increasing prevalence of 5G might prove to be a boon for such a program, as 5G hotspots could function as the conduit by which businesses manage their remote workers’ internet. For the many workers currently battling with their kids’ Xboxes for bandwidth, this would likely be a welcome addition.

Of course, decentralizing business operations means decentralizing business service for telcos—suddenly, business priority appointments extend outside of a major metro, into the suburbs. That means infrastructure needs to be top-notch, even in rural areas, and that scheduling and routing optimization needs to be the bare minimum. This is a single example, but it belies the broader challenges that many businesses will face as the dust settles and the nature of what work means for people changes indefinitely.

Making People Comfortable

I’m vaccinated, and pleased a proud to be, as are my wife, parents, and in-laws. It feels nice to know that, per guidance from the Center of Disease Control, that we can be inside together without masks. Some folks, even vaccinated folks, do not feel comfortable with that. That is fine, and for customer service to be managed, maintained, and exemplified, we need to meet the level of respect that people feel.

Over the summer, for instance, we had an issue with our septic system. It was necessary for the router person to enter our basement in order to access our cleanout. He chose not to wear a mask, never asked if we were comfortable with that fact, completed the job, was paid, and left. Yes, sure, I never asked him to put on a mask, because remedying the issue took major precedent, but that assumption is very troubling. So…I’m not calling that router guy again (I’ll note that I’m also not tripping over myself to be in a position where I need to call any router guy, but that’s that’s enough about that).

I’m reminded of Peloton’s service questions for customers. In a pre-COVID world, this was simple asks like, “Can I take off my shoes?” but as time goes on, and expectations change, asking people about their comfort level before barging into their house seems like a bare minimum. We all now have a very strange relationship with our personal space. Service needs to recognize that, and champion communicative consent over making assumptions about people’s comfort levels.

New Technology Frontiers

About a year ago, I wrote about a postulation that, within eighteen months, manufacturing would see a technology evolution equal to about five years. So—twelve months in, is that true? I haven’t studied enough of how COVID has impacted manufacturing yet to say for sure, but let’s assume that most businesses have adapted to survive. So businesses are moving along, what about customers? Well, I also wrote about that about a year ago.

So—there are these two forces—personal and professional—both advancing their technological capacity. Customers are more amenable to digital service offerings like self-service and remote assistance, and businesses are accelerating on their digital transformation journey as well. This is a little bit of a tease, but in the second half of the year, we’re going to look at how those two areas have converged in holistic detail, and furthermore, where we go from here. We’ve certainly developed blind spots in our meteoric launch forward, and I can’t wait for the dust to settle so we can look at service and chart a plan for what comes next.