Fail to prepare, prepare to fail: why businesses must plan now for post-lockdown demand
As the pandemic continues to be a catalyst for change, organisations are under more pressure than ever to quickly respond to new demands, says outsourced communications provide Moneypenny
It’s one year since the first UK national lockdown was announced and none of us could have predicted this milestone would coincide with the nation nearing the end of the third round of ‘stay at home’ restrictions. The last 12 months have been unbelievably turbulent for businesses and facilities managers have been faced with totally new set of challenges – from keeping staff and visitors safe, to introducing new technologies and upholding customer experience.
With rules and restrictions changing so often and such disparity among sectors, it has been difficult to anticipate and meet consumer demand. However, with a roadmap out of lockdown in place and the vaccination roll-out picking up pace, consumer confidence is increasing and it signals a busy few months on the horizon. Facilities managers must be able to meet this demand head-on and ensure that any lockdown quick fixes that were put in place regarding customer care or communication, have now been resolved.
Recent data from leading outsourced communications provider, Moneypenny, confirms that organisations must prepare for a dramatic and sustained influx of new enquiries over the coming months. Here we explore the figures and shares advice for ensuring demand is met.
The shift in demand
During the first lockdown (26 March – 1 June 2020), telephone enquiries to UK businesses fell by 49 per cent compared with pre lockdown figures – however, in the weeks that followed, there was sustained demand that continued to grow each week.
When the UK was first put in lockdown, we were under the impression that it would be for three weeks to ‘flatten the curve’. The uncertainty was frightening and the weeks turned into months, the severity of the situation became clear. While many businesses remained closed or operated differently under restrictions, demand was building.
In the week after restrictions were lifted, enquiries were up an impressive 41 per cent on the average weekly call volumes throughout lockdown and these levels continued to rise by another 24 per cent over the next seven weeks. By the end of July, volume was just 7 per cent lower than 2019’s seasonal average, despite the fact that non-essential retail didn’t reopen until 15 June.
Many businesses simply weren’t prepared for such a spike in communications. With staff still on furlough, dispersed teams and clunky, often unreliable temporary solutions in place, businesses were at a very real risk of under-par performance, poor service and damaged reputation.
Interestingly, during the second lockdown (4 November to 2 December), there was just a 5 per cent drop in telephone demand compared to pre-lockdown and an uplift of 2 per cent the week after, which suggests it was ‘business as usual’ by this stage, as companies and consumers adapted to the new normal.
‘The loyalty and patience they displayed during the first two lockdowns is evaporating…’
The data following lockdown two suggests that volumes will be more consistent as this lockdown ends – but businesses mustn’t allow this to lure them into a false sense of security. Consumers expect things to be ‘business as usual’ by now. The loyalty and patience they displayed during the first two lockdowns is evaporating. They want availability.
There’s a real risk that if businesses can’t meet customer demand quickly once this lockdown is lifted and people don’t feel they’re getting the appropriate level of service, this impatience will lead them to choose the first available service provider. There’s no room for error and it’s vital that FMs are using their time now to look critically at their organisations – from a customer’s point of view – to ensure that their experience is up to standard.
Moving to a hybrid model
The pandemic has led to fundamental changes in operational style and a growing number of businesses have made the decision to adopt a long-term hybrid working model. Many organisations won’t have all staff back in the office at all times, which means they’ll continue to have disparate teams – even after restrictions are lifted.
Therefore, the challenges FMs may have believed were temporary during lockdown are actually permanent shifts in working practices. It’s essential that they provide the framework and systems to ensure that people are always reachable – wherever they are – whether it’s at home or in the office.
Earlier this year, Moneypenny surveyed 1,000 consumers and discovered that 85 per cent of people think UK businesses are using Covid as an excuse for long call and live chat wait times – rather than putting adequate customer service support in place. The survey indicated the average length of time customers have to wait for calls and live chat requests to be answered – 18 per cent said they have to wait 1-5 minutes and 23 per cent have to wait 5-10 minutes, while 6 per cent have to wait 45-60 minutes and 19 per cent typically give up waiting altogether.
While 55 per cent of people believe some phone delays are acceptable in light of the pandemic, it left the majority feeling unimpressed. Almost a year into the pandemic, businesses should have adapted and found new ways to deliver excellent customer care.
Any that are still missing calls, or with long call and live chat waiting times, are essentially telling customers that they’re not important, which will lead to lost revenue and tarnished reputations. They must take remedial action quickly. Meeting demand and ensuring a positive, timely, professional and efficient first impression is imperative to business recovery once restrictions are lifted.