Stop Using COVID-19 as an Excuse for Bad Customer Experiences

In virtually every industry, low-quality customer service is becoming the norm thanks to the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card: the coronavirus pandemic.

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has forced brands to change their approach to CX, but quality experiences are becoming an afterthought, which will eventually lead to reputational damage for many organizations.

“Sorry for the inconvenience, but the pandemic…”

“It’s just not possible because of the pandemic.”

I’m sure we’ve all heard phrases like these from customer service engagements in the last few months. I know I certainly have.

On a recent personal trip, my family and I were delayed for 10 hours when our airline carrier had a technical issue with the plane. I called customer service to explain and, while very apologetic, they did nothing to remedy the situation.

“This is just the way it is during the pandemic”

Now, as a customer, your immediate thought is probably “okay, that’s understandable”, but how long are brands going to use it as an excuse?

Bear this in mind, if an airplane broke down before the pandemic, the carrier would often waive bag fees or provide another form of compensation to cover the inconvenience. I get it, things are tight for the travel industry, but they’ll be even tighter if they can’t find a way to retain customers when the inevitable inconveniences happen.

It’s not all bad though.

During the same trip, we decided to stop at a Pinkberry in the airport food court, joining a pretty large queue. While we waited, the staff greeted us with a smile, brought out free samples and menus, and acknowledged every single one of us, making the line more enjoyable and the wait much shorter.

I asked the Pinkberry staff why they took such a welcoming approach to service and they told me they were just happy to be working and wanted to keep people coming back. It was working too: people stayed in the queue and generated plenty of revenue for the company that day.

After my trip, I can’t wait to visit Pinkberry again, but I have serious doubts about flying with this particular carrier next time.

The point of sharing this experience is to show that some brands are seizing the opportunity to distinguish themselves from the rest, rather than resting on their laurels and crying “pandemic” whenever something goes awry.

Plus, I’m willing to bet that if huge airline carriers are falling back on excuses, there’s a high chance that traditional BPOs are doing the same.

Following the large-scale transition to work-at-home, many BPOs are most likely asking clients to be patient as they continue to adapt, explaining the “reality” that they cannot provide the same level of service as they did in brick and mortar.

There’s a valley of difference between a good customer experience in the face of adversity and a bad one stemming from inexperience or laziness. Of course, BPOs must adjust their operating models to fit the challenging times, but those changes shouldn’t result in lower service quality—it’s entirely possible to maintain high-quality CX during this pandemic, and that’s me speaking from experience.

At Activus Connect, we’ve been delivering phenomenal service and growing at a positive rate since before the pandemic. Our clients and Ambassadors agree that it’s been a breath of fresh air working with us, especially while other companies are still struggling to enhance experiences for customers and employees more than half a year later.

Even so, we know that when coronavirus is behind us, customer service may never be the same again.

As long as the pandemic rages, customers are probably going to continue to accept excuses, but they will not forget those bad experiences. While some customers may be somewhat forgiving towards their favorite brands, many will start to consider other options if poor service continues in the long term. On the other hand, nimble brands who understand how to adapt their model to provide optimal customer experience will be much better positioned once the pandemic clears.

Companies need to innovate quickly to enhance experiences in these trying times, not just expect customers to forgive them indefinitely. The notion that the pandemic has diminished quality is only accurate if you accept it as reality. Certainly, some providers are nailing it and can support brands that are looking to move into a favorable position moving forward. After all, all of this will be over someday and the only brands left standing will be the ones who rose above the excuses.