Few businesses have been spared from disruptions and changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies have  had to rethink how they operate. Adjustments as to how to do business have become the norm and how that looks, varies from business to business. However what hasn’t changed, is the importance of customer service – in fact, it’s now more important than ever before.

Companies have been forced to initiate significant changes to their customer experience. With the risks of exposure still high more than a year later, businesses all over have started to recalibrate for the changed world or our ‘new normal’. A key factor has been to take stock of the profound changes that have occurred in customers’ daily lives and for companies to figure out how those changes realistically impact their business for the foreseeable future.

It is important to remember however, that a continuously changing environment means constant opportunities to learn and adapt. Eventually, as the dust of a new, post-COVID reality settles, businesses that have experimented will have many more tools at their disposal.

SOME OF THE KEY FOCUS AREAS THAT HAVE EMERGED IN CUSTOMER SERVICE INCLUDE:

Demand for personal connection

Isolation has been one of the toughest side effects of the pandemic for many people across the world. It has however given us an increased appreciation or connection which has resulted in a greater demand for personal customer service and human interaction.

Focus on building relationships

The core element of customer service is relationships. This hasn’t changed due to COVID-19; building them, however, has become more important.

Clear and honest communication

Clear, consistent messages that provide reassurance are critical during these trying times. Customers appreciate companies who are honest, and consistent contact helps to address concerns before they arise. It is also essential to emphasise safety compliance – employees must be able to explain and defend all safety measures that are in place, as well as enact them – this will give reassurance to customers as they might be nervous visiting the company’s facilities. Communication channels must be open and well manned as customers want to feel and be heard.

Be a source of stability

People have been overwhelmed by the COVID-19 crisis as it has shaken the very foundation of life as we knew it. With all the uncertainty, customers crave extra reassurance and support when they are making a purchase or consuming goods and/ services. It is therefore important to respond with easily accessible information, clear guidance and extra assistance to help people navigate the pandemic safely and effectively.

Be understanding and empathetic

The lack of face-to-face contact caused by lockdown restrictions around the world has transformed the way we communicate. Many complex and sensitive issues arise that are unique to this crisis and require personal attention and delicate handling. Companies that embed kindness and empathy in their service offerings will succeed in creating strong, long-lasting bonds with their customers.

Keep cost-effectiveness in mind

The pandemic has exacerbated tough economic conditions with people under severe financial pressure. Customers are not making buying decisions lightly and want to be certain that they get the best value for their money. Many people have become much more selective given their tight budgets.

Provide an authentic and effortless service

The key is to make customers’ lives easier, not harder. With many restrictions in place that cause frustrations, it is vital to offer a timely, caring and authentic service that includes setting realistic expectations. For example, be honest about possible delivery delays as it is better to prepare a customer for a longer wait and then overachieve with a faster response than to promise a time frame that you are unable to adhere to.

THE NOVUS HOLDINGS WAY

Novus Holdings has always been focused on personalised service and building long-standing relationships with its customers. Peter Metcalfe, Group Executive: Sales and Marketing adds, “Over the years, Novus Holdings has proven to be an agile business that can deal with constant change in the industry and economic landscape. It has been the same during the pandemic – we remain true to our purpose in putting our customers first. Staying connected to truly understand their requirements and delivering a consistent and satisfying experience with every interaction, taking each detail very seriously.”

Andre Smit, Head of the Group’s founding division being Novus Print, and formerly Paarl Media, believes that the divisions unique proposition to the market and customers remains “Where Printing is Personal”, which has been held since the printing divisions formation in 1905. “This statement speaks to our commitment to continuously service our customers seamlessly and transparently and is underpinned by the quality of our people and efficiency of our operations. Our goal is to offer our customers premium quality products and of course, unmatched personalised service,” says Andre Smit, Group Executive: Novus Print.

During these hard times, showing understanding and empathy is crucial. “Everyone is struggling right now, and in order to address your customers’ fears and worries, you need to truly listen to them. To remain successful as a business, you need to do whatever it takes to make your customers feel safe, secure, and served as best as possible,” continues Peter.

Michelene Locke, Sales Director at ITB Flexible Packaging solutions, a Novus Holdings company, says “ITB Plastics’ customer satisfaction rating shows the emphasis that the business places on customer relationships.

Since 2014, ITB Plastics’ overall customer satisfaction for sales service, product quality and response time to queries has been over 90%, with the company rated at 91,76% by its customers in 2020.