Returning to the way things were prior to the pandemic is no longer a realistic expectation.
As the world goes through this tumultuous period and lives, businesses and services are changed beyond recognition, I note with interest that a new set of words are entering our vocabulary, "stay safe", "unprecedented", "new normal", these are bandied around as many people and companies try to make sense of what is taking place. With these words a whole host of emotions are evoked, differing by individual. I thought I would take these words and try to explore what these evoke in our day to day lives.
- Stay safe – for some this could mean stay cooped up at home and don’t move, literally, I have seen people even too afraid to go into their back gardens or for key workers, stay safe means not catching the virus, whilst fighting to save lives.
- Unprecedented – The World Bank states that the "pandemic has profoundly impacted human capital, including lives, learning, basic well being and future productivity". We are seeing people literally losing their livelihoods all around us and societal stable mates, schools, shutting down.
- New normal – waiting in queues to purchase essentials, finding ways to be creative within the home and honing diy, gardening and for those with young children, teaching skills. New heroes who were once ignored and in some cases, side-lined, are emerging, the NHS, care workers and a recently turned 100-year-old army veteran, Captain Tom Moore.
With these terms new emotions are elicited, fear, depression, helplessness. Research by the University of Sheffield and Ulster University observed a spike in depression and anxiety after the announcement of the lock-down.
When applied to companies and specifically to service delivery, we have observed a wide range of interpretations of stay safe, companies quickly moving their staff to work at home models, or where this is not possible, putting in place social distancing measures within their work places to protect their staff.
Businesses struggling to cope with the unprecedented situation, they and the rest of the world, find themselves in, respond by triggering survival strategies which include furloughing staff and reacting to the new normal by putting in place minimal viable service offerings (MVS), such as restricting or even shutting down services due to the lack of ability to deliver, using a work at home model. These strategies in themselves come with significant impacts to staff, suppliers, the end customer and the wider economy.
With these terms and new narrative comes a trench mentality, knuckling down, cutting down, cutting back, restricting. The fight for survival is causing many CX leaders to join the rest of their business to put in place urgent response strategies focused on safeguarding both their people and their services. The reality is that the environment is constantly changing, often on a daily basis, the UK press are reporting that the peak of coronavirus infections in the UK has been reached, raising pressure on ministers to reveal plans for lifting the lock-down as the country enters its fifth week of isolation.
With the looming lifting of the lock-down, comes new challenges, revolving around returning to work in an office environment, such as keeping the environment safe and reducing staff anxiety around COVID-19. A strategy for this very real eventuality, is important to support the safe transition into the new normal. Returning to the way things were prior to the pandemic is no longer a realistic expectation. CX leaders are being faced with the next challenge, to understand what this new normal is going to look like and how it is going to affect working practices, staff and the customer.
I am a firm believer in the value of technology in helping to shape the new normal, but it is important to remember that although technology is a great enabler, when used in the right way, you cannot underestimate the psychological impacts on staff and this needs to be considered as part of any return to work in the office strategy.
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