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Customer service amid COVID – 19

[By Gregory Kaputula]

On 31st December 2019, a pneumonia of unknown cause was detected in Wuhan, China and was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) country office in China on the same date.

The outbreak was declared a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020. On February 11, 2020, WHO announced a name for the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way business is conducted world over; it is no longer business as usual. It is now business unusual! It’s a desperate situation which calls for desperate measures.

Indeed, change is the only constant and inevitable thing, especially under the current circumstances. As Socrates rightly put it, the secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. The COVID-19 pandemic is telling us that only business houses that are ready to change will survive and be afloat.

Customer service is defined by how a company or organisation treats both external and internal customers. One commonality among all companies or organisations that provide good service is the development of a system and attitude that promotes a customer friendly service. The cliché, “the customer is always right” is derived from this customer-friendly narrative.

As the COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging, business customers are still expecting to be treated as kings and bosses. As Mahatma Ghandi opined, a customer is the most important visitor on any business premises. A customer is not dependent on the business but the business is dependent on the customer. A customer is not an interruption to a business but the purpose of it. The business does not do a customer a favour by serving him. The customer does a favour to the business by giving that business an opportunity to engage in business.

Samuel Moore Walton, the founder of retailers Walmart once said that there is only one boss, and whether a person shines shoes for a living or heads the biggest corporation in the world, the boss remains the same. It is the customer! The customer is the person who pays everyone’s salary and who decides whether a business is going to succeed or fail. In fact, the customer can fire everybody in the company from the chairman (CEO) on down, and he can do it simply by spending his money somewhere else.

It is exciting to note that amidst COVID-19, most Zambian businesses have come up with workable strategies to continue serving their customers. This includes government institutions and departments. The University of Zambia (UNZA) has continued offering lessons to their students via an online platform called Moodle. UNZA has partnered with MTN Zambia in the provision of zero – rated access to university e-learning platforms. The Zambian Open University and the University of Lusaka have also continued offering services to their customers via e-learning platforms and video telephony and online chat services (Zoom).

On 8th April 2020, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the minister of general education launched an Educational Television Channel in partnership with the national broadcaster, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, with a view to continue offering teaching services to school going children during the COVID-19 period. Subsequently, the Ministry of General Education launched the national e-learning portal in partnership with Zamtel and the Examinations Council of Zambia.

Mobile telecom companies have been on top of things encouraging and urging their customers to make use of online payment platforms and services available on the networks. The same can be said about the banking sector that has been urging customers to go digital and making use of automated teller machines as a way of avoiding contacts in the banking halls and handling cash. Some banks have also waived fees to encourage the use of digital platforms and help realise the practice of social distancing.

On 16th April 2020, the Road Transport and Safety Agency unveiled an online payment portal to enhance efficiency and reduce queues associated with services offered by the agency. This must have been a long-hatched plan but has been launched at a time when social distancing is the in thing.

Retail chain stores have ensured business continuity by sanitising their trolleys, baskets, and walk-in customers, screening of customers for temperature and ensuring that cashiers on the tills have personal protective equipment (PPE kit). Retail outlets are also encouraging their customers to use swiping technology instead of cash transactions.

With uncertainties surrounding the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, business houses ought to keep innovating and investing in technology. Technology is at the forefront of fighting COVID19 as well as serving customer needs. It is an undisputable fact that citizens world over have relied on technology more than anything else. People have utilised their gadgets, phones, and the media more during this COVID-19 period than any other time. The internet data that has been consumed during this period is unprecedented.

Let me end by stating that a satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all. Cash is king but the customer is god. Invest in your customers, especially during this desperate period. It is no longer business as usual. You have to go an extra mile to keep your customers coming back to your business. Empathise with your customers, show them that you appreciate their wants and circumstances, no matter the period.

Stay safe, sanitise and stay home.

The author is a law student and social commentator. Send your comment to: gregory. kaputula@gmail.com

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