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Coronavirus and customers

19th Feb 2020
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In my last article in December 2019 I wrote about the importance of putting customers first in the planning process. But no matter how customer-centric your plans, if they only work when things are running smoothly then it might be time to revisit priorities.

Coronavirus, or COVID-19 to give it its proper title, is a case in point. It’s been hard to ignore the stories in the news and online about efforts to contain the spread of the virus. And with the UK Chief Medical Officers having raised the risk to the public from low to moderate [1], alongside the Government taking strengthened legal powers to prevent any spread within the UK, the potential impact of the virus is certainly being taken seriously.

Nevertheless, for many within the UK the virus can seem somewhat remote. That’s because, at the time of writing at least, any potential spread within the UK is being held in check. But even if the perceived risk is remote, the impacts can be much closer to home.

Supply chain disruption

Take the supply chain for example. We work on a global balance of supply and demand.  Temporary factory closures in China allied to panic buying and stockpiling of certain products has severely upset that balance. It may take some time for the effects to feed through and indeed even after the threat of pandemic has faded we will still see ripples of delay feeding through the supply chain. This may be obvious to business, less so to customers.

Health and welfare

Company Directors have a legal duty of care not only to their employees but also to customers and the wider public. If in their best judgement this requires taking measures such as restricting access to premises or asking individuals to work from home then they should not hesitate to do so. Here again this could have a knock-on impact for customers who may experience slower turn-around times or reduced service levels.

The customer impact

Whether supply chains are disrupted or restrictive access measures taken, the chances are that this could negatively impact customers. It may be easy to see this as a force majeure event and therefore out of the business’s control but to do so risks harming the customer relationship.  But there are measures which businesses can take which could result in an eventual strengthening of the relationship in the long term. The ABC of customer inclusion looks towards:

  • Anticipation. One of the benefits of ‘big data’ and existing relationships is that you know what your customers are likely to require and when. By anticipating that requirement and looking for alternative sources of supply businesses can help to mitigate any shortages. At the very least businesses can work with customers to identify and source acceptable alternatives if possible.
  • Being honest. If there is a supply chain problem or members of the team are unavailable then be honest and acknowledge this to your customers. This is a case where overpromising definitely doesn’t work, if it ever does. Being aware of the precise situation enables customers to make their own plans and manage their workflow.
  • Communication. Above all, communicate. Maintaining an open dialogue with your customers not only helps to strengthen the relationship but also means that you can work together to help them to deliver their own customer service levels as far as possible.

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