Why are so many businesses making Covid trading harder than it should be?

I’m a big fan of technology being an enabler to life’s experiences. It shouldn’t replace it – quite yet. It can fast-track processes, and record things like never before. But it still needs creating and managing.

When Covid-19 took hold and knocked 2020 sideways, technology came into most people’s lives like never before. Sometimes good, sometimes bad and mainly, as the ‘next best’ to experiencing real life – socialising for example.

During the lockdown times, many businesses were closed and I acknowledge the levels of stress and worry this has caused. Some were able to put their time to use and planned for the gradual reopening of businesses. Some got it so, so wrong.

The main ire of this post is a recent experience at a restaurant – one of my few forays into eating out in 2020. The restaurant, who will remain nameless throughout, have made the decision to forgo traditionally printed menus for reasons I understand, and instead much of the experience is delivered through an app, and solely through an app. This meant we were greeted, shown to our table and then shown a QR code to scan with our phones to access the menu. Our next interaction with the staff was when food and drinks were brought to our table. Sounds simple?

Unfortunately not.

Much is said about user experience and user interface in the online world, and this considered neither. The app was poorly designed, jumping from one thing to another. Alcohol in once place, soft drinks in another. A garish colour palate meaning everything screamed at me and to be honest – i’m still unsure if we reached the full depth of the menu or not. Not only was this experience was stressful, but the nuances and benefits of having waiting staff was gone. No recommendations, no-one to question and ask opinion of, no guidance. Also, this order represented the only way to tip the staff. Before we’d been served. Before we’d eaten the food.

Both food and drink arrived within minutes of each other, and although very nice, left other gaping holes. No follow-up from the staff; “how is your meal”. No up-sell or cross-sell. No more drinks – unless we used the app of course. This then led to other problems. I did want another drink, but could only use the app. The app had since locked me out, and I therefore had to use the “forgotten password” feature. I waited. No email. I tried again. No email. I tried to create a new account. I couldn’t as I don’t have multiple emails I can use.

In the end, this was the quickest and most de-personalised dining experience. We dined as a table of four, but for a large amount of my time, I was staring at my phone. And I thought this was the reason we went out to eat – to socialise too.

We dined at 5pm. The ‘reset password’ email arrived in my inbox at 9:50pm.

I contrast this with a retail-led experience where social distancing has affected the business by the implementation of a one way system, face masks and limited customers at once. This I all understand. It’s a new way of life we must accept for now. But the failings here, as with so many business pre-Covid, was human interaction.

Where the restaurant offered friendly chat (when staff were around), this second retailer – a wine merchant – offered grunts, one-word answers and absolutely no help. This isn’t a symptom of Covid-19 restrictions – it’s simply poor customer service. At times like these, the fundamentals of customer-facing etiquette can be the difference – the USP. Instead, I actually thought I get a better level of service at a grocery superstore. Even worse (for physical retail) – why don’t I just order online. It would be no less personal and I will get the same product without moving my backside from the chair in which I sit.

And what a shame that is. Retail is opening, and I’m sat here wishing I hadn’t bothered these past few days.

So, where am I going with all this? Businesses are wading through mud right now. It’s difficult. It’s hard work. So why are so many making life worse for themselves? Be it the user-experience of technology with the failings of bad wi-fi, low battery and absolutely no ‘Plan B’, or the absolute misery of uninterested and socially-poor customer-facing employees which are doing far more damage than they are good – none of it is helping you. At. All.

Consider what your business is, and why people would want to use it. I don’t want to go to a restaurant to struggle with phone settings. I don’t want to go to a specialist retailer to second-guess my purchase as I would in a Supermarket aisle.

Customer service – in all it’s guises, is what separates you from your online or ‘at home’ competition. Don’t make Covid-19 an easy excuse for your lack of thought.

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