Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a threat. While some countries seem to have it under control, “control” really only means a small and manageable amount of new cases each day. Others might seem to be on a positive course towards eradication, only to have hotspots quickly erupt.
The consensus is that this strain of coronavirus is with us for the long haul. Since the outbreak began, the world has adapted in such ways as wearing face masks, social distancing, and more. This allows regular activities to continue in a somewhat normal fashion while providing protection.
With the virus threat at different stages around the world, businesses evaluate the return to working in an office. With that comes ensuring a safe workplace for employees. As companies partially or fully transition from work-from-home, new tools and processes are necessary. And while employee safety is critical, so too is ensuring protections for customers.
The pandemic forced companies to embrace or accelerate digital transformation. This allowed many companies to continue to operate and even thrive during this period, despite everyone working remotely. Yet even in a digital world, many industries require meeting customers face-to-face for some types of work and service, such as:
- Students returning to and attending classes on campus
- Clients visiting banks to complete loan paperwork
- Technicians installing equipment at a business location
- Patients visiting a healthcare facility
- Repair persons fixing a customer’s appliance
- Citizens renewing their driver’s license
Such interactions be challenging to deliver safely for both the customers and employees involved, but the good news is that these types of customer journeys can be both safe and even optimized.
The most important thing companies must do as they develop their customer interaction protocols is learn about and follow all locally mandated safety guidelines. Complying with regional government recommendations minimizes the risk to everyone.
The situation in any given area is fluid, and city requirements may be even more strict than those provided regionally. Guidance should be regularly reviewed to maintain ongoing compliance.
Businesses rely on consistency. That’s why standardizing processes is so important. Not to be overly dramatic, but in the case of creating a safe face-to-face customer meeting process, lives might be at stake.
Just as with any other standardized process, employees can adhere to them if they are provided with adequate tools and knowledge. Once the process for any given interaction has been documented, ensure employees are trained and tested to verify they understand. Additionally, consider providing them with digital checklists that verify steps are followed. This provides an audit trail later, if needed.
Documented safe procedures and prepared employees is half the equation. Customers need to understand what precautions the business is taking and how they hold an equally important role in adhering to them.
The pandemic has brought mask use and social distancing into mainstream culture. For face-to-face customer interactions, meetings may such measures as:
- Pen use requirements (e.g. customers bring their own or using pens marked “clean” and placing them in receptacles marked “dirty” after use)
- Pre- and post-meeting surface sanitization
- Physical barriers or additional distancing measures
When customers understand these procedures and comply with them. safety is ensured on both sides of the table.
Tap into digital
For all in-person interactions, the goal should be to minimize time together and contact points. This is where customer self-service and other digital service options are useful.
Provide customers with information about new safety procedures online. As a knowledge base article, they can be easily found by customers as well as sent by employees to customers they will meet with.
When customers require a face-to-face meeting for service or assistance, allow them to schedule online. A scheduling system helps the customer find a time convenient to them; for the business, it can help manage and track the number of customers onsite at any given time.
Reduce time together in an office or in the field by having customers complete any forms ahead of time. Direct them to the information prior to the meeting and provide fillable forms online if possible; otherwise, automate sending PDF forms via email.
A day or less prior to the meeting, check in with the customer. Remind them of the meeting and verify they still intend to visit. Also take the opportunity to check-in on their health and ask if they have any symptoms and are feeling well (following current government health and safety guidelines) that might necessitate rescheduling. Use an automated email or text message (based on the customer’s preferred contact method) to collect these details.
As the flare-ups have proven, COVID-19 remains difficult to contain. Despite all these precautions, in-person customer meetings remain a risk. If exposure occurs, minimizing additional exposure is critical.
One of the keys to that is contact tracing. Maintaining records of who met with whom, where, and when can help control the problem and provide advance warning to potentially impacted customers and employees. It also helps inform public health officials. To do this right, consider using purpose-built tools.
At the beginning of the pandemic, lack of information and rampant growth prompted strong measures like stay-at-home orders. Society has since adapted: the use of masks, social distancing, covering coughs, and regular hand washing all help to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and allow some return to pre-COVID-19 life.
Businesses that require in-person customer interactions can also function safely, with some modifications. With the right planning and tools, safety for customers and employees and health code compliance are possible.