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Is Covid being used as an excuse for poor service?

Diane Hall


Covid 19 infection

It’s fair to say that, despite the rise of infections due to the Delta variant, the virus is not causing the NHS to be overwhelmed—far from it. Hospitalisations are significantly less than they were, as are Covid-related deaths. Many restrictions have been lifted and schoolchildren have been in school for many months; if we were to see a third wave, surely it would have happened by now. Either the vaccines are working as they said they would, and/or the virus has learned—as all successful viruses do—that killing their host kills it too, hence their mutation to something more infectious but less life-threatening.

Whilst the hospitality sector has had to adhere to specific social distancing/Covid guidelines, such as table service and pre-booking in most cases, retailers don’t have quite the same pressure on them. To reopen, they were required, where possible, to create one-way systems and provide sanitising stations. In the midst of restrictions, they also weren’t allowed to open their changing rooms or allow their customers to use any toilets provided.

Now that shops owners and the government are happy to have us back in stores once again, why are these facilities like these still out of order?

Toilet door open for toilet cubicle.

Toilet door open for toilet cubicle.

How many Covid cases have stemmed from a customer closing a toilet door straight after someone else? How many people have been infected from touching a changing room curtain in the exact same place someone else did when they tried something on? I would put my money on this being very, very low…negligible, even. People are without jobs, so we’re told, so why not employ someone to sanitise the loo door handle once used or wipe the changing room curtain where touched? It’s not beyond the realms of possibility. If physical retailers want to provide something that online outlets can’t, i.e. the shopping ‘experience’ and the ability to try stuff on, they need to pull their finger out. Shoppers are finding in-store visits transactional, impersonal and cold; this is exactly what could be said about online shopping, only the latter also offers greater convenience and, in many cases, better prices due to lower margins. No amount of ‘poor us, shafted by e-commerce’ from those on the high street will change the fact that they may end up being instrumental in its demise.

It’s not just the providing of facilities, just customer service in general seems to have nosedived. People around me have various tales about how this couldn’t happen ‘because of Covid’ or that couldn’t be actioned ‘because of social distancing’, when in all cases, the excuse clearly had nothing to do with the virus whatsoever. Even telephoning a company is a trial nowadays, but why? I’ve worked in a remote call centre environment during the pandemic, Covid need not have any impact on a company’s delivery of what they offer.

Man getting stressed at customer service

Man getting stressed at customer service

Too many businesses are using Covid as an excuse for a sub-par service to what they delivered before the pandemic. Even if the virus has no relation to what they’re refusing/holding back/replacing, it’s being used as the get-out clause to account for reduced staff (due to cost, not infection) and other ways to save money. Though there’s talk about delaying the lifting of all restrictions by a few weeks, it won’t be long before we’re officially out of crisis mode…what will these companies do then? Just hope we’ll forget they ever offered loos, changing rooms or great service?

HMRC is one example of a service that’s hugely lacking. Two-hour queues on the phone just to be told that ‘because of Covid’, the person can’t help, you need to phone back. That’s nothing to do with Covid, that’s a lack of training across the organisation. Places gathering people’s email addresses and phone numbers under the guise of ‘Track and Trace’ and using these for marketing purposes—which is against GDPR rules. Swimming pools are eager to emphasise Covid safety, and again, changing rooms tend to be off limits, yet they’re one of the most hygienic environments around. When swimming, you’re immersed in chlorine, for God’s sake!

And we’re told not to use cash, which has a huge impact on the elderly and vulnerable people. Once we’re in a store, however, how many ‘Chip and PIN’ machines have their keypad wiped after each use? Zilch. Yet handling cash would pass on the virus.

I’m obviously not a virologist, and there are many genuine cases where Covid is preventing companies from being able to deliver the service to the standards they would like. However, there are also many examples like the ones mentioned above where companies are picking and choosing the restrictions they enforce, to underpin what I consider to be a sub-par service and ways to save money.

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