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Customer Expectations Post COVID — 2021 and Beyond

By BETH AARONS, Global Director, Dorchester Academy Collection

LONDON, England, May 2021 (As published in The FORUM, Spring Summer 2021)

To say that early 2020 changed the future is probably not a surprise, and 2021 continues the rollercoaster for many businesses as they seek to navigate their service style to meet both the legislated regulations as well as the needs of their customers.

Many customers will be looking to re-engage with businesses that have supported their employees throughout. A strong company culture of caring will be expected and those that have not shown this are likely to recover more slowly. Though equality, diversity and inclusion may not necessarily be articulated as such, customers will consider this to be important in any ethical operator. Similarly, organizations they are loyal to will commonly have sustainability as part of their overall strategy, and I don’t just mean "green washing".

There are some things that are as certain now as they were before. People love socializing and interacting with other people. They’ve missed this enormously and are desperate to enjoy those elements of their pre-COVID lives once more. This means that, if you have food and beverage outlets, you’ll be busy. Phone lines are being brought down due to call volumes, so a robust and well-managed booking process is essential to capture the bookings and to avoid lost or turned away business. Of course, large numbers of calls themselves may be unavoidable, so a simple system that allows for a short-notice cancelled booking to be replaced by an awaiting provisional one, is vital.

Research tells us that people will want unfussy, comfort food, plenty of it, served up informally but well, with discrete but attentive service. They want to meet with family and friends in a warm, relaxed and atmospheric environment that allows them to talk easily. They don’t want to be rushed, they want time to reminisce and be together again. Putting your customer at the center of your service delivery processes will help you make the right decisions to get the balance between managing the regulations in your area and ensuring that your customer has a great experience. You want this to be truly memorable, after all this could be their first meal out in a year, so making it special for the customers as well as for the employees will be much more rewarding than trying to focus on volume.

It’s well known that some people have been fortunate enough to save money during this time so customers may spend more and in particular their service expectations are as high now if not higher than before because they have been anticipating the opportunity to spend once again. Average checks in excess of $100 per person more than before are not uncommon in areas where it’s being done right.

Of course, the most important ingredient in any service business is ensuring that the staff are really well trained. Where many have been on furlough or reduced hours for the last 12 months, their technical skills as well as their customer service skills will no doubt be rusty. Not only that, but they may be feeling anxious about being around people again having been isolated from their usual interactions for such a long time. As leaders, patience, understanding and lots of training in both technical and service skills is a must to help them regain confidence in dealing with customers and their changed expectations. They will need to know how to be attentive while not being too close, they will need to be prepared to talk longer and make social chit chat, while also knowing how to politely extract themselves to look after others. Your customers are likely to be interested in how your employees and their families have been over the last year. After all, they are part of their club. Being able to respond comfortably will be important to allow for an easy conversation. In many instances, your employees will need to be able to do this wearing a face covering, therefore clarity in speech will be critical.

While many customers will be very understanding, there will be an equal number of demanding ones. Employees will need to be empowered to provide solutions immediately. Customers will be impatient and will not want to wait for layers of management to be consulted.

Within Dorchester Collection Academy, our customer service and leadership training programs engage employees to consider how they can apply these principles in their own businesses. We readily share our customer insights. Customers will want to know that they matter, their business matters and people looking after them really care. Low touch, high service, and kindness over process will provide a winning formula.

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