We’re over a month into the restrictions put in place to tackle the coronavirus, and it seems our new normal may be in place for some time yet. While the government is set to reevaluate its lockdown on May 7th, signs so far suggest that any easing up will still be slow and gradual.

But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t already be preparing for life after lockdown. Countries like Spain, Italy and Germany, that were considered to be a couple of weeks ahead of the UK on the curve, are taking tentative steps towards reopening, and sooner or later, the UK will inevitably join them.

Many businesses may have already been caught on the hop once by a sudden need to provide remote working capabilities, and they can’t afford to be caught out again. 

Therefore, it’s vital that you have a clear plan in place for how to cope when restrictions are lifted and demand picks up again. This means understanding how you’ll work, how you’ll respond to changes in demand, and how you’ll continue providing the best experience to customers.

A phased return

One thing that’s still not clear at the moment is what our exit strategy from the restrictions will look like. Firms may be given permission to open sector-by-sector, or perhaps on a  regional basis. But however the lockdown is lifted, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to return to a normal way of operating immediately.

It may be the case some of your staff are more able – or more willing – to return to work than others, and this will affect how you operate. If some offices are operating as normal while others remain shut, how do you keep in touch, for example? Or will allowances be made for people who rely on public transport that may not be fully back to normal?

It’s likely that social distancing recommendations will remain in place, so gathering people into meeting rooms or having them crowd around laptop webcams won’t be an option. You may even have to consider setting a staggered schedule for when people can come into the workplace in order to maintain this distancing.

This means any new tech you put in place to keep communications active during the lockdown can’t be abandoned just yet. Video Conferencing tools, unified communications solutions and cloud-based file-sharing and collaboration will still be in high demand for the foreseeable future, so if you’re still using temporary consumer solutions, you may need to reconsider.

Giving your team the right support

At the same time, you’ll need to make sure your team has access to the tools they need to cope with any new demand. For many businesses, there will have been a significant downturn in activity during the lockdown, which means there could well be a great deal of pent-up demand waiting to be released once restrictions begin to be eased.

This could result in your sales and onboarding teams needing extra support, for example,  especially if they’re still working remotely. This means making sure they have all the tools they need to cope with any rises in demand and the business is able to quickly scale up to handle any increased interest across all their contact channels.

At the same time, you’ll have to think about issues such as ensuring your products and services are priced appropriately, as any sharp changes are unlikely to go down well with customers.

Understanding a different world

Another factor to consider is how your workplace will change in the long run as a result of the crisis. While some people will no doubt be eager to get back to the office, see their colleagues in person again and catch up on all the gossip, others may have found the enforced way of working actually suits them better.

Only around half of employees (47 per cent) expect their businesses to abandon remote working once the current situation is over, according to research by analytics firm Viser, while 68 per cent feel they are either more productive or equally productive from home.

“Companies have had to transform themselves overnight and tackle major cultural and technological obstacles. They deserve real credit for their adaptability under real pressure,” commented Jan Schwarz, co-founder of Viser. “The worst thing that companies can do is ignore what they have learned about their workforce and how they like to operate.”

This applies to customers as well. It may be that people who would usually go to a physical location or call on the phone have turned to alternative ways of getting in touch if these were unavailable – such as live instant messaging, email or even the use of chatbots. If they stick to these practices in the longer term, you’ll need to consider how this affects your contact centre. You can learn more about serving the omnichannel customer here.

We aren’t there yet, but when we do come out of lockdown, firms that have prepared properly, with a clear strategy and support from the latest technology, will be in a much better position to lead the recovery and be successful in whatever the new normal ends up being.

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