By Harald Linkels
The ‘Corona crisis’ has led to many new developments and quite some challenges for companies who are fighting to survive.
Some companies deal very well with these challenges and come up with innovations that make the Customer’s life easier. Others, on the other hand, seem less or not at all aware of the need to innovate and shift their strategy when it comes to dealing with their customers. In fact, some behave as ‘Corporate Bullies’ towards their customers.
Several recent experiences with our local companies made me think that the system whereby companies consider themselves indispensable, or think they can continue to ignore customer needs, wishes and grievances are not going to make it in the new reality.
Last week I paid the quarterly bill for online access to a local newspaper. In the rush to pay my bill between al other things on my to-do list and send proof of payment via e-mail – not very 2020 shall we say? – I mistakenly paid 30 instead of the 50 dollars due. In a call with an otherwise friendly Customer Service rep, the error was discovered together. Because it was already Friday afternoon, I indicated to the lady in question that I would proceed to transfer the missing 20 dollars that same afternoon. At the same time, I asked her to still activate my access again, because whatever way you look at it, the amount already paid was at least good for about 2/3 of the amount due and would at least cover one full month access. Although she responded positively on the phone, an email received after 5 PM showed that only after sending proof of additional payment, the subscription would be ‘immediately’ reactivated. Because the newspaper does not work after five -or on weekends for that matter- this automatically meant that I would have no access to either the Saturday or the Monday edition of the paper, in spite of the fact that the total fee had now already been paid. Long live the free online news sites, shall we say?
The Telecom provider
In April of this year, I noticed an additional charge of almost 500 dollars, on top of the normal monthly fee charged by the telecom provider for the three office lines. Truth be told, normally I do not even see these invoices, but because my employees were also working from home at that time, I happened to open the envelope myself. After some digging through old invoice and a call to the provider, the reason for the unexpected additional charge was finally discovered: The provider for the last 15 months had ‘forgotten’ to charge a fixed surcharge for the PBX at the office. The Company found it acceptable to add it this to a next invoice, the new invoice, in the middle of a period when many companies were without any cashflow due to the fall-out created by Covid.
Without any notice to the Customer. Without an apology for any inconvenience. “And if you don’t pay, you’ll be disconnected, sir,” said the Customer Service Agent. My objection that the company acted in a reprehensible way by passing its own mistakes on the customer after more than a year, were ignored. Just as was a letter to the provider’s Director with the request to take at least a critical look at the Company’s processes and the way it had dealt with this specific situation. What I find particularly disturbing in this case is the fact that the provider does not show any ownership for their errors. Furthermore, in these cases it is always total power-play where the customer will always end up loosing. “Oh, you don’t want to pay? Well worry, you will no longer have a working phone line”. Our three telephone lines were indeed cut, exactly as promised. What was the Company’s slogan again? “The Future Calls, We answer?
The insurance company
The first thing local insurance companies did after the outbreak of the Covid crisis was to stop the sale of any Travel Insurance. A round of calls to three different brokers taught me that none of the local insurance companies was willing to offer any travel insurance at this point. Although I fortunately have a yearly business travel insurance, other travelers were less fortunate. The insurers take this attitude, knowing fully well that most countries around the globe now not only require a Travel Insurance Policy, but also proof of Coverage against Corona in order to be allowed entry into the country.
Instead of realizing that offering travel insurance under the current circumstances was nothing less than THE biggest Sales Opportunity of the last 100 years, the insurance companies collectively chose to run from their corporate responsibility.
How different thing can be is shown in an email from Avianca’s Frequent Flier program Lifemiles. “Need travel insurance, including Covid insurance”? was the caption of an email from Avianca which caught my attention a few days back. As it turns out, Avianca, through their new MilesCare App, now offers the option to take out travel insurance for a single flight, for a trip of a few days, or even ongoing travel insurance 365 days a year.
The App in question not only offers real-time enrollment, but also real-time claims and real-time disbursements via a dedicated E-Visa number, which is included with the App. While it remains to be seen whether it all works as promised, it is clear that Avianca and LifeMiles -contrary to our insurers- at least understand what the traveler’s most pressing need is at this moment in time. With Avianca’s and LifeMiles action, the local insurance companies have become obsolete in a single snap, at least when it comes to this type of insurance.
Companies and technologies that no longer respond to customer needs are disappearing. Large, long existing and historically relevant companies, such as a Kodak and Blockbuster Video Rental, have already experienced this.
The current crisis only offers opportunities to those who understand, anticipate, and respond to the needs of customers. Sticking to old technology and old methods is no longer feasible, especially after Corona. Unfortunately, many service providers, such as (local) banks, telephone providers, media companies and insurers, still do not get that message!
If one used to be dependent on a specific provider, this is no longer the case. News can be found online and for free, phone calls can also be made through the internet and insurance can simply be taken out via an App. The best part is that borders will no longer matter. Avianca and LifeMiles don’t even need to to be established in our country for customers to make use of the travel insurance offered.
There will soon be no place in our society for companies that stick to old routines, old technology and old (bureaucratic) systems. They will soon be overtaken by a New Reality.
Precisely because there are (new) providers everywhere, including those abroad who provide good and or revolutionary service, it is more crucial than ever for companies to connect to their local customers in order not to lose them. Unfortunately, that message has not yet reached many local businesses!
Based on the 3 random experiences described above, I am not very optimistic about the chances of survival of many of our local businesses. It is more than time, when it comes to both Service and Attitude, to wake up and smell the coffee.