There are two kinds of economically productive citizens at the moment – those who work from home and those who don’t work from home. Of the latter, there are two kinds as well— those who have a choice and those who do not have a choice. Quite alarmingly, the second category still consists of non-essential workers, but my submission is that customers and not employers must be blamed for this situation.
In recent years, boom markets have thrived on the culture of customer centricity – rightfully in the case of designing products and services but often excessively when it comes to obsessive pampering and servicing. A clear manifestation lies in advertising agencies where we often hear anecdotes of premature demographic attrition, usually through fatigue and now courtesy the virus. Similar versions do exist in corporations of all kinds and particularly in the burgeoning service economy, be it restaurants, malls, taxi or delivery aggregators. Quite interestingly, new-age policies often stem from perceptions of customer expectations, which is exactly the point of this discussion.
My vast years in advertising confirm that a significant amount of wasted weekends actually emanate from unreasonable clients who seek their sadistic joys. The same must be true for many industries where clients dictate sub-human working terms and the hapless management accedes for business imperatives. For any form of retail, a weekly off day must be mandatory as quite frankly, the world will not collapse if Zara downed shutters on Tuesday. If fresh produce shopping turned online, from favourite stores only, then business can be sustained and lives saved. A whole host of service support work can happen online through vernacular video while physical interactions are increasingly becoming redundant in banks and mobile service operators.
I am quite naturally making this point in the context of the virus as we know for sure that limiting physical exposure can save valuable lives, which over time may lead to a rejigging of old-world work cultures. But the onus for this change lies with the customer – the obstinate client, the no-nonsense shopper, the 30-mintes-or-free gourmand, the nagging patient or the ill-tempered hotel guest. For far too persistently in recent memory, she has been spoiled by the overzealous business owners, looking for yet another reason to drive brand preference. A key attribute of this indulgence being a penchant for physical presence — seemingly and perhaps correctly, that does add more to the proposition than a bot or a voice call. So what I am suggesting most sincerely is that ‘Customer is King’ to be replaced by #ProtectTheProvider, a radical shift in thinking but surely for the better.
Companies across sectors must unite under the #ProtectTheProvider umbrella, urging their customers and clients to be more human and sensitive, but certainly not at the cost of productivity. So this communication will educate the receivers about how the same quality of service they are used to will continue but with vastly diminished physical presence, in the interests of mutual safety. Also, how the current scenario is unprecedented and the interest of employers must be nurtured at all costs, else their future is uncertain. As a happy outcome, customer delight expectations will be smoothly optimised, just like airline services are being rationalised to surreptitiously guide the industry to sustainable levels of profitability. This industry is a valuable test case as due to over-servicing across parameters, many operators were performing at perilous levels of functionality.
It’s time for each of us to embrace the #ProtectTheProvider movement for the happy continuation of societal equilibrium. For this, businesses have to calibrate their operating models to ensure customer satisfaction with appropriate profits and also muster the courage to break the bad news to their clientele. That the employee is the new queen and the throne of the customer has been duly usurped.
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