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Service excellence in the print industry – How COVID-19 has changed the expectations of customers

For the foreseeable future, business around the world will have to continue navigating an unpredictable environment due to COVID-19. As we have all come to adapt to new ways of working, it is also important to understand how the pandemic has changed customer service and how companies should engage with the “new normal customer”.

One thing that will never change though is that the “customer is king”. A highly personalised customer service experience, quick responses and resolutions to inquiries, an empathetic human touch, and a positive emotional connection with a brand or service provider — around the clock, 365 days a year – is what the customer of today wants.

Understanding how important customer service is to their business is Novus Holdings. The Group has always been focused on personalised service and building long-standing relationships with its customers.

Peter Metcalfe, Group Executive: Sales and Marketing says, ‘Over the years, Novus Holdings has proven to be an agile business that can deal with constant change in the industry and economic landscape. It has been the same during the pandemic – we remain true to our purpose in putting our customers first.’

Why the focus on CX

CX or customer experience is customers’ perception of how a company treats them – this affects their behaviours, and build memories and feelings which drive their loyalty. Simply put, customers no longer base their loyalty on price or product, they stay loyal with companies due to the experience they receive.

International CRM software solutions provider Salesforce’s recent State of the Connected Customer Report revealed that in South Africa, 89% of consumers say experience is as important as products and services, and 61% say they prefer those products and services to be personalised. It was also found that 78% of respondents in South Africa say businesses must improve their trustworthiness. Additionally, 70% and 61% say businesses must improve their environmental and social practices, respectively.

Impact of the pandemic on customer service

Companies have been forced to initiate significant changes to their CX strategies and approaches. A key factor has been to take stock of the profound changes that have occurred in customers’ daily lives and for companies to figure out how those changes realistically impact their business.

Some of the key focus areas that have emerged in customer service include:

  • Personalisation – Isolation has been one of the toughest side effects of the pandemic for humans across the world. It has however given us an increased appreciation for connection, resulting in a greater demand for personal customer service and human interaction.‌ Personalisation also helps to build a solid foundation for a trusting relationship.

The unique proposition of Novus Print, the print division of Novus Holdings, to its market and customers remains “Where Printing is Personal”, which has been held since the printing division’s formation in 1905 (then known as Paarl Media). ‘This statement speaks to our commitment to continuously service our customers seamlessly and transparently and is underpinned by the quality of our people and efficiency of our operations. Providing unmatched personalised client service has always been crucial in our business,’ says Andre Smit, Group Executive: Novus Print.

  • Relationships – This remains as the core element of customer service; building them, however, has become more important.
  • Transparency and clear communication – During these trying times, transparent and consistent messages that provide reassurance are critical. All communication channels must be open and well-manned as customers want to feel and be heard. Communication around safety compliance is also essential – company representatives must be able to explain and defend all safety measures that are in place, as well as enact them as this will give reassurance to customers as they might be nervous visiting the company’s facilities.
  • Stability – It is important for companies to be a source of stability during these challenging and uncertain times. Customers are now requiring extra reassurance and support when they are making a purchase or consuming services. Companies need to respond with easily accessible information, clear guidance and extra assistance to help people continue to navigate the pandemic safely and effectively. 
  • Cost-effectiveness – Customers are now forced to reassess their buying decisions more than ever given the tough economic climate. With this pressure, there is less tolerance for poor brand experiences and people want to be certain that they get the best “bang for their buck”.
  • Empathy – Due to the lack of face-to-face contact caused by lockdown restrictions, many complex and sensitive issues arise that are unique to this crisis period that we are currently living in. This requires for companies to be more understanding. Focusing more on personal attention and providing empathy in one’s service offering will succeed in creating strong, long-lasting bonds with customers.

Metcalfe adds; ‘Everyone is struggling right now, and in order to address your customers’ fears and worries, you need to truly listen to them. To remain successful as a business, you need to do whatever it takes to make your customers feel that they are being taken care of as best as possible.’

  • Authenticity and effortlessness – The main goal is to make customers’ lives easier, not harder. While we have had to become accustomed to navigating many restrictions that cause frustrations, it remains imperative to offer a timely, caring and authentic service that still includes setting realistic expectations.

Now more than ever, companies need to stay connected to their customers to truly understand their requirements and deliver a consistent and satisfying experience with every interaction, taking each detail very seriously. ‘At the end of the day, excellent customer service is not a one-person show. It’s a company-wide effort that requires everyone to be on board and committed to best practices and delivering excellent results,’ says Metcalfe.

He concludes, ‘While much has changed in commerce due to the pandemic, what will always remain the number one priority is your customers and the fact that a successful business will consistently stay in tune with what their customers really value.’

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