Tue | Oct 20, 2020

Businesses pivoting to ride out COVID wave - Small operators want curfew at peak sales hours revised

Published:Thursday | September 17, 2020 | 12:17 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Jamaica Employers Federation President David Wan.
Jamaica Employers Federation President David Wan.
Hugh Johnson, president of the Small Business Association of Jamaica.
Hugh Johnson, president of the Small Business Association of Jamaica.
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Quality customer service is proving vital to business continuity and pivoting for large and small entities hoping to stay afloat and survive in an environment where their original business models are not fully sustainable. While some have been able to transition seamlessly, others are still struggling under the added pressure of COVID-19 containment measures, including the nightly curfews.

Francine Lewis, president of the Jamaica Customer Service Association, told The Gleaner that the migration to remote services for several business has not negatively affected customer-service quality as many have managed to open avenues such as delivery to serve clients.

She, however, admitted that the elderly could be disenfranchised to some extent by the digital transition but noted that most companies have implemented measures to better serve them on location.

Though no studies have been conducted, Jamaica Employers’ Federation (JEF) President David Wan said that anecdotally, the customer-service experience has been mixed.

He admitted that in some instances, businesses have moved to curbside service to positive reviews, but in service institutions – primarily banks and insurance companies – the wait time has lengthened.

“I would like for us to find a way to accommodate all those people in the lines [waiting to enter] at the bank so they don’t have to stand in the heat or the rain,” he said.

Wan said that financial institutions may need to conduct productivity analyses to determine if some tellers should be rotated, are better suited to another task, or if training needs to be conducted to improve efficiency.

He also pointed out that curfews have diminished the relatively high level of customer service often experienced in grocery establishments as they now have a shortened time to serve the same number of people.

Meanwhile, Hugh Johnson, president of the Jamaica Small Business Association, said that while many businesses were able to pivot with a sense of care and understanding, others were able to convert to remote operations.

“COVID-19 has improved customer service because times are tough, and they have to treat their customers with love, and it has caused them to be more considerate about the concerns of the customer because they can’t afford for one customer to escape them as their revenue is nowhere close to their expenditure,” said Johnson.

He said that small businesses have faced the brunt of the pandemic’s impact, threatening their viability and profitability, as most of these enterprises would normally see peak sales in the 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. after-work hours now affected by the nightly 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.

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As such, he is urging the Government to reconsider curfew hours.

“With proper protocols, operations can continue as usual up until 11 or 12 o’ clock, if allowed,” he reasoned. “It’s trying times, and you would want to spread the contact time between customer and the operators. The longer you spread that time over, the better you’ll be able to adhere to the social-distancing rules ... .

“We must learn to operate with COVID because it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon,” Johnson added.

He said that the business sector is resilient and is coping with the various closures to facilitate sanitisation when a positive COVID-19 case is identified.

He found support in Manpower & Maintenance Services CEO Audrey Hinchcliffe, who told The Gleaner that employees and customers alike often return to normalcy without fear.

“We are not having any reports of any clients having any untoward effect of people coming back to do business or people coming back to work,” she said, adding that it cannot be denied that there was stigma in the early stages of the pandemic but that ramped-up public education has reduced it.

Wan said that although he would not classify it as a “killer issue”, there was still a fear factor affecting some businesses on reopening.

“When XYZ Limited is in the press as having employees with COVID and they shut down, that lingers in the minds of the people who come back when they reopen. Some may not come back,” said the JEF president.

He added that said closures have also affected productivity, especially in environments where teamwork is crucial.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com