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  • Rhett Parsons

The COVID Crutch

It has been a while since I have penned a blog, in part because my opportunities for customer service interactions were limited and in part, because I – like most of you – have been trying to be a bit more tolerant in these “challenging times." However, I think now is the time to challenge the times.

At the beginning of the shutdown, everyone (including yours truly) needed to remind themselves to extend more tolerance and understanding when encountering service issues. Whether that was long hold times on the phone or slow service at the drive-through or curbside at your local restaurant. Every business was trying to adapt and find a way to continue to function and navigate the uncharted waters. However, now that we are many, many months into this "new world," it is time to remove the message that says “due to Covid-19, please expect unacceptable service.” We are now far past the point where you can excuse 60-minute hold times or slow table service at a reasonably good restaurant. Now is the time to adapt; to deploy the right self-service solutions in your contact center, back-fill staff positions, start taking reservations, or extend your happy hour service area. In other words, think about how to deliver great experiences again in the new normal. Your customers are starving for them!

Over the past few months, my wife, family, and I have experienced some simply inexcusable service encounters. However, we have also experienced some truly remarkable ones because businesses decided to use the Covid restrictions to influence positive change in their business model. I want to highlight 3 of these experiences for you – spoiler alert - they all involve food or wine. I won’t reflect on any of the bad experiences because let's face it, everyone reading this has had their own nightmare experiences in the past year. I think we could all use a little positivity.

Customers enjoying their meals inside a Covid safe igloo

The first is a great winery right down the road from my home. Windmill Creek is the Mariner family's vision to convert their grandparent’s farm into a first-class venue. In the throes of Covid this summer, they began inviting the community to enjoy free outdoor music every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. You could bring a blanket, a chair, food, and drinks and just hang out – no strings attached, just a way to grasp some semblance of normalcy. They, of course, offered their wines and food if you so desired, but they truly just welcomed everyone to the lawn for a safe, socially distanced time of fun. As temperatures turned cooler and regulations permitted, they opened up the farmhouse and built heated igloos for groups of up to 6 to enjoy. While already great at turning grapes into vino, the Mariner family has also learned how to make some great lemonade out of the lemons Covid delivered to the door.

The next shining star is another local business that we have honestly fallen in love with. The Hooked Restaurant group has 5 locations in our resort area, each with a different style but consistent theme: great food and excellent service delivered in style. If you have read my other blogs, you know that prior to this, I have only remembered the name of one server in the thousands of restaurants I have dined in. However, thanks to Steve Hagen and the others who created Hooked, I now have Sean at Hooked and Sandy at Just Hooked to add to my list. We have had some of the best food and incredible cocktails at these two establishments in the last few months. While these businesses had to shut down during the pandemic's height, they decided not to let limited staff or constrained compacity be used as an excuse for anything less than excellence when they reopened. The Hooked Restaurant Group is not to be missed if you visit Ocean City, Maryland, or live within 150 miles.

The last business I will highlight is Sand Castle Winery (I warned you this was a vino edition). My wife and I embarked on a short wine tour in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the fall. We both found it interesting how each place had slightly different interpretations of the new rules and regulations. The traditional tasting at most locations had been replaced with 3 or 4 partial glasses of your chosen style. However, Sand Castle designed a safe tasting experience using disposable cups and social distancing to offer their normal tasting experience, allowing you to explore all the varietals and profiles you wanted. They also kept the best part of any winery visit intact, the sommelier's education and details. In our case, this was a very engaging young man named Tyler. His enthusiasm and knowledge made this one of the best tastings we have ever had, pre-COVID included. So while other wineries in the area chose to limit the experience and take the easy way out, Sand Castle stepped up and made the most out of it. As my 15-bottle purchase can attest, it was worth the effort. Just to top it off, Tyler promised me souvenir glasses once they are allowed to have them again.

I know that we are all tired of the restrictions and struggling with "pandemic fatigue." While we certainly all can't wait for this to be over and normalcy to return, we would be remiss if we didn't hold onto some of the positive outcomes businesses that were agile and willing to adapt have seen. Customer patience may have increased, but so have their expectations of what good service entails. There is an invitation for businesses to rise to the occasion and continue adapting and adjusting to consumer needs, especially in a post-Covid world.

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