To protect and to serve…Keeping Customers Safe During This Pandemic

The Service Line with J. N. Halm: It’s A Joke...employing Humour at the Front Line
J.N. Halm is a columnist with the B&FT

“To Protect and to Serve”

This is usually the motto of the LAPD—the famed Los Angeles Police Department, made the more famous through various Hollywood flicks. The brief history behind this motto is that it was the winning entry in a competition organised by BEAT Magazine, the Department’s internally-produced periodical. The competition was originally meant for the LAPD Police Academy with an understanding that the winning entry would eventually be adopted as the official motto of the entire LAPD. The competition was held in February 1955 and by November 1963, “To Protect and to Serve” had become the official motto of the LAPD.

Other police departments, in the United States as well as from all over the world, have used the same phrase (or variations of it) as their maxims. The Toronto Police Department uses “To Serve and Protect”. The Chicago Police Department goes with “We Serve and Protect”. “To serve and protect” is also the mission of the Police Department of Buffalo, New York. Trinidad and Tobago’s Police Department motto is “to protect and serve with P.R.I.D.E”. The northeastern Indian state of Sikkim uses the same “To Protect and Serve”.

It is clear that the phrase continues to serve many of the law enforcement agencies around the world. However, in the times we find ourselves in, “To Protect and to Serve” could well serve every single business entity that is out there. The novel coronavirus that is causing untold havoc all around the world has hit hard at many businesses.

Understandably, some businesses have suffered more than others. As a matter of fact, there are some businesses that might never fully recover even when things ever get back to some sort of normalcy. Businesses whose operations depend on human-to-human contact are those that have to find ways of reinventing themselves or risk dying out of the marketplace.

From the onset of the pandemic in the latter months of 2019, it was clear that one of the clearest paths to stop the rapid spread of the disease was to prevent as much interaction between individuals as possible. The understanding was that the virus spread when people move; so when we stay put, the spread was curtailed. A relay of lockdowns therefore became the order of the day and customer-business interactions were kept at a minimum. At the peak of many of the lockdowns around the world, very few businesses were opened.

Eventually, however, when things came under control, businesses once again opened up for customers. Things have still not returned to normal and it would take some serious confidence for one to even hazard a guess as to when things would ever return to normal. It is possible things might never return to its pre-pandemic states. With the re-emergence of newer strains of the virus, it is possible things might stay this way for the foreseeable future.

The health and safety of each and every individual on this planet has now become very important. For businesses, this means that the health and safety of customers must now become an important part of the day-to-day decision-making. We find ourselves in a day and age when a business must go beyond just making its offerings available to customers. Businesses must communicate to customers clearly that it has their health and safety at heart. In other words, a business must now do everything in its power to not only serve, but to protect its customers.

There are various steps being taken by organisations to prove to their customers that they are prepared to protect and to serve. However, it is one thing to protect one’s customers and it is another thing to communicate to customers that they are being protected.

For instance, the office premises might be fumigated during the weekend, without the knowledge of customers. In such a situation, it is important that customers are informed of the steps that the organisation has taken to protect customers. There are businesses where employees are tested on a weekly basis, temperatures and heart rates monitored on a daily and activities monitored by the minute. This is information that might not be known by customers, but it is important information that must be made known to customers. In this pandemic, businesses cannot assume their customers will know what is being done to protect them. Even if customers are aware of what is being done behind the scenes, businesses must constantly and intentionally communicate their intentions to their customers.

Communicating the business’ actions to its customers regarding what it has been doing (or is doing) behind the scenes is important for one key reason. It becomes a differentiator between the business and its competitors. In the hyper-competitive marketplace many businesses operate in, every little advantage counts. Safer businesses might become the preferred choice for customers.

There are many ways by which businesses are communicating to customers that all is being done to keep customers and employees safe and protected. The various protocols proposed by the World Health Organisation, being adopted by businesses all over the world, are all a means by which organisations are communicating with customers.

The first and arguably the single most important measure regarding this pandemic has to be the wearing of nose (face) mask. The location of the nose mask, right on the face, means that it cannot be missed. When customers walk into an establishment, they expect to see employees wearing their masks. In addition, there are those businesses where the surgical glove is also very much a part of the employee’s attire. Customers will think twice about entering a premises where employees flout basic protocols.

For the foreseeable future, the presence of hand sanitizers and water buckets with soaps are going to become a part of the tangibles of every business. It is true that the provision of accessible handwashing facilities and/or hand sanitizer is one of the most common means of communicating safety to customers. In some organisations, these are provided in addition to doorway booths that dispense a spray of sanitisers as the customer walks through.

Security personnel must, as a matter of fact, find a way of wielding both protective weapons as well as infrared temperature guns to check the temperatures of customers. Some organisations, with the means to, have erected self-service kiosks on their premises where customer temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate can be monitored.

The erection of protective barriers around customer-facing employees is another strong signal that the business means business about stopping the spread. Protective glass barriers have become commonplace and although the jury is still out on their effectiveness in preventing the spread of the virus, their presence still gives some semblance of protection. In some smaller establishments such as mom-and-pop shops and neighbourhood grocery stores, a simple rope tied from one end to the other provides a barrier of how close customers can get to the sales personnel.

Another way by which customers are being sent the message that they are protected is by the use of stickers meant to enforce social distancing rules. Such stickers can be used either on the floor to indicate where customers are to stand in a queue or these stickers can be used on seats to indicate where customers are to sit. Without these stickers, businesses can simply print out the instructions on a piece of A4 paper and paste them at the intended spaces.

In many offices around the country, it is now common to see customers sitting under canopies at designated areas before being allowed inside the office. This is to allow a limited number of people from getting access into the place. Some businesses have taken advantage of this opportunity to brand those canopies with company colours as well as messages about the business. What will be even more appropriate would be to use the opportunity to educate their waiting customers about what the business is doing to protect its employees and customers alike.

The spatial arrangement in some organisations have also been redesigned to accommodate for the COVID-19 protocols. For instance, entry and exits have had to be changed so that there is as little contact as possible between individuals. Stairs, which normally would have served a double purpose of seeing people move up and down, have been given single purposes. In some business setups, the stairs leading upstairs are not the same stairs that brings people downstairs. This is akin to the creation of one-way aisles in some heavy-traffic areas to manage the flow of human traffic. The number of people allowed to use the elevator at a time has also been reduced so as to minimise human-to-human contact.

The arrangement of furniture within the work place is also another signal of intent businesses can send to their customers. For example, in many places, pieces of furniture are spaced to the appropriate social distancing intervals before customers arrive. Front line employees who face customers throughout the day ensure that seats reserved for customers are already set some metres away from their tables. In some companies, furniture is totally absent in places where people would have normally congregated.



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