Nathalie Schooling, CEO of customer experience company nlighten, shares some ways in which the hospitality and retail industry can use creativity to help manage the Covid-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus or COVID-19 is here, and although it is a disease that can be managed, it looks like it will be a part of our everyday lives for quite some time.

Experts say the rate of the infection can be bottomed out or flattened by taking  preventative measures. Nathalie Schooling, CEO of  customer experience company, nlighten, suggests that this is the time for retailers to really step up and use creativity to help manage the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are starting to see some clever measures being put in place by our international counterparts, such as offering senior citizen shopping hour (which SA’s Pick n Pay has just jumped onto).   Despite other local efforts which include increased hygiene practice, some retailers, especially shopping malls,  are still going to have to up their game and play their part,” says Schooling.

Before President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on Sunday the 15th of March, most malls had standard hygiene measures in place. A trip to Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg on Monday confirmed that while landlord Hyprop Investments was cognisant of what the president had said, it would take time to roll out the measures. “This is not really time we have. Unfortunately, a lot of shopping centres have been taken off-guard, but they need to remember that it’s not enough for the individual stores to up hygiene and safety, the space as a whole needs to be considered  ”says Schooling.

A sector that has been hard hit is hospitality. Since it’s an industry that is built on customer service, Schooling says it can be such a win-lose scenario but that it’s encouraging to see how some are dealing with the crisis.

In response to seeing its hotels empty out as people panic, the Capital hotels group has created sanitised isolation rooms or “sanitised sanctuaries” with the idea  that if people arrive from travel, they can go straight to their hotels and self-isolate.

Another example of adapting to their customers at this time is that of  food service provider, Dish Food & Social. Safe access to food can become a major concern, and Schooling advises the restaurant industry to consider home delivery services, to help prevent the spread of infection. Dish Food & Social, who are known for their Tuesday specials, has announced that they are now offering their special every day of the week with a reduced delivery charge.

“The retail and hospitality industry are already facing uphill battles with things like loadshedding and the current recession, so the level of innovation and creativity at this time is going put the best to the test if they want stay afloat,” says Schooling.

Schooling offers the retail and hospitality sector four tips to help customers feel safe during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Stock –  if possible, increase certain stock. Obsessing with meeting abnormal demand is not necessarily great for a business. Monitor supplies and order products which people buy more of during such times of crisis. These could be eggs, vegetables and other basic foodstuffs as well as toilet paper.
  • Frequent cleaning at all touchpoints –  clean toilets, kitchens, surface areas, tills, credit card machines and even things like coat hangers and clothing racks more frequently.
  • Hysteria doesn’t help anybody – take care of your staff and maintain calm when interacting with customers. Respect people’s space without causing unwanted anxiety and tension.
  • Communicate and provide information– a big pain point for a lot of consumers has been the lack of information or misinformation available. Some businesses are stepping up their communication game and sending direct mailers to their database outlining the safety and hygiene measures they are putting in place for their patrons.

“Coronavirus will become a part of our lives for months ahead. We are in this together and have to be cognisant of the fact that Coronavirus is a reality for both business and customer,” Schooling says.

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