Shimmying to COVID

LOOKING ASKANCE - Atty. Joseph Gonzales (The Freeman) - September 6, 2020 - 12:00am

This pandemic has forced many businesses to figure out how to continue. Some are going out of their way, indeed, to keep or lure customers, as they navigate the perils of COVID. Earlier, Shangri-la introduced a QR code-app that allowed customers to tap their details onto their phone and then send these to their site for easier contact tracing.

Others just provided pen and paper versions of the contact tracing form, and then stopped there --as expected. Convenience stores made paper slips available, but made no follow through. So one could disregard the paper slips, brazenly walk in, pick up a chocolate bar and conclude a purchase, without providing the already-harassed counter staff any form of traceability.

Our largest bank made walk-in depositors fill up a sheet, where mobile numbers and full names were required. Days later, those sheets were seen fluttering in the sidewalks, disposed of casually by uncaring bank personnel. So much for data privacy.

Another retail establishment I tried going into made walk-in customers fill up a form on a website called “safepass”, where one has to agree to unread and un-understood terms and conditions.

Grudgingly saying “yes” (because of a local crafts fair inside), I was asked to provide a mobile number. Ok, fine, the number is needed to make contact tracing possible. But then, the customer is instructed to open a safepass account. When pressed to explain what the account meant, what it entailed, why it was required, the staff could only give platitudes about its necessity. Which, as far as attracting customers is concerned, was an ugly proposition.

What a wasted opportunity. Customers are already stressed about venturing outside their homes. And then, that stress is compounded with giving up personal data and being monitored for health and wearing the right safety gear. Pour data privacy concerns into that mix, and the overall result was a fail. If the goal was to create an environment for customers to relax in safety, that major retailer took a stumble.

In Japan, for example, karaoke establishments are reportedly calibrating their karaoke machines so co-customers don’t need to talk --claps of enthusiasm are pre-recorded and played at appropriate moments, so there’s a diminished tendency to shout and cheer (and spread saliva). Conversations among friends are enabled to appear on screens, so there is less talking and screaming. To avoid touching, mobile phones can be wired to tap into microphones, so singers don’t need to hold the communal mikes, and simply sing to their phones.

Now that’s staying ahead of the curve, addressing customer needs, and adapting to the times. One could bless it as “innovation”, even.

It will be interesting to see what else business entities will do to massage customers. My stockbrokers have arranged to deposit (minuscule) dividends into my account (saves them the messengerial costs too). I order cakes for delivery to friends from Cafe Georg and pay online, and just add a small delivery fee.

Art galleries have created virtual exhibits and Viber chatrooms to push artists. Universities have reached out to incoming students and given them virtual orientations. King & Spalding, an international law firm that has made it a point to market to female lawyers as part of its diversity efforts, dreamed up a virtual cocktail-making event for top female partners in the country.

We are forced to adapt. And those who adapt best will make boatloads of cash. I wonder though where they’ll spend that pile they’re making. Maybe, buy an island and live in isolation. (Sales of private islands are up, by the way.

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