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Helping Frustrated Customers Through the Omicron Variant

The introduction of the Omicron variant, a continuation of the Covid-19 viral pandemic, slammed the brakes on a return to normal for the U.S. This loss of momentum added a new level of frustration to people’s lives, which permeated every instance of recovery and progress society was achieving. Not only has Omicron affected the economic recovery, but also the spikes in transmission have decimated the healthcare system, resulting in overwhelmed hospitals and an alarming increase in the rise of cases in children.

Masked store clerk handing a paper bag and coffee mug to a customer

The Current Climate

While experts still predict a recovery is underway, it’s one that is progressing more slowly than anticipated. Demand has dropped, as people pull back on discretionary spending and cancel travel plans. Supply chain issues have impacted costs for everything from food to gas, causing inflation to rise to levels not seen since 2008. Government subsidies have pared back, so less income means less spending. Employers have extended remote work and postponed returning to the office. The job market is still in a state of crisis, as those with childcare issues or remote learning have decided to stay home or have quit jobs as part of the “Great Resignation.”

 

Disruptions to Progress

While both the economic uncertainty coupled with the progression of the pandemic has slowed down progress, there are signs of hope. Where certain industries have tapered back, like travel, others have exploded, like home improvements. Unfortunately, global supply chain issues are still significant, particularly for things like car parts and gas. Furthermore, employers are still dealing with labor shortages, with growth slowing to its lowest rate in a year. This can be attributed to a variety of reasons, like employees feeling unsafe to be around colleagues or the public, switching jobs and lack of adequate childcare. In the travel industry, new variant concerns have caused cancellations and higher costs have curtailed future planning.

 

Consumers Over the Holiday Shopping Season

And as the virus continues to mutate into new variants, consumers are sticking to early pandemic routines of shopping online with expectations of increased safety protocols when they do shop in-store. Shopkick, a shopping rewards app, released new research based on a poll of 11,500+ U.S. consumers that shows 47% of “concerned shoppers” worry about new mutations of the virus and shopping in-person. 43% of those shoppers state that the rise in new variants is impacting how they shop, with 47% are more concerned with shopping in-store. And the numbers have sinced played out as such: online shopping rose 11% since 2020 and 61% since 2019.

While some consumers were concerned about inflation and supply chain issues, 2021 holiday spending rose at the fastest rate in 17 years.  While shortages continued for electronics, toys, seasonal items, and furnishings, shipping wasn’t as big of an issue as last season. Many brands targeted their holiday ad programming to encourage shopping earlier, to give consumers an opportunity to purchase what they need before supplies run out and helped relieve stresses on shipping and delivery.

 

Ways to Help Frustrated Customers

The best defense is a strategic offense. Now that the holidays are over, be prepared for a few different scenarios. Ensure your teams are fully staffed and trained to handle current issues. If you’re in the travel and hospitatity industry, have you staffed up to handle more cancellations as Omicron roars on? If you’re in retail or eCommerce, have you ordered more product than usual to manage more online sales? How about stocking up on shipping supplies to manage the likely influx? Organize and start your marketing early. Include your customer service agents in your plans. Find ways to upsell or add on when customers reach out to agents for other issues and guide your agents to encourage early purchasing. Make time to add on a survey or poll to take the temperature as you move through this latest COVID wave.


Take the lessons learned from this past year’s holiday sales season and help your teams be prepared to keep your customers happy. While the pandemic continues, it doesn’t have to seriously impact your business if you are properly staffed, your teams are well-trained, and you capitalize on opportunities as they appear. With some carefully planned strategies, you will be ahead of the competition in creating an enormously successful 2022, for both your customers and your teams.

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