The other night, I left the office early — around 4:15 — to stop by my bank and cash a check. I had heard the lobby was closed, so I went directly to the drive-up. I was surprised that no one was in line — until I got up to the little tube machine and saw a sign that the bank closes at 4:00 p.m. Obviously, there was no one to discuss this with at that time, so I had to wait until the next day. This time, I went after lunch, and when the teller responded, I asked why the drive-up was closed at 4:00 p.m. rather than its normal 5:00. His response was because of the COVID-19 virus. My reply was, “Does the virus all of a sudden increase at 4:00 in the afternoon?” His response: “Sorry, that’s our policy.”
The next day, I called the bank manager and asked him the same question — and got the same response. I said it made no sense and was an inconvenience for their customers, and he said it was the policy and basically “get off of my back.” As long I was being obnoxious, I decided to take it a step further and asked why the bank lobby was closed.
He said that was so that they didn’t have a large group of customers in the bank at the same time. I have been in this bank before, and the most customers I have ever seen in there besides myself was two. Meanwhile, adjacent to the bank is a convenience store that will allow up to 33 customers at a time. It became clear to me that he had no interest in discussing this with me, and that the bank was sticking with those decisions. The moral of this story is that they were using an already bad situation to inconvenience their customers even more. The only potential reason I could think of was to cut labor costs.
On to another area: restaurants. They have suffered deeply, no doubt. However, it is very interesting to see how different restaurants have adapted. Some have completely shut down. Some have gone to a modified takeout menu and give the impression you are bothering them when you arrive. Others have purchased new computer software and telephone systems in order to be able to handle the large number of people who desire to have takeout for dinner. Which of these do you feel will be the most likely survivor?
How have you handled the services you provide in these times? We have increased our availability and have actually hired some people in order to be able to better serve our customers. We have found that people are home more and need their a/c more. Many of our customer have found that their system really doesn’t cool during the day — they just haven’t been home to know it. We have seen these as opportunities to serve customers even better.
One issue we have to understand is that our employees are dealing with the same difficulties with which we are dealing — restaurants not open, shortened bank hours, and lack of access to the recreational activities they normally enjoy. It is easy for them to become upset and depressed over the situation, and it is important that we recognize this and continually feed them positive input to keep their “drive alive.” For some, more work hours may be a benefit; if they feel they can’t be enjoying their leisure time, they might as well make some extra money. For others who need down time to escape the stresses of their work, more hours may not be the solution. What is important is that you recognize each individual’s situation and handle it appropriately.
As far as COVID-19 is concerned, if it hasn’t directly affected your company yet, it will. Some employees will have been in contact with someone who tested positive. It is important that you have some pre-thought-out procedures for how to handle such a situation. We have found the CDC.gov website to be very helpful, and it even has a phone number from which we have gotten immediate response.
For you as the leader, it is important that you not show panic and that you take a reasonable, rational approach to each situation. More than ever, it is absolutely necessary for you to show that you are the leader. Show that you are handling things, and generally assure your employees and customers that you are all going to get through this pandemic together.