Because Covid:

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

“In these unprecedented times”; “Due to the coronavirus situation”; “Because of the staff shortages caused by the pandemic”; “our service levels may slip below what you might expect”; “it may take longer for us to answer your query”: What do these phrases – and myriad variations on the same theme – have in common? They are all starting to really, really annoy me.

I am getting fed up of hearing these trotted out as excuses for crap service. In the beginning of the pandemic, back in March 2020 when anyone who’d been in contact with anyone who’d been anywhere near the then Covid hotspots of the Far East or Tenerife was having to self-isolate for a fortnight, that excuse held some water. Moving on, of course, after the March 23rd announcement of the national lockdown, the ‘You Must Work from Home’ commandment and the hundreds of thousands of people who were furloughed, that excuse held even more water.

Now though? Not so much. March 23rd  2020 was 422 days ago. I can’t believe that companies haven’t been able to sort things out in the meantime to ensure that some kind of customer service still happens. A friend is still waiting for a pension company to respond to his emails and phone calls to deal with the pension for someone who died eight months ago. The bereavement team won’t pick up the phone or respond to emails from the bereaved. When he complains, he’s told “it’s because everyone is working from home because of Covid”.  Oh, so all those people are living in rural backwaters with spotty WiFi and no 4G and never talk to their colleagues? Don’t think so.

I spent 48 minutes on hold with my energy company’s emergency line to try and sort out a mistake on the billing. It was my mistake and it was a huge one (in-putting the wrong digits into the meter reading App to the tune of a 700% increase in usage). While that might not seem much of an emergency to others, I don’t trust what would happen if I email the service@ address. I suspect it would go into the black-hole of emails, never to see the light of day. (See earlier comment about the bereavement team).  My energy company are, apparently, only taking emergency calls, in order to “protect our most vulnerable customers, in these unprecedented times and we hope you will understand”.

I understand all right. I understand that you have been unable or unwilling to manage your workloads to ensure that customers still get some semblance of service. Unprecedented, by the way, means “never known or done before”: 422 days later doesn’t seem to me like ‘never done or known before’. It seems more like ‘stuff we have known about for 422 days and just can’t be bothered to think about managing’. Or, ‘stuff we have known about for 422 days but won’t manage properly because the government is still subsidising our wage bill so we are keeping people off while the money is there’.

Keeping the phonelines free for emergency calls only (although at 48 minutes’ hold, it’s a good thing it wasn’t more of an emergency), prioritising supermarket delivery slots for shielders, keeping the supermarket aisles clear so key workers can get food: all that was right and proper at the start of this and as we moved through the lockdowns. But, last time I checked, over 38 million people had received at least one Covid-19 vaccination and over 30% of the UK population had been fully vaccinated. Surely, it’s time to stop using Because Covid as an excuse for sloppy service?

Rant over. As you were.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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