When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the new normal forced every industry to reconsider how it operated ­– whether it was impacted by fluctuating global supply chains or changes to transport or the need for new types of packaging.

Arguably the biggest impact of the crisis has been on the workforce. Working from home has posed challenges to staff all around the world. But others who are unable to homework have had to find different ways to carry out their duties effectively, while staying safe and keeping their distance from others.

For companies that carry out materials handling activities, this represents a major concern for both the employers and the employees on the factory floor. Implementing new measures like extensive cleaning procedures, personal protective equipment and adjusted protocols has been essential to keep the workforce as safe as possible.

But while these strategies are crucial to prevent the transmission of Covid-19, they have also introduced a host of additional health-related concerns. The social distancing guidelines that are necessary to keep people safe have meant that individuals are far more isolated when they work – which has in turn meant there is a greater risk of issues such as repetitive strain injury or accidents caused by workers operating lifting equipment alone.

For those businesses, the stakes are now far higher, and they need reassurance that the people they are buying lifting equipment from not only understand the new challenges that they’re facing – but can also help them find the solutions they need. In-depth expertise is fast becoming the only differentiator in a world fuelled by confusion and fear.

In this new world, price has become secondary to trust for people choosing equipment suppliers, despite the cashflow challenges that many companies have been facing. They need someone whose services aren’t going to suddenly disappear, and they will pay to get that level of certainty and trust.

Consider the fact that many customers are now purchasing equipment in very different environments to before – namely in their own homes, without the security and structure that they would previously have had around them in the office.

Trust based on good service is now incredibly powerful. During the UK lockdown, Lifting Equipment Store gained many recommendations from customers after we went the extra mile to help people out of tough situations.

As part of this focus on premium levels of service, I think the materials handling industry needs to wake up to the capabilities of technology to help address the concerns of customers, while also showcasing their know-how.

It will become more important than ever for suppliers to provide customers with apps and other digital software that can help them to shoulder the burden of their responsibilities. Such tech can not only provide the details of products and services, but also help companies using materials handling equipment to keep track of their requirements, give useful updates on upcoming inspections, offer safety advice and highlight relevant sector news.

Of course, these trends are by no means new – but the current situation has accelerated the inevitable and placed a fresh emphasis on their importance. When so many people are communicating remotely and making the most of technology to connect with their colleagues, there’s no excuse not to be taking a digitally-focused approach.

This continues to be an incredibly challenging time for our industry, and I believe that only those that can guarantee the highest levels of customer service will survive.

Equipment suppliers will add far more value, and experience far greater customer loyalty, if they start to think of themselves as service providers first and foremost. As the world becomes online-first, our industry needs to make that journey as well – and only those that adapt will survive.

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