Covid-19: towards online solutions for food safety
As England begins Lockdown 2.0, Stephen Whyte, the founder and Managing Director of Food Safety software solutions business QADEX reports that the first lockdown saw a profound and positive change in the company’s interaction with customers, as well as highlighting the move towards a digital future for the food safety industry.
The onset of Covid-19 was a terrible time for some elements of the food industry. Foodservice was particularly hard hit, and some businesses that had been profitable – and long-standing QADEX customers for many years – were driven into administration, as their products were no longer viable. In addition, many business opportunities that were about to come to fruition were placed on hold.
As the UK went into lockdown on 16 March, QADEX was in a very fortunate position as its managed service, accessed and supported via an online portal, enabled remote working for its team.
At QADEX, robust business continuity plans were already in place and had been tested – and Covid-19 was the ultimate test. Many of our colleagues moved to work from home and were still able to deliver the level of service our customers expected.
Home baking highlighted a change in customer service interaction
While the biggest change was having colleagues working from home, from a customer delivery perspective, little actually changed as our customers still spoke to largely the same Account Managers. During the lockdown period there was a noticeable shift in attitude from our customer’s customers – the end consumer. One of the services QADEX offers is an outsourced Consumer Careline for our customers to manage their consumer complaints. Our Careline Team noted a dramatic upturn in ‘goodwill’, and the number of positive comments received about our customer’s products increased notably.
Calls to the Careline were less complaints about the product and more about how good the product was. Calls to one Customer Careline were actually often centred around home baking successes. Being in lockdown and stuck at home, people turned to baking – with a big emphasis on banana bread – which became a feature on social media.
One of our Careline team said: “We received numerous calls from people who were baking for the very first time, wanting some recipes or tips, to people who were experienced bakers getting in touch to let us know about a new sweet treat they had made. One that sticks in my mind is a lady who emailed to let us know she had been baking ‘Lockdown Slices’ for herself and her husband. She signed the email off as her alias: ‘The Lockdown Slice Baker’. Rather than getting in touch about a product she was unhappy with, we instead chatted about how we were both getting along during lockdown.”
The benefits of online solutions
During lockdown, our customers began to recognise additional benefits from using our online software solutions as information remained available to everyone, anywhere, and always, whether they were working from the office or from home.
We ran four webinars post lockdown and took the opportunity to survey the participants. The majority of those polled said they had worked from home for some or all of lockdown. The top-line conclusion was that when it came to data access, QADEX users were less affected when having to work remotely than their non-QADEX using peers.
Almost all of those surveyed said that they believed working practices would change, post Covid-19, with most saying that home working was feasible for members of a food safety team. We are delighted that the constant development of our software solutions enables efficient – and therefore safe – remote, home working. Existing QADEX customers voiced the ease at which their food safety teams could reach and work with key data sets, allowing an almost ‘business as usual’ approach whether team members were working from home or the office.
The Coronavirus pandemic and the changes it has brought to working methods may be very long-lasting. I wonder if there will ever be a requirement to have all members of staff working from the office. For the foreseeable future, at least, we will be operating a hybrid model, with colleagues working from home or from the office – as long as social distancing in the office can be maintained. The biggest learning curve is how to try to recreate the fun vibe of being in the office when people are working from home.
Aiming for ‘one version of the truth’
As we head into learning a ’new normal’, QADEX can recommend specific areas of focus for the future of food safety – the most obvious being to at least begin the digital transformation journey. When selecting partners, it is essential that they offer a solution that is proven, low cost, reliable and delivers tangible ROI. The move away from paper cannot begin soon enough. With digitised data you can use Application Program Interfaces (APIs) to connect systems, so there is just one version of the truth. Blending data across systems enables the creation of dynamic dashboards which then give you instant visual identification of where issues exist across a business. Data analytics enable the detection of patterns and risks not easily identified manually.
Too often, pocket knowledge or information bias can blind decision makers to the risk that exists within their business. Electronic systems, such as QADEX will analyse actual data and return absolute results, based upon configured variables removing individual opinions.
Covid-19 has had a profound effect on the food industry and its working methods. Positively, it has accelerated the move to digital platforms such as QADEX which support and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of food safety teams whether working from the office or home.