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The age of COVID = the age of more information!
The relocation industry has done a great job informing their clients about relocation changes that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. This would include relocation management companies, immigration partners and movers, but there is one supplier in the relocation ecosystem that has been hit the hardest in terms of new information management: Destination Service Providers (DSP’s). I have interviewed a number of DSP’s in different locations around the world, and they all say the same thing: We are incredibly busy handling more questions than ever, but we aren’t making money. If this is the case, how sustainable is this?
A QUICK ASIDE ABOUT NON-INFORMATION BUSY-NESS, OUT OF RESPECT FOR MOVERS AND DSP’S:
It must be noted that movers and DSP’s have had immediately apparent increased costs compared to Relocation Management Companies and Immigration Firms. Because they meet people face-to-face, they have to keep their vehicles hygienic between clients. This means sanitizing trucks and cars in between jobs. In addition, they need PPE for their staff. In the case of DSP’s, they need to carry masks for their transferees, just in case the transferee arrives for the day without one. These may seem like trivial costs, but they add up quickly. There are discussions in the industry of the creation of COVID surcharges, but no one to my knowledge has instituted one yet. In my opinion, they are reasonable.
DSP’s Impart a lot of Information.
DSP’s, because of the amount of time they spend with transferees, and much of it face-to-face, and the fact that they are introducing the transferees to a new country and city, have always had to field a lot of questions and had to impart a great deal of information. However, in the era of COVID, the assignee’s need and expectation for information quickly has expanded greatly.
While All Points is a Relocation Management Company, we also have a Destination Services arm and our staff are reporting being incredibly busy, even though relocation volume is way down. I have interviewed DSP’s around the world, and they are experiencing what our DSP division is seeing. What is driving this?
Changes come fast and furious in the age of COVID. Government regulations change frequently. Government registration offices change their practices frequently as well. The best DSP’s have high quality web portals which give assignees information about coming to the new country, how they are to register for driver’s license, how they are to select a new community, etc. Having said that, with the rules changing rapidly, assignees are more reliant on their Destination Consultant than the web portal. “I have to tell you about what is going to happen with obtaining your driver’s license, noting that this could change next week.”
Information has expanded on the old tasks:
Think about this: one could once say the following sentence as a DSP: “So we are going to see a number of properties together.” That sentence took a few seconds to say, and it was a toss-off sentence, not heavily imbued with meaning. Now, the DSP has to describe all the options for seeing properties: 1) during your 14 day isolation virtually and then later in person; 2) only after your 14 day isolation period, but when we go into properties we have to enter the properties separately to view them and come out individually and discuss them. And then there is the whole conversation about the inability in some cases of children entering the property to view, as this is being disallowed by some Realtors. When you do visit the propery, you are likely not allowed to touch any of the appliances, so it will be really important to do an inspection upon move-in to make sure all appliances are working.” This could easily be a 15-minute conversation, when it was once a 4 second toss-off sentence. This is just one example of many.
Assignees have more time at origin:
Assignees used to be in touch with the Destination Service Provider in advance of their relocation, but not always by that long, as they waited for their relatively quick immigration process. Now, they have been told about their relocation, but their consulate is not open, or it is processing applications slowly, or the origin country is not allowing new entrants, except for essential workers. So, big deal? Why does this increase workload? The assignees have more time to think up new questions. How many questions? How long do you have? They can ask everything from all the information on the Welcome Portal that they never asked before (because they have more time to review it multiple times), or ask how to get painters into their newly found property in the age of COVID? The list goes on.
After arrival, assignees used to enter the workplace quickly and meet new colleagues. Do you remember those days? Well, the office was a great and welcoming space for new assignees to ask all kinds of questions about getting around, about how to get a great painter or how to get your kids into daycare. Without their physical presence in the office, those questions are largely going to the Destination Service Provider.
Is this sustainable?
This brings us back to the question of sustainability. The DSP market was not built on the biggest margins in the industry. If they are now to take on what some are saying is 30-40% greater workload, how can this be sustainable? Companies are as busy now with low volume relocations as they were with high volume relocations. The answer is that it is not sustainable. It is not sustainable for the DSPs from a financial perspective, nor is it sustainable if volumes start to increase.
What is the answer?
Well, there is no answer yet. One possible answer is that as things return to normal (people go back into offices and can speak to colleagues, people are relocated more quickly, etc) questions may reduce naturally, but they won’t return to normal quickly. Another answer that DSPs are talking about and introducing is the handy FAQ’s about COVID related questions. But this is only a partial answer to the problem. This may reduce some questions, but assignees will always ask second and third questions, even after reading an FAQ, and politely pointing them back to the FAQ, rather than take the time to answer their questions is simply bad customer service. Raising prices is another possible solution, or COVID surcharges, but our corporate clients have also had to tighten the belts, and it doesn’t seem like price increases are going to be easy or if implemented, will not be enough to account for the estimated 3—40% increase in workload.
There are no easy answers, and we should keep looking for solutions, because in the era of COVID, moving to a new country or even a new province requires Human Resources to provide a Duty of Care to a level that they may not have been able to embrace previously and very often the top Duty of Care service is the Destination Service.