Several organisations at International House (IHH) are attending to their customers remotely. Services that require a personal visit to IHH have switched to use an appointment system, regulating the amount of people simultaneously using desk services.

Like many businesses, when coronavirus emerged in Finland, IHH had to adjust their services. Restricting social contact was essential in curbing the spread of the virus and subsequently, service providers at IHH moved to phone and online customer care, wherever possible.

Reorganising a wide set of services is never easy, but coronavirus pandemic created an unprecedented situation where safety was driving the change. IHH responded quickly to the crisis and the challenges rising from the prompt service remodelling were manageable. Within less than a week, customer service switched from over-the-counter to phone lines and walk-in services moved to an appointment system. IHH has received some incidental visits from clients unaware of the change but IHH’s lobby personnel says the number has been marginal.


Impact from coronavirus

KELA started Arabic, Russian and Somali phone-services at the start of April. The move was part of a larger service demand during coronavirus, but nonetheless, consultation in the added languages became available to IHH clientele as well.

Helsinki-Info’s Service Manager, Anne Nissinen, says that moving entirely to phone service was surprisingly easy. She notes that Helsinki-Info already had the structure for it, but the line capacity was extended in response to the changing circumstances. “Generally, clients have been grateful that the support continued despite of corona.” Anne adds that significant steps have been made regarding working from home. “We have always been flexible about “home office days”, but some in our team considered that the option wasn’t maybe as efficient as working from the office. Corona period has demonstrated that remote teamwork is effective as well.” However, Anne points out that although working from home has proven to be easy, everyone would be pleased to get normal routines back. “I have noticed that there’s a longing among staff for normality, to a setting where personal customer engagement would be safe”. Similar sentiment is starting to filter through from the client end too. “Customers are expectant about face-to-face service and even if people appreciate having access to consultation in these exceptional times, you can sense that the clients miss meeting in person.”

The Finnish Tax Administration needed to maintain desk-services despite of corona. Customer care changed from a walk-in service to pre-booked appointments. The tax office usually serves large volumes of people and the appointment system ensured that desk services would run with a structured customer frequency.

Evidently, coronavirus restrictions have reduced the movement of international labour and this has given room to rework services and manage the customer flow. Still, several businesses operate during the pandemic and for example, Estonia provides labour to businesses in Helsinki during the pandemic. “Workers come in, follow the 14 days of quarantine and need tax support after that,” says Pia Koskela-Ropponen, International Team Manager for Finnish Tax Administration at IHH. “Operations have gone well, considering the fast change. Just recently, we have started to detect some impatience growing among our customers for normal service.” The drop in public resilience for corona-related changes is a trend also featured in the latest news reports.


Managing staff across borders raises questions

Border crossing advice for international staff has also been a topic for IHH’s employer counselling at Helsinki Region Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, queries on working permits have shifted to questions about managing contracts, tax and social security issues for employees who are stuck abroad. “This is a bizarre situation for some employers, who have often focused on getting everything ready here in Finland for their international talent, but are now looking into remote employment legislation”, says Counselling Service Officer, Joanna Ahokanto. The length of the crisis is stretching everyone’s patience. “It is especially difficult for operative staff, who really have no remote working alternative”. She also acknowledges that insecurity about the free movement of global labour is affecting the way businesses recruit internationally.


Corona epidemic has long lasting effects

Coronavirus has changed the service landscape drastically, but gradually the society starts reopening. It is likely that the journey out of corona will take time and in the future, everyone should habitually check how organisations adjust their services according to regulatory measures. It is the best way to make sure services meet customer expectations.

Check our service updates from #IHH website’s front page, Twitter and Facebook.