Much in our world has changed since Australia started to impose restrictions on social and economic activity to limit the spread of COVID-19. While this has been extremely challenging, some things have changed for the better. Whenever we return to normal, whatever that may be, I've already got a sense of some things I'd like to stay.
Australian airlines have long resisted providing refunds when a flight is delayed or cancelled, but in the context of COVID-19 that has begun to change. While Qantas initially only offered very restrictive flight credits in exchange for cancelled flights, the ACCC has now forced it to offer refunds to all customers. The situation with Virgin Australia is more complicated by the fact that it's in administration but I hope that the ACCC's approach sets a new standard for travellers' rights in Australia, so that we don't have to haggle over a refund for a service that hasn't been provided.
Large businesses like supermarkets – who have traditionally offered a one-size-fits-all approach – have had to recognise that some customers are more vulnerable than others and need special assistance. Some CHOICE members reported difficulties with these priority assistance services in the early weeks but they now seem to be running more smoothly. Many people have difficulty doing their own grocery shopping in normal times, so I hope that these services become a permanent feature of supermarkets and that other businesses follow their lead.
There are opportunities for thoughtful businesses to forge new relationships with their customers
Just as supermarkets were experiencing a spike in demand, gyms were forced to close down. While they have long profited from charging people for service they don't use, this was impossible to maintain with no services on offer. The online classes that many fitness services offered in response are much more accessible for busy people. I hope this experience will force the fitness industry to offer services that better meet the needs of customers into the future, so fewer end up paying for more than they can use.
Finally, while our local manufacturing industry has long been in decline, these circumstances have reminded us that it is far from dead. Some firms have shown a remarkable ability to shift processes in response to consumer demand for goods like hand sanitiser and face masks. As we contemplate what the Australian economy will look like in the future, we need to remember the value of being able to manufacture essential goods onshore.
In a time when many people have lost jobs and many businesses are struggling, there are also important opportunities for thoughtful businesses to forge new relationships with their customers, hopefully creating new jobs along the way. I hope that we seize these opportunities, so that Australia emerges from this crisis with a fairer economy, better suited to the unpredictable challenges of the future.