Deb Smith is director of new business operations at Vida Homeloans

I don’t think anyone celebrating the New Year back in January could have predicted that 2020 would see an event that would impact society and businesses so dramatically.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected businesses in every sector.

We have seen widespread closures of industries, panic buying and mass isolation under lockdown that I never thought could happen. I think it’s fair to say that no one in our industry – or any industry – has ever experienced anything like it.

Like many others, my phone has been constantly buzzing with texts and emails from every organisation I have ever engaged with about how they were adapting to the new normal.

Our reaction at Vida was no different – our priority was to ensure that we could continue to deliver a quality service to our customers and pre-empt whatever the next phase might be.

From social distancing to being told to stay indoors, the mortgage industry was in totally new territory. For us at Vida, it quickly became clear that we needed to take immediate and decisive action.

Our first task was to ensure that we could continue to support our customers during the lockdown. Vida has always encouraged flexible working, so we already had much of the technology we needed to enable our workforce to work from home.

However, we also wanted to make sure that our employees didn’t feel isolated, and therefore took action there too. By moving to tools like Microsoft Teams, we were able to maintain the personal contact and team spirit that is so important to our company culture and the work we do.

We were also determined to keep our customers informed of any changes or developments as they happened. Early in the crisis, we took decisive action to suspend accepting new business.

It was a difficult decision, but our immediate focus was to support existing customers, including those directly affected by COVID-19, and agree how we could help them during this crisis.

For this reason, we needed to change how we were communicating with customers and also explain the best way to contact us. We didn’t want our customers to be waiting for long periods to speak with an operator due to the high volume of calls, for example, so we quickly set up an online payment deferral request form for customers seeking payment holidays. We had great feedback from our customers who thought the form was easy to follow, and it gave them immediate peace of mind.

We continue to engage with our clients via email and text to make sure they are fully up-to-date with what is happening during their payment holiday period, and also how we can help them when this period ends.

Our key learning from this crisis has been to think differently about the approaches we take – what we are doing, who we are doing it for and when is the right time to do it. After all, great organisations don’t do something just so they can be seen to be doing it – they do it because it is relevant to their vision and the right thing to do.

At Vida, we are all customers too, so the question we constantly asked ourselves during the pandemic was “How would I want to be treated?”. Taking this approach has been key to helping us respond effectively to this unprecedented crisis and to keeping our customers and our colleagues informed at this critical moment.