So-called ‘black swan’ events like the COVID-19 crisis – unexpected, yet in some ways predictable – take us all into unchartered territory. Beyond the practicalities of delivering products and services, the intricacies of how customers experience are more challenging than ever.
While it can be difficult to know how to move forward, companies need to take a proactive and customer-centric approach, rethink the whole customer experience, and be ready to adapt and learn.
Evolving customer needs and journeys
Until now, customer personas, needs, and journeys have shifted relatively slowly over time. Companies could establish a reasonably stable and reliable view of their target audience and how their brand serves them. However, with the recent drastic change in circumstances, facts and assumptions from pre-Covid-19 times no longer tell an accurate story.
If companies simply wait for the crisis to ‘blow over’, they risk finding themselves unprepared as customer needs evolve, and will be out-performed by more proactive competitors. To avoid being left behind, companies should rethink the customer experience by taking a concrete look at their customers’ realities – how are they being impacted practically in their location? how are their businesses impacted? what are their new pain points? how is their customer journey changing?
By looking at different customer segments and personas, and developing scenarios, companies can get a better picture of the impact on the customer journey and touchpoints – which are likely to remain, and which will disappear or change. Exploring new pain points on customers’ actual journeys may even reveal potential leverage points where a new customer experience could be developed.
On the whole, heightened empathy and a more customer-centric approach can help companies steer a more informed path, spot opportunities to deliver even more pertinent services, and ultimately build stronger connections.
Listening to your customers
To be truly customer-centric, companies need to listen to, and act on, feedback and input from real-life customers. Here, having access to up-to-date information is key – with the Covid-19 crisis constantly evolving, and attitudes and perceptions risk changing rapidly, data from even two weeks ago can be outdated. Therefore, it’s important to establish real-time monitoring and reporting of customer sentiment so companies can stay up-to-date and adapt fast when needed.
Some valuable ways to find out what’s really going on with customers include:
- working closely with customer support teams to understand changes in the volume and nature of queries;
- paying attention to social media platforms for trends across customers in terms of comments and queries and also to understand sentiment and get a feeling for their general mood, attitude and tone; and
- increasing the use of Voice of the Customer (VoC) techniques in general, such as short surveys, feedback forms, live chat etc.
Gathering this information is one thing, but using the insights wisely is what will differentiate companies – validating ideas, gaining the confidence to experiment, formulating strategies and generally boosting confidence in delivering the best possible customer experience both during and after Covid-19.
Using insight to inform shifts in priorities and budgets
Adaptability has always been an important strength in business, and now more than ever. To keep customer experience the focus of attention, companies need to be prepared for shifts in priorities and budgets. Insights gained from customer feedback will be key to making urgent decisions in an informed way, and will help companies steer a steady course through this unpredictable time.
For example, ongoing projects might need to be put on hold, and resources diverted to more pressing issues to meet immediate customer needs or increase capabilities. On the other hand, website and mobile app fixes that had been low priority might suddenly need to be accelerated to offer the seamless digital experiences that are even more crucial now that customers are forced online, and have the time to shop around.
In conclusion, companies need to think beyond the impact of COVID-19 on their own business. Going forward, customer experience will become the differentiating factor. Companies therefore need to take a customer-centric approach and strive to understand how their customers’ needs and journey are likely to evolve. By devoting time and resources to listen closely to their customers and rethinking customer experience, they will be better able to rapidly adapt to those changes.
This will help companies not only strengthen customer relationships, but also build trust and loyalty that will serve them both during this period and beyond.