The key ingredient to a better customer experience during a crisis

By Paige Murphy | 27 April 2020

Empathy has become more essential than ever for brands looking to maintain and improve upon their customer experience (CX).

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in changing consumer behavior leading to a greater reliance on digital businesses as the world continues to live in lockdown.

Suzanne Steele, Adobe managing director ANZ, says now is the time for brands to ensure their CX strategy is up to scratch and if not, be ready to update and adapt.

“It’s important to strengthen customer relationships in uncertain times, not just think about creating new ones,” Steele says.

“Understanding your customers’ needs to create better customer experiences has never been more important. The ability to keep providing a great customer experience during uncertain times will strengthen relationships for years to come.”

Key to understanding customers today is being empathetic to what they are going through.

This is what Forrester analysts David Truog and Harley Manning recommend brands looking to improve their CX start with.

The duo wrote a piece last month, Improve Customer Experience In Response To The Coronavirus Pandemic, warning brands against relying purely on surveys for customer feedback right now.

Instead, they recommend investing in having live conversations with customers now and reaching out to customers proactively.

They also suggest getting the company’s research professionals onto customer service calls to hear and engage firsthand with customers and then respond with concrete steps.

David Blakers, APAC managing director of CX company InMoment, says while brands turn their focus to business continuity, CX essentials like gathering insights on customer feedback shouldn’t be forgotten.

“Managing the delivery of core services at scale has been the initial CX focus for many organisations,” Blakers says.

“When an organisation is focused on business continuity things like the ease with which customers can interact or the way the business makes customers feel through each interaction become secondary considerations.

“Best in class CX considers all three elements, though naturally at this time just helping customers in their time of need is the priority.”

Like Steele, Blakers says how brands react now will have long-term ramifications for the future of their business.

“The way each organisation is dealing with their clients - and supporting their staff - is having a lasting impact on brand perception,” Blakers says.

“The more progressive, empathetic and agile organisations will build brand trust through this challenging time.”

Brands taking a ‘business as usual’ approach or acting tone deaf are likely to get hit for their behaviour.

In the United States, ads from sponsors of media outlet PBS were encouraging viewers to go on a cruise ship holiday during its NewsHour program.

Truog and Manning say the ads took place in a week where media outlets including PBS shared news of the spread of coronavirus on cruise ships around the world.

While the ads may have been planned well in advance, their messaging was completely out of sync with what was happening in that moment.

“It can be an extremely emotional time for people, and brands need to be sensitive to what each of their customers could be going through, especially if they are offering personalised experiences,” Steele says.

“Brands that take a ‘business as usual’ approach or don’t act responsibly won’t have loyal customers waiting at the other end.”

Digital experience
For those businesses that haven’t already, Steele says their digital transformation will be critical to providing an optimum customer experience.

Others who have already been on the journey will be tested as the world accelerates to a digital-first society.

“Delivering a relevant and seamless customer experience is still the priority for businesses and arguably is even more important in this digital-first environment,” Steele says.

“It’s especially important that companies remain digitally connected with their employees and customers during periods of social distancing and widespread ‘work-from-home’ programs. In the face of this unfolding crisis, technology has taken an increasingly critical role.”

The financial services industry is one sector that Steele says is offering “impressive” digital experiences for its customers.

Food and produce retailers, education and government are others that she says are demonstrating CX leadership as they pivot quickly to offer relevant services to customers during this pandemic.

“In some cases, digital transformation programs in discussion or due to start over the next few years have needed to be delivered in a matter of weeks,” she says.

“Whatever the sector or business, this is a defining moment.”

The fast-forward of digital transformation has led to faster innovation across industries as businesses seek out ways to meet customer needs.

Blakers says leveraging digital channels has become vital in the race for survival.

“Every industry is adapting to mass work from home models and new operating processes for their frontline teams,” he says.

“We are seeing innovation everywhere and the staff working in essential services, including the health sector in particular, are doing an amazing job.”

Employee experience
“From a CX management perspective the demand on real time voice of customer and voice of employee insights has never been greater as organisations look for more actionable insights,” Blakers says.

Employees are brand representatives and their behaviour at work can play a lasting role in the customer experience.

Truog and Manning say employees are the “human embodiment” of a brand and therefore their experience right now is just as important as the customer’s.

For many employees working in essential services, the stress from demand at the moment could be impacting the way they work.

Investing in their well-being is one way to improve the employee experience (EX), Truog and Manning say, and in turn the customer experience.

“The brands that use a continuous feed of customer & employee insights to inform the planning, execution and refinement of each initiative they are deploying are able to optimise the ROI from scarce resources during this time,” Blakers says.

“As we work our way through this pandemic one thing is certain, the brands with a more mature approach to their CX strategy will emerge as stronger businesses and more attractive workplaces for potential new hires.”

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