The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we all live, work and interact. And that has created some significant challenges for our businesses. We have had to adapt quickly to new ways of working, manage supply-chain disruptions, safeguard our employees and deliver a new type of customer experience. To connect with customers, we have had to find ways to show empathy and care while communicating and providing our services and products at a distance. While the pandemic is hopefully not something that will be here to stay, we can learn a lot from the experience. After all, it is the companies that have led with empathy and have been able to genuinely meet their customer needs that have excelled and strengthened relationships. By adopting agile ways of working, incorporating new technologies and ensuring that our offerings are customer-centric, we all have the opportunity to thrive both now and into the future.
How COVID-19 Changed the Customer Experience
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have needed more information, guidance and support than ever. They have been focused on keeping their families safe and have leant on businesses that they felt they could trust. Ultimately, when change is everywhere, reliability is a must. This need for trust, transparency and compassion has made a considerable change to customer experience. As restraints and limitations have altered the way we live, companies have had to find new and innovative ways to deliver on their promises and remain connected. In many cases, this has meant investing in digital solutions and reinventing internal processes.
The pandemic hasn’t turned out to be a month-long disruption, instead, it continues to disrupt our lives. Over a year after the pandemic first hit, risks of exposure still remain high in many countries around the world. The short-term changes that we have made have become habits, many of which will stick and shape the landscape for the future. Therefore, to prepare for long-term shifts in consumer behaviour, we need to keep a real-time view of customer preferences. Only by doing this and having the technology and processes in place to rapidly innovate and redesign can we meet customer expectations.
The Importance of Showing Empathy
In times of crisis, emotions understandably run high; people want to be understood and are sensitive to tone and motive. This makes interactions more important than ever and puts the strengths and weaknesses of customer relationships under the spotlight. When everything feels uncertain, businesses that create meaningful interactions can leave a long-lasting impression on their customers. There are several ways that you can show you care:
- Stay true – stick with your company values and purpose. Your customers rely on you for doing what you do well, ensure that even if you need to adapt that you stay true to who you are as a business.
- Reach out – instead of trying to gain a competitive edge or market a new product or service, reach out to offer support. A short term experience can go a long way to building a long-term relationship.
- Care for employees – by caring for those who work for you, you demonstrate your core values as a company. What’s more, without a fully functioning workforce, you won’t be able to deliver customer experience.
- Build community – caring can go further than employees and customers; you can also care for the community. If there is something you can provide that will make a difference, it can bring comfort and do wonders for brand recognition.
- Minimise risk – in times of a global pandemic, you need to do everything you can to protect your employees, your customers and the community. By reducing risk, you show that health and wellbeing come before profit.
Connecting with Customers at a Distance
One of the biggest changes during the COVID-19 pandemic has been doing everything at a distance. Simple activities have been difficult, risky or even prohibited and this meant that demand patterns literally shifted overnight. Customers needed digital, at-home and low-touch solutions. Even the digitally-resistant customers were forced to rely on digital services. It was the companies that were able to not only offer these digital services but to help customers safely navigate through their new terrain that saw success. Whether it was free trials, guides or virtual support, those who went above and beyond were able to connect with existing customers and also reach out to new audiences.
Building Agile Capabilities
A huge part of being able to connect with customers in a time of crisis is being able to rapidly innovate. This might mean accelerating time to market for new customer experiences, rapidly prototyping and deteriorating or releasing innovations in their minimum viable state. However, what is vital is an understanding of the new dynamics and customer pain points and being agile enough to find ways to quickly address them. Having data at your fingertips so that you can gain instant insights into your customers, how they’re feeling and what they need makes a huge difference. And, with the rise in digital, collecting data is becoming easier than ever. However, it is having the technologies in place to quickly analyse that information so that you can make data-led business decisions that will help you to best serve customer needs.
How Will Your Business Connect in the Future?
While we aren’t there yet, the COVID-19 crisis will end at some point. However, it will leave behind permanent changes in consumer preferences and our business models. More customers are online, willing to try digital and remote experiences, an acceleration of a trend that was already underway before the crisis.
Companies have had an opportunity to test innovative new approaches during the pandemic. Some have had to completely reimagine their brick and mortar strategy. However, it is the socially conscious that have thrived. Instead of thinking about marketing or fulfilling customer desires, they have focused on meeting their needs. By showing empathy, they have been able to build authentic connections and long-term relationships that will outlive the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.
As the world continues to become more digital, businesses need to find a way to be human across all channels. Customers expect experiences to be simple and efficient but also to be surprised with unexpected caring gestures. Investing in digital engagement, safe experiences and data and analytics can help you to recalibrate for the changed world. Ultimately, companies who are able to build agility across business functions, rapidly innovate and deliver superior experiences are more likely to increase adoption and maintain relationships into the future.