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Five ways customer experience leaders must respond to COVID-19


What are the customer experience implications of COVID-19 and how can your organisation respond?

16th Mar 2020

Customer experience (CX) is about knowing and responding to customer expectations and needs to improve customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.

In typical times, it can be difficult to understand what drives satisfaction and dissatisfaction and encourages loyalty and disloyalty. But in those rare moments in time when unexpected, profound, and significant changes are thrust upon the world (so-called “black swan events“), your customer’s needs and expectations can evolve in rapid and surprising ways.

At this point of a world dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, depending on your brand’s category, you might think that your primary issues are oriented to your supply chain and not to changes in customer preferences, attitudes, or behaviours. It’s sensible to plan ahead for interruptions to your businesses but customer-centric organisations will also prepare for how their customers’ questions and needs will change rapidly in the coming months.

Traditional crisis response along with CX best practices provide some guidance you can use and consider:

1. Consider likely and possible changes to customer needs and journeys

Generally, customer personas, needs, and journeys shift relatively slowly over time, but the coming months won’t be business as usual. Customer awareness, concern, and reaction to the virus will bring rapid shifts to expectations and needs, and growing government restrictions will impact customer actions.

CX leaders can direct and participate in efforts to build customer scenarios based on the research and data they already possess about customer perceptions and priorities. One way to do so is to work with cross-functional teams to envision how the understanding of COVID-19 will impact customer journeys.

2. Be proactive now with information for customers

If you wait for customers and employees to grow concerned and start demanding information from your brand, you’ll already be too late. Start working on a proactive and reactive communication plan.

Consider questions customers will have and ask of your employees, and evaluate if your brand has an opportunity or obligation to provide information. It might not seem, for example, that a retailer needs to address how customers can keep themselves safe in a pandemic, but conveying what your brand is doing to ensure a safe shopping experience in physical locations can earn trust (and business). Informational needs for customers may include:

  • How do I keep myself and my family safe while using your product or service?
  • Should I alter any behaviours, actions, or buying decisions to minimise my risk?
  • How do I know your products safe?
  • How will the interruptions caused by the virus impact your delivery and support?
  • Does your brand recommend I do something today to prepare for the future?

How your brand responds to questions like this will vary wildly based on your category. Consider both the proactive and reactive:

  • Proactive: Understand customers’ informational needs and provide that content proactively via websites, social media, and apps. This will help you to meet and exceed customer expectations, demonstrate your care, minimise contact volume, and avoid business disruptions.
  • Reactive: Arm your contact center, social media, sales, and PR teams with the info they’ll need to demonstrate your brand’s concern for the health and welfare of its customers.

Finally, consider how your customers’ changing needs and perceptions may impact your other marketing and communications plans. Consider your upcoming campaigns in terms of messaging and timing.

3. Listen to your customers

CX and customer insight leaders are in a better position than others in the organisation to understand how customer needs and expectations are swiftly changing. Start shifting your customer listening strategy immediately:

  • Use Voice of the Customer platforms to monitor for mentions of the virus and disease in your survey responses.
  • Tune your social listening platforms to recognise broad trends among your customers and specific inquiries directed to your brand’s Twitter and other social media accounts.
  • Work with your customer care team to capture and report changes in customer queries and call volume related to COVID-19.

Attitudes and perceptions will change very rapidly, so it will be essential to establish real-time monitoring and reporting.


4. Be prepared to act

Scenario planning, providing relevant info, and listening to customer sentiment are a good start, but as the virus grows, your customers’ needs will be less informational and more behavioural:

  • How will your brand deal with cancelations and returns at scale? 
  • Does your brand depend on real-world delivery of products and services?
  • How might you support people who are quarantined?

The answers to questions such as these are not easy since they involve issues of product, logistics, inventory, supply chain, and operations. But they can and will impact your customers and your brands in the coming months.

5. Plan for rapid shifts in corporate priorities and budgets

CX leaders must plan for interruptions to their existing portfolio of projects. Organisational priorities will shift, and efforts once thought important or urgent may quickly seem less vital as new customer needs quickly emerge or business operations are interrupted. 

Resources will shift as companies change their focus from solving broken touchpoints to addressing distinct and urgent customer needs and flexing to address severe operational, manufacturing, or logistics issues.

Your organisation is already, undoubtedly, discussing the potential or actual implications to the business of COVID-19, but are you also being customer-centric and evaluating how your customers’ needs and expectations will evolve?

Don’t just focus on the impact on your business; consider the virus’s implications to your customers’ health, lives, preferences, and behaviours. Keep in mind our opportunity to excel (or fail) for customers is greatest in instances when emotion and needs are running high versus in regular periods when everything is going as expected.


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