Redefining Customer Experience During a Pandemic

Since the advent of COVID-19, businesses across the globe have felt the pressure to understand their customer experience better. With a momentous shift in the buying journey over the span of a few short months, businesses have had to rethink their strategies all while keeping safety and customer experience top of mind. 

From the closure of brick and mortar stores to a giant digital channel demand, it’s become integral to manage these unprecedented times with a focus on long-term customer experience solutions.

In this article, we’re sharing 3 ways you can start redefining the customer experience and respond to the COVID-19 outbreak in a way that promotes safety, prevention, and of course, customer loyalty.

Connect With Customers On Their Terms

With a stay-at-home order in effect and a 2-meter social distancing practice in place, businesses have had to rethink how they interact with customers. Brick and mortar stores, more specifically, have felt the brunt of the pandemic, having to adapt their physical stores to appease demands while adhering to new laws and regulations. 

For the customer, the shopping experience has also changed significantly. In fact, “grocery eCommerce soared in the second week of March, with almost twice the growth rate.” In addition, as of April 21st, 2020, there has been a 129% year-over-year growth in U.S. & Canadian e-commerce orders and an impressive 146% growth in all online retail orders.

As online shopping continues to grow during and well after the pandemic, it’s important to consider new and engaging ways to connect with the customer.  

Deliver Social & Digital Options

While customers flock to websites and social media during a time of social distancing, having digital options becomes essential to survive. 

Whether you provide a more immersive website experience or start selling on social channels, having various outbound communication tools can help the customer connect with you fast and effectively.

For some businesses, this can mean getting creative. Unlike retail and food service that can offer products for sale on a website, businesses like hair salons, fitness centers, and hotels must reimagine their offerings.

Creating websites with embedded Youtube Tutorials or hosting paid Zoom Meetings have become a new way to engage customers while at home. This also tackles future preferences, as online forms of engagement will continue to grow in popularity well after the lockdown has lifted. 

Ensure An Optimized, Data-Driven Experience 

When connecting with customers digitally, it’s important to keep in mind the user experience on different mediums. For instance, since the start of the pandemic, mobile has quickly become the channel of choice with 72% of consumers using mobile devices to shop.

Before enhancing your website or making any drastic changes, it’s important to gain an analytical understanding of your website’s performance. For instance, data-driven tools like a Customer Experience Management Platform (CEM) can help you understand where your customers are coming from. If most customers are surfing websites on their phones, as reported, your website should be mobile-friendly. 

Inform and Educate

During a time of uncertainty, communication plays a vital role in customer satisfaction and loyalty. Things like operational hours, safety precautions, delivery times, plans for re-opening, and so on, are all top of mind for the customer and things you should be communicating regularly. As a business, it’s important that you are on top of the latest news regarding the pandemic, and you are providing timely information and guidance for a sound shopping experience. 

Engage Customers As Soon As Possible

When it comes to updating your customers on any major shifts within your business, sending a message with the latest information is critical to gaining trust long-term. A lot of your loyal customers will already be connected via your mailing list, so this is an opportune time to use it. 

When constructing your message keep in mind that for many, this is an overwhelming time. Be timely with your message and keep it as short and educational as possible. Lastly, try to avoid any overt marketing, use your brand voice but ensure that you are using communication tools as a way to inform and connect with the customer during this trying time. 

Deliver Your Messages On Key Channels

Delivering information and educating customers on a safe shopping experience is effective only when you are able to reach the customer. For some, you won’t have an email address to connect with, so it’s important to consider other channels. 

Using multiple customer-preferred channels allows you to provide a consistent flow of communication that customers can reference regularly. Here we touch on a couple of channels that you can leverage to increase the chance of your message getting across and to show your customers you’re serious about their safety. 

Web

As mentioned, Canada and the US have seen “an impressive 146% growth in all online retail orders” since the emergence of COVID-19 and nearly all businesses with a website have seen some sort of growth. This means communicating via a website is integral to connecting with the customer. 

Whether in the form of a web page pop-up, live chat, or contact form, having a web channel allows you to reach customers as they browse your site and intervene before a purchase. For instance, if a customer is ready to checkout, a pop-up on a website can inform the customer of delayed deliveries, safety precautions taken before an item is shipped, and so on. This can ease the customer’s mind and deter them from overwhelming your care teams by calling, emailing, or trying to visit in-store. 

What’s more, live chats and contact forms provide customers with the chance to connect with you and present any unease with their experience. Therefore if there are any questions or concerns from the customer, you can educate them in the moment and ensure the rest of their experience is conducted with confidence. 

Social Media 

Since the emergence of COVID-19, social media has played a vital role in providing real-time updates and information to customers while allowing them to interact and ask important questions. 

For businesses, it’s important to constantly stay updated on your social networks and communicate with customers regularly on precautions being taken. In addition, it’s critical that you also use social to mitigate negative comments and re-educate misinformed clients. 

Regardless of how you decide to communicate with your customers, whether it be social, email, website and so on. It’s imperative that you maintain and disseminate your brand’s voice and values throughout the experience. In this way, you communicate to your customers in a way that they recognize and can associate with your brand later down the line.  

Don’t Forget To Re-Educate Employees

While informing and educating customers is vital to business success, so is updating your employees. For almost all businesses COVID-19 has unleashed a new set of health and safety practices. 

During this unknown time, be honest with your employees about the situation, connect with them about their feelings and take the time to re-train them in a way that ensures their safety and the customers. Dispersing surveys regularly or having 1:1 conversations with employees is a great way to understand their needs in a time of concern. 

Focus On The Future

The future for businesses is still widely unknown. With the race to find a vaccine or widespread testing, the focus turns to how businesses can leverage current digital practices for the future and how they can continuously listen to evolving customer preferences. 

Shopping brick and mortars will have to face a massive shift to selling online. In just a few short months, retailers saw the bankruptcy rate skyrocket from a Pre-Coronavirus estimate of 6 percent to 17.2 percent – and that’s not going to immediately change once the at-home orders have lifted. In fact, 24% of consumers said they wouldn’t feel comfortable shopping in a mall for more than six months after at-home orders are lifted. This pandemic has made it essential to consider what customer preferences are today with digital and how businesses can leverage it moving forward. This way, when immense circumstances arise, businesses are not impacted as largely. 

Analyze Customer Preferences In Real-Time

In order to be successful in the future, it’s important to closely monitor customers today. How they interact with businesses and what small but relevant changes they’re making to their everyday lives.

As previously mentioned, monitoring channels is important, however, it is also critical to consider what their main concerns are, what mediums they use, and how they feel about your operations. During this time you should be keeping tabs on their purchasing behaviors and building a strategy for the future that incorporates these changes. Remember, preferences and sentiment will always be in flux as you continue to monitor during and post-pandemic so ensure your strategies are flexible. 

Redefine The In-Store Experience 

After the pandemic subsides and more and more customers are able to shop in-store, it’s critical to provide engaging and loyalty-driven experiences. For most, this can mean providing more experiential experiences like Glossier’s visual cosmetic maze or Vans shop in London with a concrete ramp room for guests to socialize. As customers emerge from isolation, experiential experiences may be the driving force to bring in more revenue. 

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