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 demand of digital channels, 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.
However, for the customer, the shopping experience has changed significantly. “Grocery ecommerce soared in the second week of March, 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 the pandemic, and well after, it’s important to consider the new, customer preferred mediums.
Deliver Social & Digital Options
As customers continue to flock to websites and social media during a time of social distancing, having digital options becomes essential to survival.
Whether you provide a more immersive website experience or start selling via social media, having various outbound communication tools is imperative for customers to connect with you fast and effectively.
For some businesses, this can mean getting creative. Unlike retail and food service that offer product for sale on a website, businesses like hair salons, fitness centers and hotels must reimagine their offerings for a more digital sphere. Creating websites with embedded Youtube Tutorials or hosting paid Zoom Meetings have become a new way to engage customers while they are at home – and long after. After all engaging customers during quarantine isn’t just a best practice for present-day but also well after the lockdown has lifted.
Ensure A Seamless, 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 emergence 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 monumental changes, it’s important to gain an analytical understanding of your website’s performance. For instance, using data-driven tools like a customer experience platform (CEM) can assist you in understanding where your customers are coming from. If most customers are surfing websites on their phones, as reported, it’s integral that your website is structured in a way that is 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 an email with genuine concern and the latest information is critical to gaining their 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 the email 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 utilize other channels for educational purposes.
Using multiple public 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.
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 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.
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 during this time. For almost all businesses COVID-19 has unleashed a whole 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 customer preferences will adjust in relation to post- COVID-19.
Shopping in-store for instance is a practice that will unlikely go back to the way it was. In just a few short months, retailers saw a 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 so 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 what channels they leverage is important, however it is also important to consider what the main concerns are, what medium’s they use, and how they feel about your operations. During this time you should be closely monitoring their behaviours and building a strategy for the future that incorporates their current demands. This will always be in flux as you continue to monitor during and post-virus, so be sure that your strategies are flexible.
Re-Define 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 their isolation, experiential experiences may be the driving force to bring in more revenue.
With that in mind, regardless of your vertical, it is critical to re-examine your business strategy and learn how to navigate the future of your business in a way that promises safety and success.