COVID-19 has wreaked havoc all across the globe. Shutdowns, quarantines, uncertainty, and panic are creating conditions that are not ideal for the customer experience – to put it mildly.
Businesses around the world are bleeding from the various government mandated shutdowns. But these same businesses must remember: in difficult times, it is more important than ever to maintain or even boost the customer experience.
CX is all about knowing and responding to customer expectations and needs to improve customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. In these trying times, customer needs and expectations can evolve in rapid and surprising ways. It is imperative to understand and anticipate them at this stage.
Listen and be Flexible
The first part of understanding is to listen. Just because a lockdown has occurred, doesn’t mean customers are going to magically stop consuming products and services. Don’t tune out – instead businesses should listen harder via social media and from on-ground teams.
Secondly, businesses need to have empathy with panicky customers. Now is not the time for customer-facing teams to ‘play it by the book’ and enforce rigid policies. Teams need to be empowered to respond in a situation-appropriate manner.
CX leaders can direct and participate in efforts to build customer scenarios, based on the experience and data they already possess about customer perceptions and priorities. Working with cross-functional teams to envision the impact of COVID-19 on the customer journey will help in anticipating customer needs.
Surprisingly, airlines are doing this right. Across the globe, airlines are stepping up to give customers the confidence to book their trip in advance – even if their city or country is currently in lockdown. Most of them have publicly announced that if you need to cancel or change a trip, they will give you a credit toward another flight, with no cancellation fees. An example of this is Japan Airlines, which will accept refunds (without any fee) for customers affected by the COVID-19 lockdown in Japan.
Have a Plan
Having a proper, well-thought out plan can mean all the difference between getting out on the other side alive, or sinking with the storm.
The best way is to enunciate clear principles and stand by them. First and foremost, the health and safety of everyone – employees, customers, community, and more – need to be the highest priority. If a business needs to temporarily shut down, require employees to work from home, or take any other action outside the norm, then that is how it must operate.
Organising an event where people gather during this time makes for bad public relations – not to mention highly irresponsible. Even if your company has sunk lots of money into the event, or is concerned about the experience message, we should do the right thing and cancel or at least postpone the event. Remember, even the NBA, English Premier League, and Formula One have cancelled their events.
A great example of how its done can be seen in Starbucks. In a letter from their CEO Kevin Johnson, Starbucks specifically mentions that the coffee chain has learned from its Chinese operations, and lays out concrete next steps that the brand may take, including:
- increased cleaning and sanitizing procedures
- expanding ‘catastrophe pay’ for employees
- enabling mobile order-only for pickup
- closing stores, but only as a last resort
This strategy conveys a sense of security because the company has presented a solid plan that can be implemented immediately, versus developing a plan on the fly.
Think of the Long Term
Like all things, the COVID-19 situation will not last forever. The pain experienced now will be severe, but short.
The financial impact of COVID-19 to the world economy is estimated to cost an eye-watering US$1 trillion. But rather than abandon CX in favour of cutting costs, show your customers that you are there for them. They shouldn’t notice an interruption in the way they’ve always done business with you.
Some organisations will make the mistake of cutting in the wrong places – as a result, their CX will deteriorate. But if that’s what your competitors are doing, it creates a great opportunity for you. We must have faith that the worldwide economy will return to normal, but it may take months or even longer. In the meantime, don’t erode the relationships you have with your best customers. Have an attitude of optimism, and remember: this too shall pass.