5 Ways to Reimagine Customer Experience in the Time of COVID-19

A look into the new-normal customer and how to meet their evolving expectations.

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Sara Staffaroni

September 28, 2020

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The COVID-19 pandemic has generated a new normal for almost every aspect of our lives—from how we work to how we socialize. Once COVID-19 is under control, there are some elements that will most likely return to the old normal—let’s hope the socializing is one of them—while others, like our purchasing habits, might persist in their newly developed form and continue to evolve. 

As these new consumer behaviors solidify, companies will need to adapt to meet or exceed the fundamentally different customer expectations; they’ll need to deliver great customer experiences (CX) to the new customer, or how Mckinsey & Company refers to them: the new-normal customer.   

In this article, we’ll share five methods to reimagine your CX strategy and program as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But first, let’s get on the same page about who this new-normal customer is. 

Who is the new-normal customer? 

For the foreseeable future, companies must prepare for a rapidly changing, unpredictable environment. And with it, the expectation of rethinking how to engage with this new-normal customer. Companies should expect some consumer trends and expectations to come and go, while others might stick.

The best way to manage these rollercoaster changes is to have a clear foundational understanding of who this new-normal customer is. Extensive research from McKinsey & Company has revealed an overview of this new customer that applies to all consumer-facing companies (see below).

SVG-Meet-the-next-normal-consumer-WEB-image3-vF

McKinsey & Company looked at the how, what, and where

  • How consumers get information.

  • What consumers purchase.

  • Where consumers purchase. 

The research shows that these new-normal consumers are shifting heavily toward using digital channels to gather information versus in-person connections. When it comes to purchases, they’re also seeking as many touch-free services as possible, including drive-through, curbside pickup, and other delivery options that emphasize health, safety, and also convenience.  

Brand trust is more important than ever with the need to feel safe during these uncertain times. We’ve seen that shoppers are migrating to established large brands in an attempt to see seek out trusted resources. Companies should prioritize how they communicate with customers and engage with their community to build and sustain trust.

Online shopping has increased significantly, however, shopping is still happening in physical stores, where the most important element to shoppers is hygiene. Brands with physical stores should rethink how they can enable an in-and-out shopping experience, that is as safe and quick as possible.

Lastly, with customers’ preferences changing rapidly during COVID-19, companies must prioritize a strong feedback loop—improving how they collect, analyze, and act on customer feedback to always have a pulse on the customer’s needs and want, while also being able to identify trends. Fore how to collect feedback on different channels, check out our guide on the best customer experience metrics.

Now that we have a general understanding of the new-normal customer, let’s look at how you can reimagine your CX strategy to build loyalty and long-lasting customer relationships even during these trying times.

1. Meet customers where they are

Digital transformation is a term that’s been used for many years to refer to innovative approaches that companies should take in order to provide a more seamless customer experience. While some brands embraced it right away, others dragged their feet. Now, all companies must spring toward it: it’s no longer a choice. 

To maintain customer satisfaction, brands should meet customers where they are: on digital channels. But it’s not enough to provide a user-friendly website or application; brands should make an extra effort to bring their services and products to the homes of customers. For example, fitness companies are extending free trials for their online and app-based classes.

Peloton, one of the leaders in connected fitness, reported their lowest net monthly churn of connected fitness subscribers and a year-over-year increase of 89% in total revenue for their 2020 fiscal year. They claimed this was due to the increase of people purchasing its fitness equipment and tuning into its live classes from their home. 

If you want to learn more, check out our new guide: How to Deliver a Seamless Customer Experience in the New Normal

2. Take care of your employees 

Employee experience (EX) has always been a key factor of a successful customer experience program, but now, with COVID-19’s unpredictabilities, it’s importance has significantly increased. If your employees don’t feel comfortable and safe, how will they make your customers feel that way? 

Treat your employees as you would your customers—check in on their wellbeing via employee surveys and feedback loops, be innovative in how you provide them with the tools and resources they need to feel safe and productive. Agility is key here. 

For more on how to run a successful employee experience program, check out this guide.

3. Rethink how you leverage technology and machines 

With customers’ needs and preferences changing now faster than ever, consider the ability to leverage technology, like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, etc. 

There are many ways these machines can help you optimize your CX program, one of which is to scale customer support. Customer support is a delicate balance of providing the right number of resources against the number of requests coming in. Machines can help your brand maintain that balance in favor of the customer and the employees in your Customer Support team. Consider Artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots, and content are tools you should consider in order to provide personalized support at scale. 

Check out our guide: How to Navigate Machines in the CX Ecosystem.

4. Keep a real-time pulse on customers’ preferences 

Collect, analyze, and act on feedback across all channels and key touchpoints. The best way to do this is by connecting your customer insight into a single source of truth, whether it’s a simple dashboard or connecting feedback to a CRM like Salesforce. 

The rate that this data is analyzed and acted on must quicken. Traditionally, companies will look at data once a day or weekly, but this much change at a time when customers’ perceptions and preferences could change from hour to hour. Find out where your customers are communicating the most, and allocate resources there. 

McKinsey & Company shared these examples from one Chinese rental company: 

  • The company established a team focused on monitoring social media to identify real-time trends. 

  • In Shenzhen, where employees were asked to avoid using public transit, it rolled out a “rent five days, get one free” offer that allowed people to expense a weekday carpool for work and keep the car on Saturdays to run personal errands safely.

If you’re interested in leveraging Salesforce to optimize your CX program, here’s a guide on how you can get started.

5. Re-examine the brick and mortar strategy

Over 50 U.S. retailers have closed their physical locations temporarily due to COVID-19. More and more customers have gotten used to online shopping, remote work, and using low-touch options when engaging with brands. These new experiences that are now comfortable to customers might transition over when brick and mortar stores can safely reopen. 

Companies should re-examine the role of their physical stores within the omnichannel experience. For instance, if they didn’t have it before, they should enable online purchases, pick-up in stores, and delivery. Some locations might be better off as “dark stores” for fulfillment only. 

Other companies might follow Nike’s lead in developing “experience hubs”—like the company’s store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood—providing a cross-channel experience. Customers are assisted by a personal coach and can try on shoes in various simulated sporting environments, all to help them pick their preferred product.    

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More Resources
How to Deliver a Seamless Customer Experience in the New Normal

How to rethink your omnichannel CX strategy for 2020 and onward as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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