CX in a COVID-19 World

By Sonia Perugini

Unless you manufacture antiviral disinfecting wipes or sell RVs, your organization has likely felt the sting of the pandemic. Marketing to a consumer base that has lost enthusiasm for a physical retail experience, is disinclined to travel far from home and has less disposable income seems like an exhaustive undertaking. Such challenges in our new normal are real indeed, but should not be perceived as insurmountable.

As we all navigate the landscape of commerce, it’s important to understand the accelerations of existing trends like contactless payments and self-checkout, in conjunction with emerging trends such as localized experiences and behavioral data. While cutting back is necessary in difficult times, scaling back on servicing enhancements and the customer experience should not be on the table. Now is exactly the time to double down on how you initiate and retain customer connections.

The following marketing strategies are meant to share concepts for consideration, inspire changes to some traditional methods and, hopefully, spark thoughtful action for new customer experiences.

1. Expand digitally

We are now creatures of the “Homebody Economy.” Today’s marketing should appeal to consumer’s more digitized lifestyles and convenience-seeking behaviors. Key elements for this approach require omni-channel integration of on and offline activities, as well as exploiting the customer “remote control” -- or mobile / touchless interactions.

According to pyments.com, in response to changing consumer behavior, “seven out of 10 SMBs have either added new digital capabilities or enhanced their existing digital services during the [first] 10 weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In fact, many more changed the way they operated to reduce costs and mitigate the cash flow crunch following the outbreak”.

When engaging customers, create personalized journeys across their preferred channels, thinking about how customers will be able to interact with your business. As customers expect a seamless experience, service channels (in-person, call centers) should be primed to connect with digital touchpoints (web, SMS, social, email). Integrating digital applications will help build agility into your operating model so changes will be quick and flexible enough to meet consumers expectations.

2. Highlight your organization’s sense of priority for the health & safety of employees and customers

According to Edelman Trust Barometer 2020, some 61 percent of consumers claim that how a brand responds during the crisis will have a large impact on whether they continue buying from them when the crisis is over. I’ve personally switched my allegiance from a large regional supermarket to a small family-owned chain because the former was months late in implementing key safety protocols. Although I’ve read they have since implemented new guidelines, their delayed response eroded my trust in their decision-making. When it comes to food and handling of produce, it’s a relationship that is unlikely to be rebuilt.

When even Disney fans are flocking to the Magic Kingdom in the face of Florida’s outbreak, I know I’m not alone in my thinking. One attendee at the park stated she “felt safer going to Disney than going to the grocery store”.

It’s no longer enough to flip over the “Open” sign on the door. Customers want to know how you’re keeping them safe, and surely if the measures could impact product or service timelines. Although life seems to move in slower motion these days, the threads of our lives are more frayed. Communicate your health and safety guidelines clearly and frequently in order to instill trust and stay ahead of customer expectations.

3. Engage with customers in a meaningful way

Customers are establishing new relationships with companies, and the circle of those trusted companies for a customer is getting ever smaller. Long to return are the days where customers are ravenous to try the latest, greatest thing simply because it’s new and for the #FOMO. Customer needs, in the midst of a pandemic, are more foundational.

Promotion and execution require a heightened degree of flare and supporting evidence – Instagram photos, YouTube videos and customer reviews/testimonials, to draw people’s interest and to ‘click to buy’. Even though we may be stationed at home more, customers have plenty of distractions these days, and their time is valuable - - so engage them wisely. Per a recent McKinsey study, social commerce is on the rise, with 34 percent of people saying they have shopped on Instagram based on an influencer recommendation.

Turning to more modern digital tools and connected platforms is key to driving today’s marketing efforts. Artificial intelligence (AI), for example, is helping companies learn from real-time customer activity and corresponding data to personalize engagement with the right message - at the right time - in the right channel - on the right device. As customers’ circumstances, needs, and sentiments evolve rapidly, gathering a clear data story becomes critical for AI-powered platforms. Personalization can then be achieved across the customer experience at scale by distilling these insights from data and guiding internal teams on how best to take action. To this end, BGC offers Three Personalization Imperatives During the Crisis to consider.

Lastly, while process maps help to outline the customer journey and highlight friction points to be addressed, it’s important to understand that every choice of word, or image, or typeface conveys meaning. These are the semiotics in the customer experience. As the AMA best explains, semiotics gives a visual “voice” to communicate how a benefit or experience should move customers. Dialing into these elements of an experience provides highly actionable intelligence, and can inform your creative, design and communication strategies in subtle yet profound ways. As a quintessential example, Apple is a brand that exemplifies status and a specific lifestyle as much as it sells hardware.

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