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Tips for Customer Experience practitioners during the COVID-19 pandemic

The world has now recognised and is starting to see the devastating impact that COVID-19 (or Coronavirus) will have on the lives of many. 

I live in New Zealand and at the time of writing this we have only 28 confirmed cases of Coronavirus. Despite this, businesses here are already taking huge losses. 

I overheard a Cafe owner today talking about how packed his popular beach-front cafe was Monday, 3 days later, the place is two thirds empty. 

Update: After over 100 cases New Zealand is now on lockdown for 4 weeks

There’s no doubt this pandemic is having a huge impact on businesses. But what does this mean for Customer Experience?

  1. Customer needs are going to change.
  2. Customer expectations are going to change.
  3. Customer journeys are going to change.
  4. Feedback/call volume may increase or decrease substantially depending on what industry you are in.

I read some of the best advice being given by CX leaders & influencers, and will summarise this information to you in this article – as well as including links to source material for you to read.

#1 There’s never been a better time to listen!

Now more than ever is a great time to put our abilities to listen to the test. In times of doubt and fear, your customers are likely going to have a lot of questions and opinions about you. 

We should be asking ourselves questions such as: How well do I truly understand what my customers wants and needs are? And; How capable are we at identifying changes in trends in customer discussion?

If the sudden changes in feedback themes are overwhelming, how can you tune your metaphorical company ears to understand your customers?

  1. Use customer insights platforms to quickly identify new trends and themes in your feedback. And act on these insights, fast! Thematic is offering free-of-charge customer feedback analysis for teams focusing on supporting those in need during this time.
  2. Start having live conversations with your customers. Your customers are likely looking to communicate with someone at your company and you should make this as simple as possible. If your phone hotlines are overwhelmed or you don’t have a hotline, maybe it’s time to invest in live chat solutions such as Drift or Intercom.
  3. Proactively reach out to your customers. If this is a viable option for your business, what better way of understanding and reassuring your customers than simply sending them an email or phoning them. You can describe to them how COVID-19 is affecting your business, and ask them how you can help to relieve some of their anxieties. 

Read: What Does Customer Experience Look Like in the World of Coronavirus?

+ From Forrester: Three Steps To Improving Customer Experience In The Middle Of The COVID-19 Pandemic

#2 Expect and plan for budget reprioritization

It’s no secret that CX practitioners usually have to fight executive teams for budget allocation. But this may change fast…

The need for customer insights is going to fast become a priority for companies who are scrambling to understand what they need to do to retain & support customers. Due to this CX teams could see an increase in budget allocation.

Although I would expect you’ll be expected to realign your focus; you may have to cancel projects that once seemed important to you. For example:

  • Budget for training employees in empathy cues may be swapped for customer service teams or self-service facilitators such as chatbots as customer query volume increases.
  • Projects that focused on the customer journey and customer touchpoints may be entirely cancelled in favour of deriving insights from large amounts of customer feedback as executives search for answers.

Whatever the case may be for your company, you should seek clarity and plan for project & budget reallocation. 

Read for greater detail on budget/project reprioritization: The Customer Experience Implications Of The SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus And COVID-19 Disease

#3 Now is a great time to focus on customer retention

It’s true that the Coronavirus may have serious financial implications for many businesses, which is why this is the best time for CX & Customer Success teams to focus on retention. 

This pandemic provides a unique opportunity for us as organizations to show that we truly care and empathize with our customers, and that we value their business and want to keep it.

During these times our compassion will generate customer loyalty & goodwill which will help us retain our customers. We can show compassion by following tip #1 (listening and acting accordingly) and tip #4 below. 

Due to financial strains and prioritization realignments you won’t be able to retain every customer. But if you show compassion and the customer feels heard, they will be more likely to return to you once the storm has calmed. 

#4 If you can offer a service or capability to help your customers or the public, you should do it!

It’s brilliant to see so many companies jumping at the gun to do everything they can to help, here are some great examples:

  • Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom, offered schools free licenses to help transition to virtual classrooms and distance learning.
  • LinkedIn has made 16 of it’s courses on virtual meetings, working from home productivity and building virtual relationships free.
  • Amazon is looking after its employees by offering raises, and has stated it will be hiring 100,000 more workers to help those have been laid off due to COVID-19.
  • DoorDash has waived commission fees for independent restaurant partners.

Check out 50 ways companies are giving back during the Coronavirus pandemic.

At Thematic we are offering free-of-charge customer feedback analysis for teams focusing on supporting those in need.

Think about how your service or product could be used for the greater good of the community right now. It will help you generate customer goodwill, and more importantly, it’s a genuine help that the world needs right now.

“Growth through admirable acts will define companies and people now.”

Jeanne Bliss

#5 Prepare your customer service front-line teams.

If your customer service teams are becoming overwhelmed, or as general advice; you should help them prepare by having answers to questions that your customers are likely to be asking. Some types of questions that your customers may ask could be:

  • Will your product or service have an effect on my safety?
  • How is the Coronavirus going to have an impact on your service, deliveries or product?
  • Do you recommend that I do something in order to be proactive during these times?
  • If there is going to be interruptions or difficulties with your product or service, will there be price reductions or refunds?

You should spitball ideas with your customer service team to come up with the most likely questions and the most appropriate answers. Or better yet, read customer feedback and analyze it so you KNOW what your customers are asking.

If you are sharp and confident in your responses to worried customers, you will ease their anxieties. If you are wobbly or unsure, they may become more stressed and start generating negative sentiments towards your brand. 

For the expanded view, read: Is your customer support team ready for COVID-19?

The common theme here

Now that the threat of losing customers and business is high, our authenticity is truly being put to the test. Do we really care about our customers? And if so, how can we show that?

People will no longer settle for corporate-like responses and processes, and we’re being challenged to find the true balance between empathy and profit.

Now is a very interesting time for the customer experience, and I suspect that it will go forever changed as we learn from these events.

When a tragedy strikes and luxury is put into question, maybe our relationship with our customers is the only thing stopping them from pressing that subscription unsubscribe button.

Stay safe out there!

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