Acting customer-centric in difficult times

How to adapt your business to a world with new customer needs and expectations

7 May 2020

In difficult times like the one we are facing right now with COVID-19, one thing is certain; the importance of delivering sublime customer experiences has not changed. On the contrary, the need for understanding and translating customer needs into business actions towards customers has become even more crucial.

COVID-19 has changed the way we live our lives, and furthermore, the crisis has made us rethink and transform the way we as customers consume and engage with brands. In the years to come, we will most likely experience some major behavioural changes among customers: An increase in online shopping, older people staying more at home, less business travel globally, more virtual meetings, an increase in health insurance costs etc. So, the fundamentals of business will change and have a profound long-term impact on our business models. We already see some brands thrive in this new environment while others are struggling to survive.

If you want to get through the current crisis successfully and maybe even position your brand stronger when the crisis ends, acting customer-centric makes perfect sense. Your customers need to know that you as a business still care and that they are still your main priority even in these difficult times. Thus, you may even say that the crisis has put an additional pressure on the importance of adopting an outside-in and inside-out perspective in your business.

To challenge your own organisation and your current work with customer experience, we recommend that you consider the three elements below.

We need to create memories that leave our customers with the notion that we care and are here to help

Former American poet, singer and civil rights activist Dr Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget, what you did, but people will never forget, how you made them feel”. Her words are still worth remembering, and in the current situation, the big question is: In a time when the world has turned upside down, how does your business make your customers feel?

Working with customer experience, we often tend to talk about the instant experiences we create when interacting with customers in one of our touchpoints. However, we typically forget to talk about how we can create memories that stick in the minds of our customers and how we make these memories grow. Customer experience is all about creating loyal customers for our business through sublime experiences that will make them into promotors and tell others about our brand. Thus, it is worth considering what memories you leave your customers with during this period.

In the current situation, customer-centric memories are without a doubt some of the most powerful things you can achieve if you want to maintain a strong brand through difficult times. It is not enough only to focus on short-term interactions with your customers in your customer journey. You need to work more strategically with the overall long-term memories you create for your customers. And the importance of doing that right now is crucial, as a crisis makes us more aware as individuals and makes us see ourselves in a more emotional state of mind. This results in changed customer needs and new preferences, which finally lead to changed customer behaviour. Therefore, having a different business focus on customers is crucial if we want to maintain our position as customer-centric.

When being in an emotional state of mind, we tend to be more tough when judging a brand. Therefore, we choose brands based on which ones we trust, find socially responsible and their ability to express understanding and sympathy for customers. Hence, strong brands will survive the crisis, and some companies will even do better if they succeed in acting correctly and adapting to the new more emotionally based customer needs. Therefore, it goes without saying that now is not the time for a big commercial push in the market, risking that we leave customers with the notion that we are here “to take advantage” of the current situation.

Instead, we need to create customer-centric memories that leave customers with the feeling that we care, have sympathy with their current situation and that we are here to help. So, the big question is: How do we do that? When creating customer-centric memories that stick with your customers, we need to understand our customers. We need to take the time to get a deeper understanding of their emotions, their changed customer behaviour and their new preferences. If we succeed in doing that, we can translate our knowledge into creative experiences that will finally end up being delivered as powerful memories which are relevant and personal for customers.

Adapt your customer journey to new customer needs to ensure that you take their new way of living into account

When adapting to new customer behaviour in your organisation, it is important to adjust your customer journey as well. You need to align your customer promise to your interaction through the customer journey. In other words, make sure that what you say is what you do.

Thus, when saying that you understand new customer needs and that you want to adapt your business to them, you also need to do so. Most customers are keeping a distance and still find themselves nervous to be among other people, except those who they consider to be part of their daily circle. How do we tell our customers that we understand their current situation, and how can we adjust our customer journey? A lot of businesses have already made different adjustments to adapt to the new customer needs: Doctors have made it possible for patients to have virtual conversations, bakeries allow customers to order online and have their bread delivered at home, and many more businesses are adapting to their customers in different ways. However, in addition to digitalising touchpoints throughout the customer journey, it may be necessary to consider changing current marketing flows and messages in your customer journey.

When delivering a good customer experience, relevant communication and letting customers feel appreciated are obviously important. Unfortunately, this can also be taken to the extreme. When taking the current situation into account, you need to be careful and consider why and for whom you are communicating. Also, you need to look through and adjust your standard messages that used to work. Last week, I got a campaign email from my favourite clothing brand saying: “Check out our new swimwear and be ready for your summer vacation abroad”. I still love their clothes, but this email has definitely changed my perception of the brand.

Remember that your employees are your most important asset to ensure satisfied customers and deliver customer-centric experiences

Structural changes are always easier than behavioural changes. However, they are equally important when adjusting your customer journey to meet customers in new ways. Changing physical touchpoints to become digital could be an obvious solution for many companies, but you need to consider that the employees may struggle to manage new channels and communicate with customers in new ways.

Therefore, building new capabilities among your employees could be necessary when changing your way of working to adapt to your customers. As a minimum, you should encourage an honest dialogue with your employees to find out if they need help and not just assume that everyone finds change easy.

When all this is said and done, remember that employees are just people with the same changed emotional state of mind as your customers. So, when reading through this article, where I used the word “customer” almost 40 times to underline the importance of adapting to your most valuable asset, you also need to remember to give your employees the same attention – because it is evident that satisfied employees are a prerequisite for creating satisfied customers.

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