How to centralise customer experience during covid-19  

Three steps for determining what customers need, and how you can fulfill them.

During the 18 months of its global presence, COVID-19 has put an abundance of new pressures on every dimension of human life. Major gatherings — sports, concerts — no longer occur without at least a second thought, and at most a mask and social distancing. Mass transit has adopted new safety mandates that may prove permanent. Particularly with the resurgence of the extra-contagious Delta variant, COVID-19 has infused daily life with an extra dose of anxiety, causing people and businesses to reconfigure their habits.

Amid changing behavior and needs, businesses have perhaps never more urgently needed to think about how to meet customers where they are. Customer preferences are changing, shifting ever more in favor of digital options. Customer demographics have morphed, as late-adopting older generations are forced to make the digital shift. And of course, customers’ emotional needs have become more pronounced, as global uncertainty has turned trust into a scarce resource.

As is often the case, this crisis has been — and will continue to be — a tipping point for businesses. Those who centralize new customer needs will evolve and thrive; those who fight to adhere to pre-COVID-19 standards won’t.

At The Strategy Group, we’re squarely devoted to helping organizations add value for their customers. This is a wide-ranging process that extends to every dimension of an organization, but it stems from the central question: What do your customers need? In this article, we explore some of the major influences that define pandemic-era customer necessities, including underlying trends, specific behavioral changes, and more abstract emotional burdens. If this article sparks any further curiosity, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Step 1: Know the facts

In order to determine what specific steps your organisation should take, you first must develop a deep understanding of how market conditions have shifted. These conditions constitute the new boundaries of our world, and therefore also the guidelines for organisational decision-making.

All in-person activities are suffused with an extra sense of danger. This has affected people across the full spectrum of virus vulnerability. The most at-risk people have stayed home, and federal mandates have caused even people with less compromised immune systems to modify their behaviour.

When people can’t go out to take care of their needs, they head instead to the internet.

Global commerce has migrated en masse to digital marketplaces. According to UN data, global e-commerce in 2020 rose to $26.7 trillion. That’s a $4.6 billion year-over-year increase, representing a roughly 3% rise in e-commerce’s share of all retail activity. The top 13 companies fared especially well, seeing a 20% increase in sales in 2020.

In short: The companies most able to provide excellent digital experiences have done the best.

Who’s driving that trend? Largely, people of advanced age, who had long resisted embracing digital options. Per an ABC News report, U.S. adults 65 and older spent more than $186 per month in 2020, a 60% year-over-year increase. People aged 35-44 spent the most, at $306 per month, a 40% year-over-year increase.

Key takeaways:

  • More people are relying on digital options to satisfy their needs
  • Many of these people have limited experience with digital options
  • Experts project that the shift will be largely permanent, as customers adapt to the convenience of digital options

Understanding this information is the first step in evolving to meet new customer needs.

Step 2: Communicating Proactively

Proactive communication is essential, regardless of external conditions. Everyone benefits from the transparency and information-readiness that regular, frank communication provides. But given the above trends, COVID-19 has deepened the need for certain kinds of communications among certain subsets of people.

Customers adopting digital habits for the first time in their lives will need guidance. This presents an opportunity for brands to develop new levels of customer trust. As with any strange new process, adopting digital habits will only happen through care and attention. Don’t just expect that people will be willing to make the digital transition; facilitate it with step-by-step guides, troubleshooting tips, and FAQs. Develop communications designed to address common roadblocks so that new digital customers will come to view you as a source of information and trust.

As you deploy these methods, develop novel methods for soliciting feedback. Where are customers running into obstacles? What are customers’ favourite/least favourite features? Where could they use additional guidance? There are more ways than ever to collect feedback digitally. Use it as a litmus test for how you and your customers are collaboratively adapting to new conditions.

Equally important as communicating actively with customers is doing so with your employees. It’s well-documented that happy employees make happy customers, so it’s crucial to consider employee needs as an integral piece of customer needs. As a McKinsey & Company report puts it, “it’s important to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.” Solicit internal feedback to determine how you can make employees’ lives more manageable.

A clear, concise message can make all the difference in a person’s life. Companies who make their updated offerings easy to understand and follow will turn this crisis into a wellspring of customer trust.

 

Step 3: Empathise

Yes, customers have all the same survival and comfort needs as they did before the pandemic began. They still need food, warmth, and security; entertainment and varied days. But piled on top of these are emotional needs whose contents and depths are entirely different.

Customers don’t just want to like brands, they want to believe in brands’ values. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, a majority of consumers want to buy from socially responsible brands. A 2020 scholarly study echoed this message, finding that corporate social responsibility efforts correlate with improved brand perception.

What are your values? Have you taken the steps necessary to identify them? If so, have you defined them visibly on all your platforms? Are they evident in the choices you make, your corporate communications, your internal policies, and your global footprint?

What can you do to demonstrate care that transcends your bottom line?

Empathy is an essential component of success in the modern world. The companies most able to emphasize with both customer needs and global conditions will cultivate the highest levels of brand trust.

Bespoke Customer Experience

COVID-19 has accelerated some trends and introduced some new ones, but the benefits of centralizing the customer experience remain timeworn truths. Good customer experiences drive lifelong loyalty; subpar experiences drive customers elsewhere.

How will you evolve to meet the global migration to digital marketplaces? How will you make this shift easier for the customers least eager to accept it? How will you demonstrate that your company values extend beyond profit, to less tangible, more meaningful realms?

The Strategy Group is dedicated to helping companies answer these questions. We have partnered with a broad range of companies to tailor bespoke customer experiences. We seek to establish company leaders as recognized drivers of growth, ensuring long-term buy-in from employees and customers alike.

For more on how The Strategy Group can help you put customers at the center amid COVID-19, contact us today.

Jeffrey Tobias

About Jeffrey Tobias

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well-known startups.

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Managing Director, The Strategy Group

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well known startups. Jeffrey’s corporate background includes leading global innovation strategy at Cisco, working with large corporates such as Adobe, Westpac, Telstra, Woolworths, and Perpetual.

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