One of the most important lessons we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of providing an incredible customer experience, no matter the circumstances. In fact, the lasting impact that great CX has on your business can, and should, become your competitive differentiator. Even before the pandemic, over 80% of organizations were expecting to compete in 2020 mainly based on the CX they provided. Now as the data emerges from the first few months of weathering the storm, we are seeing a heightened importance of experience as a factor in determining who sinks and who swims.
The remainder of this article will outline what we’re seeing emerge from the data, why businesses should differentiate through CX, a few key ingredients to creating a great CX in today’s world and questions you should ask yourself to make sure you’re on track to provide an great experience of your own.
What we are seeing
While the COVID-19 crisis will end at some point, providing an irresistible customer experience is a strong differentiator for businesses that will outlast the immediate crisis. CX was already an important factor that helped customers decide between buying options before the pandemic – 72% of customers in Canada to be exact. Therefore, businesses who were already providing great experiences before the pandemic have had nothing but the opportunity to elevate their performance.
They say history repeats itself. During the 2008-09 recession, those who focused on their customers returned 3x more than those who didn’t. “They” were right in this case. It’s important to realize that those leading the pack had already begun to entrench providing a great CX into everything they do – their mindset, systems, processes and technologies.
Source: McKinsey & Co.
Why Focus on Differentiating Yourself Through Customer Experience Now?
Of all the ways to differentiate yourself – price, location, speed, delivery, convenience, the list goes on – customer experience will be the one customers prioritize in the “new normal”. Prices can be slashed, locations opened and closed, products and mode of delivery changed – but the feeling a customer gets when they have a great experience with your product or service is unmatched. This is because customers are depending on the brands they interact with more than ever for empathy, care, and connection.
Moreover, brand loyalty has diminished and your pre-pandemic customers will not necessarily be your post-pandemic customers. Brand erosion is evidenced by 75% of customers choosing to try a new brand, product or e-commerce service rather than remaining empty handed amidst the COVID-19 supply chain disruptions. Now, 60% of them intend to integrate this new brand or “store” into their lives.
The upside is that if you can provide experiences that are meaningful to your customers and the connections that they crave, your customer retention, customer loyalty and referral rates will increase. No amount of marketing spend can influence purchase decisions quite like a friend’s resounding recommendation.
Winning the Hearts and Minds of Your Customers
So, how do you not only keep up, but win the loyalty and trust of your customers in a post-pandemic world? Here are 4 key considerations that will help you get started with designing effective Customer Experience solutions:
- Providing Genuine Care & Connection
Customers may no longer be able to linger for hours on end at their favorite coffee shop or be greeted by your employees’ smiling faces. This has left customers feeling vulnerable and looking for connection and care – something (anything!) to make them smile, laugh and bring joy. This means businesses need to prioritize behaviors that go beyond collecting customer contact information and spitting out automated solutions. Walk a mile in your customers shoes, so to speak, and learn: What is important to them? What do they value? What are their spoken and unspoken needs? Then use that information to take action. Business who understand that a human touch is the most important part of any experience, especially a great customer experience, will flourish.
- Offering Personalized Products or Services that Meet Your Customer’s Changing Needs
Businesses that are providing a great CX are delivering personalized customer experiences. Customers are gravitating towards businesses that offer smart, tailored offerings. An example of this is W Hotels, who has been providing one of the most personalized hotel experiences with their ‘whatever, whenever’ promise. This means that customers are at liberty to ask for whatever they want, whenever they want. This could be anything from extra pillows or an impromptu wedding cake delivered via helicopter.
Even relatively simple personalized offerings can create a tremendous opportunity to delight. For example, a coffee chain can keep track of not only customer names, but what they like to drink and how they like to drink it. This is what Mojo Coffee in New Zealand does to maintain a small business feeling despite having 30+ locations.
Organizations that are savvy should be collecting data to know what their customers want and leverage it to create delightful moments for their customers.
- Meeting Your Customers Where They Are
Customers want to interact with businesses in a variety of ways right now – both on and offline. In fact, the demand and usage of online orders has increased the same amount in the past 2 months then it has in the past 10 years. It’s no wonder it seems like everyone and their dog has started purchasing products or services online. It appears that concern for safety and the convenience of acquiring products or services have even pushed older demographics to embrace e-commerce.
An online presence has become an expectation for customers. Those who are providing a great experience online have simple, easy to use interfaces that mimic the connection a customer would get in person. For example, if you are known for giving great advice in store, make sure your customers have access to a high-quality 24/7 chat function or 1-800 number that can provide the same personalized service.
Whether a customer wants to purchase in store or online, businesses should ensure that each channel seamlessly compliments the other.
We’ve already stressed the importance of human care and interaction. You can’t fake it – using a chat bot or automated phone system, no matter how sophisticated, will not provide an empathetic experience or build a relationship as well as a human can. Therefore, business leaders around the world should balance taking advantage of technology advancements with a human experience that people crave, want, and need.
- Ensuring That Health & Safety Are Top of Mind
Businesses must continue to make health and safety part of their daily behavior and processes to win customers. The numbers are clear, approximately 80% of customers:
- Will seek out information on a businesses health and safety standards before visiting
- Will factor in the amount of in-person interaction required before visiting
- Will continue to minimize in person visits over the next 6 months, even as social distancing requirements continue to loosen
The pandemic will end, however, those who continue to maintain rigorous health and safety standards (even when regulations ease up) will be rewarded by their customers.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Ensure You’re Differentiating Your CX
No matter what your budget is, we’ve created 5 questions you should be asking to determine if your company is providing a standout customer experience.
- Do you know which moments matter most to your customer when they interact with your product or service?
- Are you creating personalized, delightful experiences for your customers at the moments that matter to them?
- Are you taking the time walk a mile in your customer’s shoes and gather customer data you can use to inform operations?
- Are you ready to pivot and implement new customer experience solutions when yours are no longer resonating or customer preferences (inevitably) change?
- Are you creating a customer-centric culture that hires and rewards people who genuinely care about your customers?
The next normal will be anything but static. Because the CX landscape is evolving with each passing week, companies can’t “set it and forget it” and still expect to be providing a great experience. The desires, goals and needs of customers are going to change, so it’s less about iterating to get it right and more focused on changing with your customers to match their new expectations. In the words of Maya Angelou: “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel”