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As the World Reopens, Focus on Customer Experience

I’m worried about reopening. Governments are starting to release their ‘relaunch’ plans for economies that have been decimated by the economic impact of COVID-19 and we’re facing a complex and challenging series of tradeoffs. Government leaders want to protect public health but are pressured to reopen as deficits grow day after day. Citizens are afraid for their families but want financial stability and the freedom to leave their homes. Small businesses want to protect their customers and employees but their financial forecasts are looking dismal at best.

Personally, I feel that things are being rushed and we’re risking safety for economic profit. This likely stems from a general tendency to err on the side of caution and growing up in a family of hard working nurses, but I know I’m not alone in this sentiment as business owners and citizens start online petitions pushing back on the reopening of businesses like dentists and barbershops.

But what should you do if you are a business owner in one of the industries already opening or set to reopen in days and, like me, think this is all moving a bit fast? What happens if you think it’s too early, but pumping the brakes could mean losing customers to a competitor who decides to open sooner than you? There is this incredible pressure to get back to business, and my guess is that many of the businesses that reopen in the coming weeks will be doing so reluctantly.

While I’m grateful that I don’t need to make this decision myself, I do think that the overall experience of reopening isn’t going to be great for anyone. Businesses will be stumbling to figure out to operate in a safe manner and implement new, imperfect processes while working with customers and employees that are uncomfortable and afraid of the unknown.

If you are a business leader facing this terrible decision of when to reopen, I believe it’s possible to do it on your terms and err on the side of safety while still giving yourself a leg up on competitors who are trying to pretend everything is “back to normal.” Focusing on customer experience as you define how you want to operate will not only let you reopen in a way that makes sense for you, but also set you apart from the crowd.

What is customer experience, and why focus on it now?

When I talk about Customer Experience (CX), I’m referring to your customer’s overall perception of and feelings about their experience with your company based on the culmination of every interaction they’ve had with you. Experience is a subjective, emotional assessment and results in descriptive judgments like ‘it was great’ or ‘it was terrible,’ not customer satisfaction metrics (e.g. how do you rate the service provided by company x? – 4/5). So why focus on CX when you have so many other things to worry about right now?

The way your business responds to this crisis will have a lasting impact. Customers are becoming more and more likely to abandon brands they love over bad experiences (e.g. 1 in 3 customers will leave after a single bad experience and 92% will leave after 2 or 3 bad interactions – the stakes are high).

It’s safe to assume that customer experiences will have an even greater impact in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Emotions are heightened, customers are feeling particularly vulnerable, and each of us will vividly recall who treated us well and who let us down during this pandemic.

Remember, great experiences make people feel special and when people feel good about a brand and the way it treats them, they don’t hesitate to tell others about it. Happy customers are 5 times more likely to buy from you again and 4 times more likely to refer a friend to your company. While creating great CX isn’t free, customer retention and word of mouth referrals are significantly less expensive than acquiring brand new customers (especially when the market is saturated with businesses all reopening at once).

Using CX to thrive on your terms

Here are some rules of thumb to follow and ideas for inspiration on how you can start creating great customer experiences and help your business navigate these crazy times – on your terms:

  1. Look from the outside in: Building a great customer experience requires looking at your business through their eyes and creating great experiences based on what they want and need (while still achieving your business objectives). As you create new processes to stay safe and embrace social distancing, think about different ways you can make those clunky and scary processes fun and exciting for some customers. Look to examples from healthcare providers like nurses and doctors finding ways to show a friendlier face to their COVID-19 patients or GE’s work to make CT scans less scary for kids by coming up with an Adventure Series for CT.
  2. Ask how you can help: Understanding your customers’ needs and challenges is key to creating an amazing experience for them. If you do everything you can to make this crisis a little bit less painful for them, they’ll appreciate and remember it. Also, don’t just ask once, ask frequently – we are all continuously forming and reforming our opinions on what we need and what is and is not acceptable in this new normal.
  3. Experiment: Come up with different ideas to improve the customer experience for all of your customer types and test them. See what works, and what doesn’t work by seeking feedback. What might create a great experience for a child, might be very different for an adult and that’s okay. Your approach to CX needs to be multifaceted or else you won’t meet the needs of every customer.
  4. Don’t Fake It: It’s pretty easy for customers to figure out if a company genuinely cares about their needs or if it’s all lip service and window dressing. If you don’t actually care about your customers and their experiences, your CX improvement efforts will fall flat on their face. This is a marathon, not a sprint and you need to be passionate about CX drive this work forward and maintain momentum.
  5. Do what works for you: Do what’s feasible for your business but focus your CX efforts on meaningfully adding value for your customers, not just generating “good press.” Great CX will look different for everyone as businesses reopen, so don’t compare yourself to others – choose the path that works best for you and your customers.

Improving your customer experience is about showing your customers that you’re all in this together by providing a phenomenal experience when your customers need it most. If you do this, you can reopen on your terms and be there for your customers without compromising your values.

Sarah Damberger

Sarah is a Consultant with Stack'd Consulting.

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