We’ve almost run out of adjectives to describe the Coronavirus pandemic that has impacted every aspect of our daily lives as individuals, families, consumers and employees. And as the lockdown eases, we are all adapting to the new normal, a phrase that has become ingrained in our collective psyche. When it comes to CX, what does the new normal mean for businesses that are preparing for a post-pandemic future? Maybe it’s time for a CX reset.
Brands have now moved beyond the react and respond stages to recovery. For customer experience, let’s add a fourth stage here. Reset – because for every business the pandemic has rewritten customer experience in indelible ink. Even those brands that hard-wired a customer focus across the business years ago are working out how to decode what the CX future now looks like.
By John Aves
As Marketing Week says the Coronavirus outbreak ‘pushed customers to the brink financially, physically and mentally’. Businesses had to find solutions to the immediate and evolving needs of their customers whose behaviours and beliefs changed as quickly as the crisis deepened. Those brands with a CX vision came into their own during lockdown and were able to ‘… react quickly and meaningfully to the crisis. Many will no doubt become gold-standard case studies of an agile CX response in the future’.
But let’s get back to now. The scale and scope of behavioural change means that companies will need a robust transition plan to reset their customer experience to differentiate and thrive. The marketplace has changed forever and the ‘winners’ will be those companies that have the ability and the vision to get ahead of these changes. The status quo is not the route to market leadership.
CX: changing customer behaviour and new journeys
Out of necessity, changes in customer behaviour that can take years to influence took just days or months. Dyed-in-the wool beliefs that prevented consumers from trying alternatives quickly changed too. New customer journeys were formed and digital platforms were the first port of call. Research by Marketing Week and Econsultancy found that over half of marketers (53%) said that the pandemic had caused ‘radical’ or ‘significant’ changes to journeys. The change is regardless of the size of the business.
These changes will endure
McKinsey discovered that 75% of US consumers tried a new store, brand or different way of shopping during the pandemic. One of the headline findings was more than 50% of consumers believe they will stick with new brands and new digital journeys after the crisis. Research in April by Accenture adds depth to these findings. Its study found that new habits formed during lockdown ‘will endure beyond this crisis, permanently changing what we value, howand where we shop, and how we live and work’. Changed behaviours are likely to sustain. Accenture identifies three long-term trends that have been accelerated by the crisis:
1. The ever-increasing focus on health – businesses will need to work out how they can support healthy lifestyles for consumers and employees.
2. A rise in conscious consumption – brands will need to make sustainability and conscious shopping part of their offer.
3. Growing love for local – consumers had to shop locally out of necessity during lockdown. The pandemic has accelerated the trend to buy locally to support smaller stores, local producers and growers. Businesses will need to work out how to customise their offering for local needs and connect with consumers through shared values.
Resetting CX – planning for now, planning for the future
Change like this requires people throughout the business – at all levels from leadership to the frontline – to be equipped to deliver a new and different experience to customers. The changes are so profound and the stakes are so high that businesses need to reconsider their operating models. This requires a cross-business, integrated perspective and not a siloed, function by function, response.
Here are five key steps to consider in the redesign of your CX
#1 Use behavioural science to revisit and better understand new customer beliefs and expectations
What do we mean by behavioural science?
Put simply it’s understanding why people make the decisions they do. With such a seismic shift in customer behaviour, applying behavioural science to your experience and using insights to influence and shape this behaviour is crucial to designing and delivering renewed CX in the wake of the crisis. You”ll need to understand these changing behaviours to be able to position your offering.
As McKinsey asserts, many longer term changes in consumer behaviour are still forming, so companies have an opportunity to shape the new normal. The stickiness of this behaviour change will be dependent on customers’ reaction to new experiences. This is just one factor that will influence the strength and pace of behavioural change, according to McKinsey. Country, consumer segment and values are also important factors. Habits that were accelerated will also be stickier than new habits.
Understanding new and emerging behaviour
Companies will need to get even closer to customers – and the data they have on those customers– to fully understand the factors shaping customer attitudes and behaviour. Understanding customers and giving them what they want and need will be key to growth. Those organisations with robust VOC processes and strong data analytic capabilities will have an edge.
Many of the entries on Marketing Week’s newly compiled CX50 list features projects that executives spearheaded to help customers get through the crisis. There was also another stand out commonality among these leaders. Many of the executives were also driving business integrations long before the outbreak and had an integrated approach to data and cross-silo collaboration.
What types of data can you mine and analyse?
- Social media mentions when emotions are at their rawest
- Insight from AI-powered solutions
- Customer conversations and attitude surveys
- Feedback from front line customer service employees
- Footfall, omnichannel and basket data to understand customer behaviours around visiting physical stores and online shopping and the types of products and services they are buying into
#2 Align your brand purpose to customer beliefs and values in the new normal
Once you understand your customers’ new beliefs, values and expectations you’ll need to revisit your brand purpose to make sure it aligns with customers personal values. Buying decisions stopped being made on price and product alone long before the pandemic. Now, more than ever, consumers are assessing businesses on what they stand for, say and do. Brands that get this right will be able to emotionally connect with consumers around a set of shared values.
Businesses that fail to do this are paying the price. Research from Accenture tells us that more than half of UK consumers want brands to take a stand on issues they care about. Meanwhile, the words, actions, values and beliefs of company leaders influence the purchasing decisions of 51% of consumers on these shores.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. Purpose-driven brands that connect with customer values will win out. The pandemic is forcing consumers to think about the purpose of the brands they are buying from. This will influence loyalty and advocacy in the long term.
How consumer values are becoming more entrenched or changing:
Supporting local – in the past few months, the global marketplace relocated to the local high street. Consumers have turned to local growers, producers and makers to help them through the crisis.
Taking eco-responsibility seriously – when it comes to grocery shopping, interest in food sustainability and food provenance was already growing pre-pandemic. This has only been accelerated and amplified by the crisis.
Employee health and well-being – organisations that demonstrate that they take seriously the health and well-being of their employees, who worked tirelessly in the past few months to serve and support communities and often put their own safety at risk, will be held in a higher stature.
Giving back – businesses that give back and lend support to local communities, charities and organisations will also better connect with consumer sentiment.
Here are a few questions to think about when revisiting your brand purpose:
- What does your brand stand for today?
- What do you want your business to be known for in the future?
- How is your business part of the health ecosystem?
- How does your business serve and support local communities?
- How can your business use brand storytelling, for example, in content on your website,blog,and social media pages to emotionally connect with consumers on shared values? Be sure to avoid virtue signalling though.
#3 Re-evaluate your customer promise
Now is the time to re-evaluate your customer promise to make sure that you are sending the right trust signals on experience, if your business hasn’t already done so. The global health crisis, heightened financial insecurity and economic uncertainty mean that keeping customers safe and secure is priority number one. Building trust (by providing assurance and showing empathy) needs to shape the interaction organisations have with their customers.
Businesses like British Airways Holidays have been very quick to do this. The travel firm has launched its new customer promise to give customers complete peace of mind when booking a holiday.
- Flexible booking – travellers have been offered increased flexibility to change dates or destination or cancel with an option to cancel or amend free of charge within a specific timeframe
- Enhanced standards – all accommodation partners must be signed up to its new Covid-19 minimum standards, created in line with guidance from the World Health Organisation
- Acting responsibly – full refunds within 14 days will be offered if holidays are not fulfilled
#4 Redesign key customer journeys
Once you have redefined your customer promise, the next step is to identify what needs to happen at every stage of key journeys that are critical to customer trust and loyalty. By leveraging insight from your behavioural analysis, you’ll be able to identify what needs to happen at every touch point to influence and shape customer behaviour.
Journey mapping along these critical journeys will also help you: deliver on your customer promise. They’ll help give customers the assurances on safety and security they need, make experiences hyper-relevant, convenient and easy, close any experience gaps, and unlock new insights to innovate and find new ways to create customer value in the new normal.
Focus on peak moments
Behavioural economics talks about the peak-end rule whereby our memory of past experiences is shaped by feelings at a peak moment of an experience and the end. Memories are not built on an average of positive or negative feelings.
Focus on moments in the customer journey that have a peak impact. These peaks will be at times when emotions are heightened. For example, these can be first-time experiences when an anxious customer signs up for a new service online, or when they step through the door for the first time. Peaks can also include moments of discovery or surprise, or at the end of an interaction too.
Investing in digital journeys
Investing in digital journeys is fundamental to any CX reset. Customer behaviour has radically and permanently shifted and so the quality of the omnichannel experience is even more important now. This investment needs to be driven from the customer back, and address consumer requirements for simplicity, speed, intimacy and consistency across channels. Omnichannel simplicity and consistency is so important that companies will need to take a joined up approach along key journeys.
Here’s the thing though. Mass migration online has exposed gaps in customer experience according to 55% of marketers. And while 77% of businesses say they have the staff to cope with new customer journeys as a result of the pandemic, only 58% say they have enough information about emerging journeys to make informed decisions. We’ve gone full circle here. Businesses without the capability to map (new) customer journeys to create better experiences by design will struggle to keep competitive in a post-pandemic world. You’ll need a plan.
#5 Rethink your employee training strategy
Businesses that provide a great customer experience usually provide a great employee experience too. Your employees have been through tumultuous, stressful times. They are adapting to new ways of working – either remotely or in a hybrid workplace. Customer-facing teams have been leading the vanguard on what customers experienced during the crisis. Back office staff have had their shoulder to the wheel to ensure business continuity. As a leadership team, working out how your customer experience redesign aligns with profound changes in employee expectations, and what skills and tools are needed to deliver your renewed customer promise, is crucial to successfully resetting your CX.
Face-to-face training was interrupted by the Coronavirus outbreak and companies quickly pivoted to online employee training and coaching as part of a blended solution. Think about how e-learning can deliver the training you need to make sure your people are inspired, informed, empowered and motivated to deliver the differentiated experience that you have redesigned. Your employees may need to be equipped with new skills and knowledge in the new normal.
Mass digital migration also means thinking about how to redeploy and retrain customer service representatives to support digital customers using technology that has kept everyone connected ike Microsoft Teams, Zoom and chat. We’ll be exploring this in an upcoming post so be sure to check back.
The pandemic has accelerated profound changes in customer beliefs, values and behaviour. These changes are the key drivers behind the CX reset that organisations will need to make if they are to thrive in these difficult times. Companies will need to get even closer to customers – and the data they have on those customers – to fully understand the factors shaping customer attitudes and behaviour. You’ll need to think about how your brand purpose aligns with any changes in customers’ values and how your customer promise delivers the assurances customers seek on safety and security.
Core business models will need to be digitised for businesses to remain economically viable. Investment in digital capability needs to be driven from the customer back. Omnichannel simplicity and consistency is so important that companies will need to take a joined up approach along key customer journeys. Any gaps in experience that digital journeys have exposed need to be closed.
One thing’s for sure. Using Covid-19 as an excuse for poor experiences will not cut it with fatigued customers. It’s been nearly six months since the crisis started. There’s no going back to the old normal. Businesses need to focus on today’s customers and their expectations to quickly redesign experiences.
These massive changes require people throughout the business – at all levels from leadership to the front line – to be equipped to deliver a new and different experience to customers. Working out how your customer experience redesign aligns with employee expectations and empowers them to deliver your renewed customer promise is crucial to successfully resetting your CX. You may also need to think about how online employee training could help deliver the change you want.
This will take leadership from CEOs that see this moment as a unique opportunity to reset customer experience and forge a market-leading reputation as their business recalibrates for a post-pandemic future.