Accelerating the Customer Experience post-COVID

Before we begin, we’d like to acknowledge the reality that COVID-19 is still an active pandemic. Although we refer to the “post-pandemic world” in this article, we understand that we’re still in the middle of it all — we just hope we can provide a little hope and guidance for the present and future reality of a post-COVID world. 

In any case, customer experience used to be the largest way to differentiate your brand among the turbulent sea of competition. Since the pandemic began, however, the challenge has evolved into not just standing out, but instead to effectively pivot, innovate and transform your business. The changes needed will look different for every business and are bound to evolve, but as we update our customer experience strategy for this new normal, it’s important to keep the changing competitive landscape in mind.

What have we learned during COVID?

Obviously, no one is happy to have experienced this pandemic but there have been several silver linings to emerge. About 77% of small businesses have viewed this crisis as a catalyst for change regarding issues in their practices that were already present. Companies are expecting these changes to be long-lasting and are already making the kinds of investments that ensure they will stick around. What we’ve learned about CX during COVID-19 can be summarized as follows: 

The ability to build—and maintain—connection is even more of a hot commodity, so it’s more important than ever for your teams to be empathetic and transparent. Nothing drove this realization home harder than providing services during the incredibly difficult year of 2020 (and beyond!). 

New ways of interacting with customers 

A recent study from CMO found that 84% of companies were using social media for brand building and more than 54% have used it for customer retention. The collective struggle of the pandemic has allowed for a greater understanding of vulnerability. Admitting that a brand is figuring out and already planning for new scenarios can humanize the situation for the customer, cultivating a space for understanding between the two. 

Another trend to emerge throughout the increasing digital interactions has been the use of video. Why video? It may be that COVID has accelerated the already declining amount of face-to-face interaction. Research also shows that 85% of Americans take the time to watch online videos each day. Therefore, integrating video content can provide customers with a better taste of a company’s digital persona. Just like receiving a text message on your phone, tone allows for interpretation but being able to see facial expressions and read body language can relay a sense of competency and trust among customers.

Changes in behaviors

As customer expectations continue to rise, CX leaders have needed to make integrated technologies a priority because seemingly the switch is here to stay for the long-term. 86% of CX leaders have updated their strategies because of COVID-19 and 79% say COVID-19 has increased the volume of digital customer interactions with their brands. The post-COVID-19 consumer is still going to be a bit financially nervous and hesitant with their spending, so the largest change in behavior is going to be the building (or re-building) of their trust. This means being prepared to immediately answer detailed product questions (not FAQs) online without having to navigate product pages.

Other factors that influence brand decisions are also changing as the “buy local” trend continues to accelerate. Even so, digital commerce has taken the lead as new consumers migrate further online for products like groceries— a switch that may last far past the pandemic. 

The importance of showing empathy 

At first glance, it may seem that the most important qualities to have in a CX role are patience and adaptability. While both are, indeed, vital, the real MVP is empathy. If COVID taught us anything, it’s the strength of understanding and giving breathing room for strange circumstances. While it’s far from over, when everything is weird, it can make it a bit easier to meet people where they’re at emotionally/mentally to help. A positive customer experience comes down to making a customer feel valued during every experience, whether that’s offering delayed payments, incorporating free features, or simply remembering their name. By establishing a sense of trust and compassion, you will inevitably set yourself apart from the crowd.

How to elevate Customer Experience post-covid

covid emojis

In a recent survey by Bain and Co., they found that in a post-covid world:

  • People want to feel less anxious.
  • People are seeking a more balanced, healthy lifestyle.
  • People want to feel more connected.
  • People are seeking out kindness and purpose.
  • People are more mindful of their spending, reflecting on what is essential and what is frivolous.

Because the pandemic has not only changed how we interact with customers, but also the level of standards the customers now have, it’s time to be a little bold in your experimentation of what works.

Embrace the rise of messaging apps

One way might be to incorporate texting into your communication channels. Much like chat, texting allows your customers to have a more instant conversation with support agents than sending an email while avoiding the possible anxiety of a phone call. A UJET survey done in early 2020 revealed that “72% of consumers age 18 to 64 said having the ability to text with a live agent in real-time would improve their overall customer service experience.” 

This doesn’t have to be strictly for support chat either. Casper, a pioneer in this method, created a text-bot for insomniacs in 2016. The bot can generate over 2,000 different responses, depending on what category and emotion the keyword falls under— proving that creativity and empathy are appreciated in every form, building a sturdy base for loyalty. 

Importance of efficient analytics 

Customer insight platforms, like Lumoa, helps organizations in the process of collecting and analyzing customer feedback to discover valuable insights. These analytics are always going to be crucial starting points for any type of growth, pandemic or not. The acquired data strengthens teams by encouraging disciplined thinking and focusing efforts with clearly defined goals or metrics for customer retention

Recently, there are more options than ever to interact with companies, resulting in customers who crave fast, efficient, and personalized customer experiences. However, customers say that most companies fall short when it comes to meeting their expectations. Perhaps more alarming is that 32% of customers would stop doing business with a brand after one bad experience. Efficient analytics can help you change up your form. Think of it like a yoga stretch— you should be pleased with how far you go consistently, but you’ll always be prouder when you can go a bit farther.

Recommended reading: 7 Ways to allocate customer experience resources more wisely

Rethink the customer journey 

A survey by Precisely and Corinium Intelligence (referenced above) showed 55% of companies say customers are now more likely to ‘self-serve’ using digital tools. This statistic alone shows a significant shift in potential customer journeys. Shifts are critical for business survival in many cases, but they may, in turn, produce new challenges at other points in the customer journey—digital customer ID verification, safe and contactless delivery, or simple returns processes, for example. Those who can see the complete picture by using effective CX programs—combining systems, data, capabilities, and processes—will be better able to anticipate customer needs and build stronger, more complete customer relationships.

You may also want to recreate or update your brand personas. A persona should include your target audience’s general demographic and psychographic details as well as your industry’s pain points. Incorporating a new focus towards customer frustrations may be the most worthwhile change your company takes. 

Utilize your platforms

Along the same line, reassess your social media approach, making sure to use social media as a tool to connect with and get to know your post-COVID customer passively and actively. What does that mean? Take note of consistent questions and comments. Much like in math class, if everyone is asking the same questions, patterns will emerge, pointing to a larger issue at hand. Think about the verbiage your customers are using and the topics they’re discussing. Then, seek out opportunities to start conversations with your customers via comments, DMs, polls, surveys, and other engagement features on social media. With the ever-evolving avenues the digital landscape provides, more features will help you to intentionally get to know your audience better. 

Stay agile to meet new needs

In March and April of 2020, during the boggiest months of the pandemic, we saw companies being very agile in developing features and reprioritizing product and service roadmaps based on customer requests and feedback. For example, the popular video conference app, Zoom, released more than 400 features in 2020 to enhance the user experience across a wide array of audiences, including business, education, and healthcare. Some of the most prominent features are spotlighting and multi-pinning video feeds, co-host capabilities for managing Breakout Rooms, the ability to use slides as a virtual background, High-Fidelity Music Mode, and filters, giving users the freedom to create a more user-friendly, engaging meeting experience.

When the world is quickly changing, companies need to be able to respond to these changes in realtime, or get left behind. Agile CX requires constantly listening 

Listen to the customer 

Of course, in the post-COVID world, customer engagement and development will continue to be essential; meaning, consistently getting your customers to discuss their pains, needs, and challenges regularly. You can use their feedback to better foster a curiosity into your company culture so anyone on the phone/chat/ticket response/ or face-to-face with potential and current customers can effectively share these insights.

Gaining feedback is half the battle itself, as it requires customers’ willingness to participate. Some new ways of making the process more enjoyable (or let’s face it, quicker) for them may include shortening surveys and re-aligning the function of customer insights towards spending their time making analytics clear and available to all.  

Each case will, again, differ, but by taking these earned insights you can craft some potential starter questions like:

  • How has your business or life changed since COVID-19? 
  • What would make your life easier?
  • How can our product or service be better suited to your current needs?

When the clouds part

When we can finally exist without the COVID cloud hovering, considering the customer’s comfort levels with all experiences will be a new challenge to track. Yet, the most prevalent silver lining on that cloud may be in the falling barriers to improvisation and experimentation that have emerged among consumers, markets, brands, and organizations because it’s given us a glimpse into a new horizon. In this unique moment, companies can learn and progress quicker than ever before, and that’s invaluable.