Customer experience during the COVID-19 crisis is about one thing: empathetic engagement. But the timing of your engagement is also incredibly important.
To show true empathy, you have to reach out before your customers come to you stressed and worried. You have to make time to understand their mindset and take clear steps to meet their needs before they even express them. That’s what empathetic engagement is all about.
So, how do you undertake proactive customer experience in the age of COVID-19? It’s not as difficult as you think. It may require loss in the short-term for your company, but it will pay off dividends in the long-term if you do it right.
The Empathy Factor
You have likely heard of Emotional Intelligence. It is partially defined as the ability to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. This is exactly the type of soft skill companies need to be leaning into as the COVID-19 crisis continues to impact our customer base. Every person on your team needs to think of themselves as part-time therapists, as they seek to improve the lives of the customers with every call.
What does working with empathy require?
It requires high-touch—even if it is done by phone or video. Customers want to talk to real live humans. They want to be asked in advance what will make their lives better. They don’t want to be further stressed by getting lost in an endless phone tree or bot-chat that goes nowhere. What’s more, they want your people to be aware of what your company is doing to help its customers. That means: training and communication are needed at every employee level, every day to keep your team informed about how to help your customers most quickly. It also means that you actually need to follow through on what you tell customers you’re going to do.
Remember, your employees are going through the crisis, too—they’re just as worried as your customers are about their families, their finances, and the future. Take time to have empathy for them, too.
Re-evaluating Your Current Programs
It’s possible you headed into the COVID-19 crisis thinking your customer experience game is already strong. That’s great—but then, think again. The things customers need right now are not the same things they needed a few weeks ago. They don’t necessarily need text alerts for 10% discounts off their favorite product. They want to know that life as they know it is going to be OK. They may need a free version of your product to improve their spirits. A way to send a free meal to a friend they are worried about. These are the kinds of things you need to start thinking about as we continue to move throughout the crisis—even if it means completely restructuring the customer experience journey you already had in place.
Changing the “brand” or “vibe” of your company? Definitely not. Customers need unchanging realities right now. Knowing their favorite brands are alive, well, and “similar” brings a certain sense of calm. Still, the experiences must be different if you want your company to stay relevant right now. That may mean increasing spend on social responsibility and decreasing your focus on sales.
With the recognition that Digital Transformation at scale will accelerate in the wake of Covid-19, companies in tech have been creatively deploying programs that will enable companies to invest in their businesses despite potential limited resources now and in the near future.
Stay Rooted in Reality
As the saying goes: be where your feet are. The Harvard Business Review is advising the same thing—stay present to what is actually happening now, rather than worrying about what may happen to your business down the line. In many industries, customers will not be buying or spending as much as they usually do throughout this crisis, and likely for some period thereafter. However, we also know people are spending more time at home. That means instead of pushing sales, it would be a good time to increase your digital user experience—buttoning up any broken links, lagging stream times, shopping cart errors, or anything else that may make a customer leave your app or website. The kinds of issues you need to focus on are ones where you can see clear spots on the customer journey, where customers are jumping ship and taking steps to rectify them.
Remember: COVID-19 isn’t going away immediately, no matter what your local governments may tell you. This issue—and everything it’s impacted, including unemployment, low consumer demand, etc.—is going to last months, if not years. There is still time to proactively engage your customers, even if you haven’t started yet. Brands that take proactive steps to comfort customers and protect their safety and financial confidence will earn a strong reputation, which will benefit in the long run. The key is to listen and follow-through on what they need—whether it’s good for you in the moment, or not.