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Customer Experience in a time of crisis

How do the basic principles of customer experience stand-up when consumers and employees are going through a period of crisis?  Will brands who excel at it have a better chance of survival than those that don’t?

In Australia and across the globe, people are extremely anxious as the spread of Covid 19 escalates. They’re worried about their health and the wellbeing of their loved ones. But they’re also worried about their financial future.

The panic buying of toilet paper, pasta and so on is a result of this anxiety. It is not logical. The majority of panic buyers most probably realise that it doesn’t make sense and that it is counter-productive to dealing with the threat.

It is an emotional response stemming from the need to feel safe, secure and of having some control over one’s life. The current mindset of your organisation’s customers, because of the Covid 19 crisis, may be very different to what it was a couple of months ago.

What hasn’t changed, however, is that people’s purchasing decisions are based more on emotions and how they feel rather than rational reasoning determined by objective criteria. Currently, they want experiences that make them feel safe, secure and that they still have some control over their lives. If panic buying toilet rolls satisfies that feeling and gives them the experience they want – then they will continue buying as much toilet paper as they can.

How to stay relevant

The challenge for brands is how do they stay relevant in this time of crisis and economic insecurity. The mindset of most customers across a majority of industries has shifted dramatically. For some industries particularly travel, tourism, hospitality and entertainment the effects of the pandemic will be nothing short of catastrophic.

Fortunately, the principles of customer experience are just as relevant, if not more so, during a period of crisis. Customer feedback and acting on that feedback is a cornerstone of CX. For brands to stay relevant with their customers they need to engage with them positively at an emotional level. That means listening to them with an empathetic ear and responding appropriately.

Everyone is spending more time at home. They have more time on their hands as they are restricted in what they can do outside of their homes. Some people might be feeling bored because they can’t go out and do the things they like doing. Others may see it as an opportunity to catch up on things around the house or some personal activities such as reading or listening to music.

To stay relevant your organisation needs to understand the new reality of your customers and how the organisation fits in with that new reality. It may be a perfect time for your organisation to reach out, listen to and help your customers.

Providing generic updates or information about the virus is not useful. A good example of brands being helpful are the banks giving small businesses a six month break from making repayments or Coles and Woolworths setting specific hours for elderly people and for those living with a disability.

People’s habits and daily habits are changing. How can your company assist customers to cope with this crisis?

Truthful, honest yet tactful communications

It’s critical that your brand’s messaging and tone of voice does not come across as being exploitative or patronising. Think of how you want you’re brand to be perceived when things start to return to normal rather than what opportunities exist for the brand right now.

A slight error in tone could generate considerable backlash. Your communications need to be truthful and honest but they also need to be tactful and sensitive to how your target audience is feeling.

The customer’s journey takes a detour

If people’s daily habits and behaviours are changing, there’s a good chance their journeys as customers are starting to take different paths. The customer journey documents the full experience of being a customer based on the sum of experiences that customers go through when interacting with a brand. It tracks the multiple touchpoints a customer has with a brand.

The most obvious and immediate change, due to social distancing and self-isolation, is the removal of face-to-face or physical touchpoints from the journey. Online shopping has surged during the crisis while retail, except supermarkets and pharmacies, has been decimated.

Numerous jobs and salaries will be negatively impacted in the coming months. In fact, a number of businesses and jobs are predicted to disappear. This means many customers will not have the level of income they previously had and will be looking for cheaper items and better deals. People who previously valued convenience and service over cost may now become very cost focused. Reliable bill payers may start paying late and become credit risks. No one knows how long the Covid 19 crisis will last. Unfortunately, people will suffer, not just from the health effects of the virus but from the economic impact. The core CX principles of empathy and listening to customers are more applicable now, in a time of crisis, than any other time.

Mark Atterby

Mark Atterby has 18 years media, publishing and content marketing experience.