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As the coronavirus pandemic dramatically affects the lives of people around the world, businesses must adjust their CX strategies accordingly.
Good customer experience involves honesty, malleability and authenticity -- and businesses should display all three of these traits during the pandemic.
Now more than ever, businesses need to listen to their customers to understand their wants and needs, and then respond appropriately, said Nicole France, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.
"I've seen a variety of different companies [be] sensitive to what's going on without doing the classic thing that I think we're all immensely tired of, which is getting emails from random companies we might have bought something once from, saying 'We're in this COVID-19 thing together,'" France said.
Listen, respond to customer needs
Andrew Wynn, director of home services at Hippo Insurance, a home insurance company that offers preventive home maintenance in San Francisco, got a clear message from the company's customers. Typically, the company's home maintenance service, Hippo Home Care, operates by sending home service technicians to customers' homes with the goal of preventing issues before they become large repairs. But as the coronavirus led to California's stay-at-home orders, the company was unable to send technicians out. Hippo Insurance had been developing a virtual version of its service prior to the pandemic, but feedback from customers encouraged the company to bring that to market more quickly, Wynn said.
"We hadn't put the pedal to the metal," he said. "As soon as we started hearing from our customers, we realized, 'Oh, this something we should actually do.'"
Hippo Insurance now offers telemaintenance through its website, on which customers can sign up for a free virtual session. The virtual session can walk customers through a home issue to troubleshoot it themselves and provide the educational content to do so. The company, for example, provides DIY instructions to replace HVAC filters and offers a promotion to deliver the first filter for free without customers needing to go to the hardware store.
For both B2B and B2C companies, it's important to understand that each customer has different challenges.
Vertical Solutions, a technology services provider in Cincinnati, has manufacturing customers in the cold supply chain industry that work directly with grocery stores, for example. The coronavirus pandemic hit many of its customers particularly hard, said Kris Brannock, executive vice president of the company.
"We need to make sure that our analysts and professional services folks let us know what's going on with each [customer] so that we can make sure we're connecting with them and seeing if there are any other ways that we can help them," Brannock said.
When adjusting CX strategies for the coronavirus, business leaders must remember that many peoples' lives have changed, and an approach to customer experience must accommodate those changes.
"The rules have changed about what customers are interested in, what disposable income they have, and what their priorities and objectives are," France said.
E-commerce companies, in particular, must tune into their customers' needs and determine whether they have the ability to detect changes in those needs quickly and accurately.
"It ultimately comes down to understanding what's going on with your customer and not just tracking page load speeds or where they enter the site from," France said. "This is more than just behavioral statistics; this is about being able to interpret those behaviors based on what is going on with your customers."
A company that sells home furnishings online, for example, will likely see an increase in customers purchasing supplies to improve their home offices. At the same time, that company will likely see modest investments from those customers, since they may be uncertain about the effect of the economic downturn.
Identifying those shifts, both in demand and in sentiment, make a big difference, France said. Companies should know, for example, whether their customers want some hopeful escapism or whether they are in doomsday prep mode.
It's important that businesses adapt to changes thoughtfully, however. A complete shift in a CX strategy isn't necessarily the route that companies should take during the pandemic.
Andrew WynnDirector of home services, Hippo Insurance
"Right now is a really unique time to be able to find different ways to engage with your customers, but it's not a time to find different reasons to engage with your customers," Wynn said.
The coronavirus pandemic is also not an appropriate time to push customers to purchase products, but it is important to check in.
"The tone [of communicating with customers] has definitely changed to ensure there's a lot more understanding and leeway," Brannock said.
For example, Hippo Insurance's CX strategy is not as focused on actively making sales during the coronavirus, Wynn said.
"We don't need to be doing a ton to drive conversation or traffic in a traditional marketing way," he said. "We're just trying to get the message out as best we can that things are really hard right now, and the last thing you should worry about is a repair issue in your home."
Provide the right tools to CX staff
The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have a lasting effect on the workplace, and customer experience and customer support roles are no exception.
Businesses should provide the necessary resources to support customer agents, France said. At the very least, organizations should ensure that they have the technology infrastructure to support a remote workforce.
Some organizations, such as those in the public sector, have failed in that regard, France said.
"Talk to anyone who's tried to apply for unemployment; that's an absolute mess on a pretty epic scale," she said. "This is the kind of difficulty you face when you don't have a system that can rapidly respond to a dramatic increase in demand."
Businesses must ensure that customer-facing roles have the right information and that they can easily access that information.
"A lot of really effective customer service organizations already have great knowledge bases and resources that agents can readily access," France said. "But let's face it: We're in a scenario where a lot of that information no longer applies, or it might have changed."
Increased communication among customer experience and support teams is also necessary. The Vertical Solutions' professional services team has daily Zoom meetings to get on the same page, whereas they met weekly prior to the pandemic.
"It's really important that we're staying in contact with our employees as we go through this process," Brannock said. "And it's not just business-related; it's asking how everybody is doing. You can tell a lot by someone's tone of voice."
Another CX strategy approach is to make it everyone's job to deliver customer service. Companies that have approached the coronavirus pandemic as an 'all-hands-on-deck' moment have delivered a better overall customer experience than those that haven't, France said.
"There are a lot of people, especially in the more senior levels, that haven't ever directly dealt with customers," she said. "Nothing is more eye-opening than making that everybody's job, because as a senior executive, for example, you immediately see what the issues are and how easy or difficult it is to respond."