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Preparing your customer experience strategies for the new normal

As companies prepare to reopen following the lengthy shutdown due to the pandemic, they need to learn how their customers feel and how best to adapt to serve them.

I've found the evolution of how customer experience professionals and organizations are dealing with this pandemic rather fascinating. Initially it was reactionary in nature; we had to make quick decisions and we were thrust into various unfamiliar circumstances: work from home, shelter in place, conferences cancelled, virtual networking events, etc. Then, organizations inundated us with what they were doing to address the pandemic. It seemed like everyone I've ever dealt with was sending me a note about how it was impacting their organization, as well as about the products and services that I utilized from the organization.

The next phase moved us from reaction to navigation. We started seeing a plethora of posts, blogs and webinars about how CX professionals can navigate their organizations through the crisis. What were they to do with the various customer programs, surveys and initiatives that were in the works? My reaction at the time was that it's too soon for navigation.

We need to better define the chaos. Our focus was on the health and safety of ourselves, our families, friends and work colleagues. All this work that we once considered critical to the success of our organization became non-essential overnight. Our customers were dealing with both personal and professional situations. From a personal perspective, it might have meant a loss of employment; having loved ones isolated, ill or dying; and caring for and educating children at home.

From a professional perspective, you might notice changes such as significant decreases in revenues, promotions stopped, new job requirements, seeing colleagues dismissed quickly with the only explanation of "it's the virus," etc. There were other pressing priorities and they weren't customer satisfaction surveys. Who has time to complete them and who has time to analyze them?

Phase 3 appears to be emerging now. We've begun to settle into our new routines. Some are familiar and others require additional time to embrace the unknown. I guess it's what we are calling the "next normal." Despite the shelter-in-place orders, a feeling of stability is beginning to take hold, especially as various parts of the country begin relax restrictions. We're still fighting the war right now -- we may be starting to win some battles, but we need to keep our eye on the ball. The time will come to restart surveys, data collection, etc., but not right now. They seem so trivial against the backdrop of this pandemic.

Determining how to provide good CX during COVID-19

I'm not quite sure what the next phase will bring as that chapter of this pandemic is yet to be written. Most importantly, as we look to a changed market environment, we need to continue doing one thing that is the cornerstone of any effective customer experience. Start with what our customers are telling us. Do they feel safe buying our products? Do they trust us? Is fear subsiding? Have buying patterns changed? Are we ready to start surveying the voices of our customers again? If we do restart the surveys, what's happening to response rates? Are the scores moving more, in one direction or the other, than previous trends had indicated? Are customers telling us through the lack of responses to stop surveying? What else are they telling us in terms of their buying habits? Are they now willing to spend money?

As we begin to prepare for what's next keep these five things in mind before restarting your customer experience efforts:

  1. Re-engage with customers. Their expectations have changed and so must your customer experience strategies.
  2. Re-engage with your employees. How are they feeling? Are they ready to serve customers again?
  3. What worked in February won't work in June Focus on a few key priorities for your organization as you emerge from the crisis.
  4. How can evaluating your people, processes and technology help in identifying these priorities? You might not have funds to invest right now, so consider using your current resources to maximize the benefits to your customers.
  5. Stay healthy. Have fun. Celebrate the wins. Recognize one another for what you've accomplished to prepare you for the weeks and months ahead.

There's no easy answer for re-engaging with customers

Let's face it. There is no easy formula for determining what will suit your organization best in terms of how we recover from this pandemic. Plenty of organizations are doing it right and plenty of them are doing it wrong. Staying true to your core vision, mission and values as an organization will help you even with your marketplace turned upside down.

In 2008, when we were navigating the financial crisis, the president of the company I was working for at the time said, "We want to be here for our customers when the crisis is over. That means we will continue to invest in our customers and our employees so we can support them both through this crisis." I think the same holds true for this crisis.

We still have lots of challenges to overcome. Anticipating those issues will help your organization emerge as a healthier and more viable entity than it was before the pandemic.

About the author
Robert Azman is founder and CXO of Innovative CX Solutions. Innovative CX is a customer experience consulting firm specializing in CX design and execution, sales and service experience design and talent development. Azman is the 2020 Immediate Past Chairman of the Board of the Customer Experience Professional Association (CXPA.org). He has a wealth of diverse global operations and leadership experience as an executive at organizations such as Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Thomson Reuters, Ceridian and Deluxe. Azman is an adjunct professor in the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management's Supply Chain and Operations Management department and a senior guest lecturer at the Rutgers University Business School Executive Education programs.

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