How to Shift Your Customer Experience Strategy During the Coronavirus Crisis

Consumer needs have changed in the COVID-19 era, and so has your customer experience strategy—you just might not know it yet. Businesses need to focus on demonstrating stewardship, which means acting in the best interest of their customers, to maintain loyalty. Showing empathy and genuinely doing right by the customer — and doing so without trying to eke out the same profits or expecting the immediate return to be the same — can serve to build and strengthen relationships during this time. Here, we’ve narrowed in on four pillars of stewardship, which outline the fundamental behaviors that any company can engage in to adopt this best-interest orientation.

Intuitive, “high-touch” service and personalized care are a few of the keywords and ideas businesses have focused on creating the ideal customer experience in recent years. Still, consumer needs have changed in the COVID-19 era. As a result, organizations have had to rethink what their customer care means right now and examine how to respond to those changing needs to hold on to consumer loyalty. There’s another word we keep coming back to at THRIVE that will be key in our new reality: stewardship.

Stewardship, as it relates to brand value, is about acting in the best interest of your customers. During these times of turmoil and change, your customer experience strategy should come down to doing what you can to support and care for your customer base. Customer interactions with companies during periods of crisis can have a massive impact on relationships. Demonstrating empathy and genuinely doing right by the customer — and doing so without trying to eke out the same profits or expecting the immediate return to be the same — can serve to build and strengthen relationships that are more likely to last when things return to normal (or to a “new normal”).

The value proposition is simple: If you support your customers now, then when the time comes, you’ll still have a customer base to pay back those dividends. In other words, you (the business) only succeed if your customer succeeds. So, it makes sense that you’d focus on helping your customer succeed…so that you can succeed in turn.

Here, we’ve narrowed in on four pillars of stewardship, which outline the essential behaviors that any company can engage in to adopt this best-interest orientation.

1. Be outspoken.

[Photo: Courtesy of Patagonia]

There are all sorts of barriers to connecting with customers right now as in-person activities have moved online and Zoom meetings, homeschooling, social media, and a barrage of political and COVID-19 headlines all battle for our attention. At the same time, people need more information and guidance regarding navigating new experiences during the pandemic, and this means organizations must be outspoken and double their efforts to be heard.

Are you implementing new cleaning methods? Are there new rules customers need to know about before visiting your store? Whatever the message, you have to over-articulate it for it to be received: Here’s what we’re doing for you, here’s how we’re doing it, and additionally, here’s the effort and actions that we’re taking during this challenging time to take care of you.

There’s no room for subtlety or nuance here. Talk about it, and don’t be afraid to humblebrag. Customers want to know they are patronizing businesses they can trust right now. Explain the efforts you are taking to ensure consumers are being kept safe as part of your customer experience strategy and set the expectations for how you’re serving them. Which factors into the next pillar…

2. Be honest and accountable.

[Photo: Courtesy of KFC]

Being honest and accountable is really about having full transparency of why you’re making the changes you are right now, and to whose benefit. For example, perhaps your organization is up against the everyday struggle of wanting to help your customers by lowering prices or practicing more relaxed measures, but also trying to avoid having to lay off a significant number of workers. So, be honest about the current conditions the business is facing and how you’re trying to balance keeping employees on staff while keeping customer services online. Mention the steps you may be taking instead, whether that’s executive pay cuts, reduced hours, etc… (That goes back to the “be outspoken” pillar.)

Part of being honest and accountable also means owning your failures. Coronavirus is forcing many businesses to cut costs and restructure as they navigate the demands of the virus, and many times are just trying to make it — which means sometimes mistakes will be made. It’s okay to do the wrong thing as long as you’re still trying to do right by your customers and are transparent about what’s working and what’s not. There’s a lot of utility in that, as you learn your limits and parameters and can say: We tried this, but we can’t continue doing that without shutting down.

 3. Be accessible.

[Photo: Courtesy of IKEA]

During this pandemic, many dramatic shifts are occurring, including the economic downturn and potentially diminishing markets. The companies that stand out for their stewardship are the ones that can look beyond their legacy business model and reevaluate how they’re making their services available and to whom — which, in turn, can provide new growth opportunities amid the chaos. Whereas your brand might have served a niche market before or prided itself in exclusivity, consider as part of your customer experience strategy if you were somehow blocking specific consumer segments out of the market that might otherwise participate. Ask: Can I reevaluate how I’m making my services available? Am I inviting and inclusive, as opposed to restrictive and exclusive?

Zoom out, look at the bigger picture and make sure you’re providing equitable access and taking a balanced approach to supporting everyone. The greater good is more important right now, because if your community is not thriving, then your customer is not thriving. And if your customer is not thriving, then your business certainly won’t.

4. Be uplifting.

[Photo: Burger King Beach Towel]

The final pillar is to be uplifting. Beyond merely understanding what people are going through right now and engaging that empathy mechanism, our efforts as brands should be all about the actions we take to push towards the positive. People face many challenges, and we all need to look at what we can do to move the needle in a positive direction. Perhaps this is a time when your company can do a little more give back. Can you do more to support customers through this? How you help your customers and your community is something they’ll remember, and that will stick them from a loyalty standpoint.

It all comes down to striking a better balance as part of your customer experience strategy. The fact is, businesses have customers and communities they need to be supporting and uplifting in some way. Still, there are also always competing factors at play, whether economic, financial, or operational. So, stewardship is about taking it all into account and trying your best to act in the balanced best interest. It needs to be symbiotic, because success will be achieved and attained together, or not at all.

At a high level, it’s easy as a business to think, why is all of this my responsibility? Or to consider the risk of taking all your time and energy to lift people when they could end up just taking their business elsewhere anyway. When you take a step back and counter it with the appropriate logic, however, you’ll understand there’s an even more significant risk if you don’t do this as part of your new COVID-19 experience strategy.

Even if you survive the current downturn, you still need to maintain enough market share at the other side of it to survive long-term. But if you put these pillars into practice and you’re able to achieve customer trust and loyalty, then you can outmaneuver the current uncertainties and ensure you have lifelong customers.

Is your business practicing stewardship as part of your customer experience strategy? We can help you determine how to shift your customer experience strategy and service design using this approach to better position yourself for now — and later. Contact THRIVE today.

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