COVID has changed many things, but the pandemic has completely changed the game when it comes to customer experience (CX). It’s clear that the pandemic will not be a short-term event, but rather a lasting shift. It’s time to make long-term plans for the future of customer experience in a culture forever changed.
Some industries, like luxury travel, rely almost entirely on a memorable customer experience to keep their customers coming back. But many companies look at CX as a small part of their marketing strategy, relegated to friendly sales associates or thank you emails after a purchase. As brand strategists, we encourage businesses to view CX as an integral and irreplaceable piece of your marketing mix. It takes into account every element of your consumer journey and tells the customer the story of your brand positioning and persona through experiences rather than advertising or copy.
Customer Experience Elements
There are a few traditional elements of a great CX:
1. Emotional connection
- Personalized + Special - Making an experience feel unique to that individual customer
- Human + Real - Integrating a human touch to emphasize personal connection or a service-orientation
2. Seamless touchpoints
- On-Brand - Ensuring all elements feel true to the brand’s core, no matter the touchpoint channel, format, or design
- Unique, yet Cohesive - Utilizing different design look and feel or copy tone execution in different elements, while using each element to bolster a unique experience across touchpoints
3. Brand Differentiation
- Not Replicable - In a world where product features can be copied overnight, experience and voice sets your brand apart from the competition
- Constant Discovery - Offer a unique or special touch to look forward to: branded “easter eggs” for customers to discover along the way
4. Intuitive Digital Integration
- Purposeful Digitization - Digital touch points that provide an additional service to the customer, not "cool” tech without increased function
- Simple UX - Digital interfaces that simplify purchase processes and streamline communications
COVID Adjustments to CX
Reopening isn’t just about creating a new way to interact with customers, its about revisiting the very core of what makes for a good customer experience.
The typical ways of communicating customer service have drastically changed, so entire programs must be reevaluated to consider:
- Masks: Customers no longer see smiling, happy employees. How can companies communicate happy, warm, friendly customer service without facial expressions?
- In-person shopping: No more browsing, feeling, trying on, smelling, tasting, etc. How can companies replicate a hands-on experience in a safe way?
- Lack of in-person communication: Are employees trained to provide excellent customer service on a digital platform?
The New Requirements In Customer Experience
1. Seamless Digital Nativity
Digital service options are no longer a nice to have, they are non-negotiable. In the haste to get something up and running, many companies have made digital experiences that are complicated and clunky instead of simple and seamless.
- We’ll start with the obvious one - make sure your virtual presence looks, feels, and sounds like you. Digital communications like email or texts should have the same design and polish as your IRL locations to make the customer journey seamless and consistent.
- If you don’t already have it, online ordering or services are a must. Eliminate payment friction by offering “pay at pickup” or integrating with ApplePay or AmazonPay.
- Offer subscription incentives or free delivery to increase conversion and avoid abandoned carts.
- Consider digital advancements like virtual fitting rooms to provide the same experience to your customer that they had pre-COVID.
2. Safety First
Maslow’s Hierarchy has been turned on its head… safety is no longer a given. Make your customers feel safe every step of the way, and offer different levels of engagement based on their own personal preferences.
- Offer open-air or courtyard service for those uncomfortable browsing or shopping inside.
- Create a no-pressure system for customers to communicate their comfort level with personal interaction through hand signs or designated areas of the space.
- Message safety precautions like extra cleaning or no-touch service in a friendly and approachable tone to help ease any anxiety about interacting in person. Well-placed humor can go a long way in these times!
- Communicate your precautions to customers! 79% of recently-surveyed consumers say they will seek out information on a business’s health and safety standards before visiting.
3. A New Human Connection
Perhaps the most difficult of all will be developing a nuanced personal connection with customers without ample sales associates or a visible smile. Digital engagements must become much more human to create the sense of connection and relationships necessary for brand loyalty.
- Use video chat/Zoom integrations to your advantage. Create a “like normal” interaction with your customers over a face-to-face video conversation. Set up iPads in retail spaces for 1-on-1 assistance, or advertise Zoom consultation services
- Make communications more human. Encourage employees to make company communications in a human voice and give a platform to employees in roles outside of leadership. Revisit customer service talk tracks to ensure they match your brand’s tone and inject more humanity where appropriate.
- Utilize user-generated content. Posting USG (user-generated content) creates a feeling of community, and 71% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase online if the product or service is recommended by others.
- Listen to your customers so that you know what’s working and what’s not. Adjust your CX strategies according to what your customers are saying.
COVID presents an opportunity to evolve our customer experience and deliver new touch points to build our brands. Create intentional digital integrations, consider safety and comfort first, and ensure your experiences maintain a human touch. These steps will help you welcome your customers back and pivot to meet whatever uncertainties COVID brings tomorrow.