Here's How (And Why) You Should Get Your Enterprise's Customer Experience Ready For The Post COVID-19 World Brands that have adopted digital and human-less experiences are the brands that are leading excellent customer experience during this period of the coronavirus pandemic.

By Amol R. Kadam

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A team member today mentioned to me that we must approach a local grocery store chain to fix its customer experience, and that made me start thinking about this being a widespread issue among enterprises in the region. After all, if you were a business in the region, looking forward to 2020 with amazing hopes and plans tucked in your marketing armory, I am sure that, by now, all of those would have gone for a toss. If not, then give it a few more weeks- this invisible enemy called the coronavirus pandemic is taking a heavy toll on global consumer brands, especially on physical stores.

Some of you have already responded to this situation, and quickly resorted to digital channels to offset losses offline. It's also worth noting that in the place where the breakout started, China, brands are already leading in digital innovations on customer experience, while everywhere else, brands are catching up. As a business, if you were earlier finding excuses like "My customers aren't demanding (or ready for) online orders and fulfilment" to keep away from investing in a digital presence, you can rest assured that your clientele will most certainly be wanting that now.

Brands that have adopted digital and human-less experiences are the brands that are leading excellent customer experience during this period. So, while the priority is health and safety, business leaders have also been thrown another challenge in that they must consider how this growing pandemic will impact their customers and their experience with your brand. And this starts with an understanding of customer experience (CX), which is all about knowing and responding to customer's needs and expectations to improve (and encourage) their experience, satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.

In usual times, many brands find it challenging to understand what drives this overall experience, satisfaction and dissatisfaction, loyalty and disloyalty. But in these unknown situations, where unexpected, extreme, and significant circumstances have been inflicted on the world, your customer's needs and expectations can evolve in rapid and surprising ways. Consider the Lunar New Year period in China, which saw a 25% rise in smartphone screen-time versus the same timeframe the last year. In Italy, the country most hit by the coronavirus pandemic after China so far, brands are already seeing increases in online traffic to their sites and social media.

Brands must thus prepare for increases in internet time and higher customer expectations of digital platforms and online response times. To capitalize on this change in customer behavior, and to maximize traffic conversion, brands must improve their digital/online experience. But, at the same time, it's imperative to adapt for this new norm where touch-free interfaces and touch-free customer experience will drive CX. For many brands in China, prioritizing digital investment and strengthening e-commerce offerings has been the primary solution to compensate for lost business. Amid this crisis, L'Oréal China moved all offline advertising budgets to only online, and saw its online make-up sales rise in February.

Related: The Design Advantage: How To Make Your Business Stand Out In Today's Market

At this juncture, depending on your brand's category, you might think that your primary focus should be your supply chain, and not the changes in customer preferences, attitudes, or behaviors. Of course, it's sensible to plan for any interruptions to your supply and operations, but true customer-centric organizations will also prepare for how their customers' questions and needs will change rapidly in these coming months. The first step is to consider likely and possible changes to customer needs and journeys- and yes, it's as basic as that. But most brands even today do not know or have the customer journey documented.

One might say that all brands are in this together, so that the impact will have very little influence on your brand's CX, satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy, relative to the competition. Yes, today's pandemic was unforeseen just two months ago, and with the news developing daily, your brand, just like all brands and your customers, are caught in this rapidly evolving situation. This is the real unknown. This event, just like any other event that could change consumer expectations, activities, and motivations, will impact the customer perception of different brands/industries in different ways.

Our opportunity to succeed (or fail) for customers is most significant when emotions and needs are running high versus in regular times when things are going as expected. As such, today's unknown, without a doubt, may be the biggest challenge thrown at marketers and CX professionals, but this might also be the most significant opportunity -indeed, a catalyst- to finding ways to ignite and maintain a customer-centric approach in the face of the unexpected. Here are a few ideas on how you can do just that:

1. Document the changes to customer's needs (and their journey) In pre-corona state personas, needs and journey used to change slowly over time. But post-corona, we are seeing customer awareness, pain points, expectations, and reactions, along with their needs, are changing rapidly. Add to that the ever-evolving government directives and restrictions, and that makes it clear that CX teams need to carry out efforts to build these scenarios and use the data they already have about their customers to understand the impact on their needs, perceptions, and priorities. One can start with drafting the current shift, and then forecasting the future shift away from existing journeys on how your customers are affected today in their homes and workplaces. Also note down potential changes in their journey, and the touchpoints that may be most important to them in these times. The key thing to remember is that it's about being proactive, rather than being caught unawares.

2. Don't wait to be asked; give information If you wait for customers to be concerned and start wondering, or worse, start demanding information about your brand or services, it's already too late. From emails you have got in your mailbox by now, you can see most proactive brands have already started communicating. What should you communicate, you may ask. Think about questions they may have for your employees, or monitor your support calls and gather queries they are requesting. It can be as simple as how to keep yourselves safe in this pandemic, or what precautions you, as a brand, are taking for hygiene. Consider the category/industry you are in, and again, refer to the user journey mapping you have done to get these communication points.

3. Remember that segment you considered to be "not your target" For most brands and CXers, there were always customer segments (e.g. non-tech savvy, not digital users, Generation X, baby boomers, etc.) that you always considered as a secondary segment. Guess what? Now, all these customer segments do not have any other option than going digital. In today's situation, where health and survival are dependent on being online or human-less channels, everyone has to follow the online queue. This segment/persona, while transitioning from the conventional offline/human experience to this new human-less channel, is going to be edgy, reluctant, and somewhat lost. But the need is to look at this as an opportunity, and as an addition to your online customer base. So, start treating them with the utmost care and personalized attention. By now, if you have not drafted and studied their customer journey, it's time to do so. Understand their pains, expectations, and perceptions about your brand, and you will be able to serve them and enhance their experience.

4. Keep listening The need to understand how the customer feels, what he expects, and most importantly, how swiftly all these attributes change is the key to crafting an excellent customer experience. In these times, those changes are going to be more, frequent, and drastic. Their attitudes, expectations, and perceptions are bound to change very rapidly, so there is a need to monitor these in real time. As it stands, your week- or two-week-old information is already old and irrelevant, given the changes that are happening day-to-day and will continue to happen in the coming weeks and months.

5. Human experience to human-less Uber Eats, Amazon, Zomato, Deliveroo, Talabat, and other digital services are helping to ensure a safe virus-free environment with their online experience that removes the need for human interaction. We need to learn from this, but you don't need to develop this capability independently. What you need to build is the experience that is less dependent on touch or human interaction. Remember that it's not just for your customers- a large percentage of the workforce will be working from home in the coming months. Loneliness and productivity are other factors you need to consider in your equation. A recent report found that up to 20% of remote workers are lonely due to a lack of human interaction. It just illustrates the need to infuse online or remote interactions with human touchpoints in a non-evasive way. Consider a channel in which a hybrid chatbot, where a chatbot with a mix of both automated and human intervention, can add that human touch. Video interactions, remote advisors, human-assisted online shopping, online concierges, consultations through video calls, etc. are just a few ways on how we can still keep human experience relevant.

So: what's your online CX strategy?

Since 2018, I have used a slide from a Gartner report in many of my talks, which goes: "80% of brands say their companies will compete on the basis of CX in two years." When this pandemic subsides, brands that will come through for customers now will be the ones that will be remembered, and they will create long-lasting loyalty- and you can rest assured they'll also be the first to come to mind if such a crisis reappears. At the end of the day, one thing is guaranteed. As most of us struggle, brands delivering an optimized, personalized, and timely CX will gain strength. In the coming weeks and months, you must work to prioritize your online touchpoints, so that your brand does not follow the same direction as many publicly traded stocks these days.

Related: The Coronavirus Pandemic Versus The Digital Economy: The Pitfalls And The Opportunities

Wavy Line
Amol R. Kadam

Co-founder, RBBi

Amol Kadam is the co-founder of RBBi, the region’s first, specialized user experience (UX), user interface (UI) and digital performance marketing agency, operating in Dubai since 2011.

Coming from a strong creative & usability background spanning more than 16 years, Amol has conceptualized, designed and managed the production of several digital projects for a global range of clients from banking, hospitality, travel, real-estate and more. Amol’s areas of expertise include user experience, usability, online branding and strategy, information architecture, interaction design, online and offline interactive media, digital media. Among other strategic tasks within the agency, his role involves creating usability and UX road-map strategies for interaction media.

Amol is the holder of a master’s qualification in HCI. He is also a certified usability professional and a registered member of Usability Professionals Association Worldwide.

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