Looking back to December of last year, there were lots of articles written predicting the top trends we’d be seeing in 2020. None of those predictions foresaw the massive disruption we’re currently seeing — from the closure of schools and “non-essential” businesses to nationwide stay-at-home quarantining.
Thanks to the digital era we live in, there’s still a lot of work that can be done remotely, and online shopping and delivery services are taking on a whole new level of importance. Although, our collective focus is rightly focused on working together to help each other get through this difficult time, keeping your eyes on delivering a great customer experience (CX) never goes out of style. Here are five tips to keep in mind as you look to serve your customers better during this unprecedented period:
- Keep listening and keep engaging with customers. Customers will continue consuming products and services, but their preferences may be very different than they were a couple of months ago. The best way to figure out what they want is to listen, and there are lots of ways customers are “talking” to you. Besides surveys, pay special attention to unstructured feedback via your website and social media platforms.
Livestreaming is another way businesses can listen to customers and engage with them. After shutting down its stores in North America and Europe, specialty retailer Lululemon began offering online yoga, meditation, Pilates, dance and training classes to its customers to increase engagement. One week after its store closings, the retailer reported that nearly 170,000 people joined its live classes, which are available via its website and social media pages like YouTube.
- Communicate new service offerings. As brick-and-mortar traffic declines, brands should emphasize their digital storefronts and unique online service offerings. This strategy is especially useful when it addresses customers’ current needs and concerns. For example, CVS is emphasizing specific online services that help customers minimize exposure to risks, such as online health consultations, free prescription delivery, and 90-day prescription refills. Several US and UK food delivery platforms, such as DoorDash, Postmates, Just Eat, Deliveroo and Glovo announced non-contact delivery efforts to reduce the virus spread. Maybelline’s virtual try-on makeup tools are another excellent example of a service offering that’s growing in relevancy now that consumers can’t physically visit retail stores, but still want to buy products. Using an uploaded photo or a live camera shot, shoppers can see how different makeup colors look on their faces.
- Think about the lifetime value of your customers. Understandably, businesses are concerned about financial losses right now. But enforcing the letter of the law on your “no cancellation” or “no return” policy isn’t going to fare well in the long-term when the quarantine is over, and people look to rebook vacations and to buy more merchandise and services. Try to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and recognize the struggles that business travelers and those who’ve had to cancel vacation plans and visits to see loved ones are facing. Waiving change fees, late payment fees, overdrafts, and other charges — or at least offering more flexible payment terms — can generate tremendous customer goodwill and foster long-term brand advocates for your business.
- Safety and CX are inseparable. Before a couple of months ago, visiting a grocery store or other essential retail establishment didn’t trigger any internal security alarms, but it certainly does now. Two things we continuously hear now are that we need to wash our hands often (and thoroughly) and to practice social distancing. Business owners can help customers with these mandates in several ways, such as:
- Placing sanitizing stations throughout the store as well as sanitizing wipes near grocery carts or baskets. Some stores are even taking it a step further by having employees sanitize shopping carts after each use.
- Placing signage throughout the store reminding patrons to maintain safe distances from one another. Some stores even put tape on the floor at checkout lines and other areas that tend to get congested as visual reminders.
- Controlling traffic flow into the store. Retailers like Home Depot, for instance, station employees at their entrances and exits who keep track of the number of customers entering and leaving the store to ensure they don’t exceed 100 people in their store at any given time.
- Placing clear barriers between patrons and store personnel at the checkout stations.
- Implementing mobile checkout or other contactless payment solutions. Sam’s Club, for example, offers a Scan & Go service that enables customers to scan barcodes and pay for merchandise using their smartphones. Upon exiting the store, an associate scans the customer’s phone to verify the purchase.
- Don’t forget about your employees. It’s easy during this time to focus so much on your customer relationships that employees’ needs get overlooked. If you’re able to keep your employees working, there’s no doubt their roles and duties have changed significantly during these turbulent times. Plus, if they’re still working directly with the public, there’s the added stress of trying to maintain social distancing. Compounding this tension is the fact that employees may have school-age children at home who need them or other family members who are out-of-work and mounting bills. Keep in mind that investments made in improving employees’ wellbeing have a direct impact on their ability to provide an excellent customer experience.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the full burden of helping to ease employees’ stress during this pandemic doesn’t rest on business owners alone. The government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes several financial relief measures companies should be aware of such as:
- A small business paycheck protection program. This loan applies to employers with 500 employees or fewer. The size of the loan can be up to $10 million to cover salaries, wages, and payment of cash tips. It can also be used to help cover insurance premiums, retirement contributions, and covered leave.
- Unemployment insurance provisions. This provision of the CARES Act includes assistance for unemployment as a result of COVID-19 beginning on or after January 27 and ending on or before December 31, 2020.
- Business tax provisions. Businesses that qualify can delay paying payroll taxes due for 2020, pay 50% in 2021, and 50% in 2022. It also allows higher deductibility of interest expenses incurred.
Amid a disruptive event like this pandemic, retailers must be sensitive to changes in consumer needs and quickly mobilize resources to address these changes throughout the customer journey. The combination of market sensitivity and digital agility will create competitive advantages that steel brands with the resilience needed to get them through this challenging period and into the better days ahead.