The COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to rethink many aspects of their business, customer experience not least. Many basic assumptions have been upended. Who would have ever thought, for example, that a supermarket could be a dangerous place to shop?
Organisations have had to reinvent the customer experience virtually overnight. Many are struggling to adjust. Now more than ever, brands are looking to digital customer experience technologies to get them out of the jam they find themselves in.
ServiceNow research shows that 53% of organisations are looking to build immersive and personalised customer experiences in the next three years. This might seem like good news for those of us who live and breathe customer experience, because brands are finally giving digital experience the priority it deserves. But it’s not as rosy as it may first appear.
Some brands are putting digital solutions in place for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here we’re largely talking about ‘quick and dirty’ deployments designed to take the pressure off overwhelmed contact centres. It’s survival mode, not a long-term solution.
This represents a strategic risk for businesses, both B2C and B2B. Are you digitising your customer experience processes because it’s necessary or because it’s actually the best thing for your business in the long run? Do you really understand how these technologies will impact your customers or your business? How will you know if they are successful?
Digital customer experience can’t just be a temporary fix in response to a global health crisis. Instead, it needs to be the focal point of new business models that will enable organisations to navigate a radically altered landscape and deal better with the future crises that will inevitably occur.
COVID-19 as change agent
The scale of the shock can’t be overestimated.
Consider the cosmetics industry, for example. It had a well-established customer experience that focused on delivery through established retail channels, notably airport shops.
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Will this be a smart strategy going forward? What about the importance of samples to the sales process? How many customers will be prepared to use a product sample that potentially dozens of people have used before?
Now you might say this is a blip and everything will return to normal eventually. You wouldn’t be alone: More than half of CMOs expect to return to business-as-usual performance in the next 18 to 24 months, according to a recent Gartner survey.
Should organisations really bet the farm on a return to the old normal? Can businesses afford to stick to the strategies they used before the pandemic? It’s hard to be confident on these points.
Time for a persona refresh
Today, if you want to respond to new competitors or communicate with people who might buy your product, you must refresh your view of who your customers are and how you can reach them. In short, it’s never been more important to understand customer personas.
Digital customer experience can’t just be a temporary fix in response to a global health crisis.
Returning to the supermarket example: If you want to reach older customers, are you best served trying to reach them directly, or is your audience actually the young relatives who are helping Granny shop online?
High-end restaurants are another good example. They sell a fine-dining experience, not just food. Is that experience the same when everything has to be done behind Perspex? Will people still value that experience? Or do restaurants need to repackage the experience in a totally new way?
Similar questions apply to all business models. What are you selling? How can you bring that offering to people in ways that match our new reality? Nowadays, nobody can afford to make assumptions about their customers. And that’s why customer experience can be the key to rethinking your business strategy and preparing for whatever the future holds.
Start with the customer
Digital customer experiences aren’t uniform. What’s right for one business will not automatically be right for another.
As a result, no organisation can afford to adopt a cookie-cutter approach. Personalisation and automation must be specific to the exact circumstances of your customers.
And companies must be braver. Why wait for customers to contact you? Proactive approaches can be very powerful, as many banks found during the pandemic when they reached out to inform customers about things like mortgage holiday programs.
Putting any digital CX in place costs money—so we need to understand whether it delivers value to the business. Don’t just implement digital solutions for their own sake. Instead, figure out what customers need from brands and why they might buy our products. We must adapt to their needs, and not the other way around. There’s no better time to make that shift.