shopping carts at night
PHOTO: Clark Young

Let's start by stating the obvious: Customers changed during the pandemic. They adopted new behaviors. They switched brand loyalties. They stocked up on products, causing a dearth of paper goods, cleaning supplies and personal electronics.

And businesses, especially small ones struggling to survive, had no choice but to come along for the bumpy ride. To their credit, many small to midsized companies pivoted just as resiliently as their clientele. They zigged, zagged, maneuvered — sometimes many times a day. This helped them keep the lights on, of course. It taught them some key customer experience (CX) lessons that every marketer should know and keep in mind for 2021.

If you’re looking for inspiration to revitalize your own corporate CX measures, remember — and apply — the following truisms. They’re even more relevant today and will help you connect more intuitively and intimately with your fan base.

1. Customers Appreciate (and Deserve) Financial Breaks

When payment solutions provider National Processing’s small business clients began struggling (or temporarily shutting down) in 2020, the team responded. Jay Clark, chief operating officer, explained the company “implemented the ability for our customers to put their merchant accounts on hold and charged no fees. In addition, we waived all termination fees for businesses which closed as a result of COVID-19. We also offered heavily discounted and free mobile processing swipers and terminals to make curbside ordering easier.”

Their immediate response showcased empathy through a radically unexpected CX decision. Did the company lose income in the short-term? Perhaps. However, the goodwill and relief generated by the move positioned the brand as sincere, compassionate, and conscientious.

2. Customers Expect Frictionless Brand Transactions

Quality matters, particularly when it comes to CX. Here’s why: Many companies rely on customers to make multiple purchases over time. Losing someone who could become a long-term loyalist to a clunky CX costs money and reputation. Though this has always been the case, it’s become even more critical post-pandemic because consumers know they have choices.

Vasu Prathipathi, CEO of QA software provider Maestro, advises all businesses to tweak and iron out their customer journeys. “As a small business, you have a unique opportunity to make a personal connection with your customers through their experience with your brand,” he said. “Use that smooth customer experience as a competitive advantage. If you're able to provide a high quality experience for your customer each time they interact with your company, the customer should continue to return.”

Related Article: A Holistic Customer Experience Means Saying Goodbye to Siloed Thinking

3. Customers Want Solutions That Address Their Unique Pain Points

As Global Head of CX at Nu Skin, Evita Singson believes one secret to wowing customers is understanding them. “I have learned that being customer-obsessed and being data-driven means truly being dialed-in to your customers' needs,” she said. “Many of our customers leverage ecommerce to sell their products. We identified areas for improvement in their digital experience and resolved pain points, making it easier for them to connect with their customers.”

Nu Skin’s concentration on deepening its awareness of what matters most to customers isn’t just practical. It’s also profitable. Consumers like to know that the brands they interact with see them as people, not numbers on a spreadsheet. Yes, numbers (such as data points) can help companies see patterns among buyer groups. However, diving deeply into the customers’ most profound needs and pain points opens up a wealth of opportunities for relationship-building.

4. Customers Want an Honest-to-Goodness 'Personal Touch'

“If there’s one thing people remember about their interaction with your business, it’s how they feel afterwards,” said John Rampton. That’s why the founder and COB of retirement planning solution Due empowers his team to go beyond the norm. “Providing post-sale check-ins and customer support is non-negotiable. Sure, issues happen, but the way your company responds to that has the potential to make — or break — their CX.”

The good news is that the “personal touch” doesn’t have to be limited to face-to-face contact. Personalization and individualization can happen digitally, too: A kind word over the phone. A text chat with an understanding support representative. An unexpected “just dropping by” email after a sale. Connecting with customers just to say hello can lead to extreme delight, not to mention solidify the brand-buyer commitment.

Related Article: What Does Great Customer Experience Look Like Today? Giving Customers Peace of Mind

5. Customers Want Their Preferred Brands to Stand for Something

The pandemic wasn’t the only 2020 change maker. Social and political unrest took the world by storm, too. As a consequence, many customers are looking to feel more aligned with the brands they patronize. This alignment can happen through regularly pushed-out messaging from the company via emails, on blogs and on social channels.

A terrific example of mission-driven CX happened well before the pandemic. Nevertheless, it’s a testament to the importance of authentic corporate purpose. A few years back, the Tommee Tippee sippy cup company filled a frustrated father’s request boldly and brilliantly. The father’s son, Ben, had autism. Ben would only drink from a sippy cup the maker no longer sold. Instead of telling the father he was out of luck, Tommee Tippee launched #cupforben. The brand found the original cup mold, manufacturing a limited supply just for Ben. The moment proved that Tommee Tippee was more than a brick-and-mortar organization. It had heart, too.

CX has never been a “set it and forget it” endeavor. However, the pandemic has upped the ante in terms of the responsibility businesses have to continuously improve their services. Those that are willing to take risks, be bold, and evolve quickly will emerge as leaders with flocks of followers.