pile of old watches
PHOTO: Heather Zabriskie

Although some areas of the economy are starting to pick up again, most businesses are much slower to return to where they were at the beginning of the year. At a time when face-to-face customer interactions are still a rarity, what can businesses do to create positive customer experiences in the brief moments they have? 

Use Customer Surveys to Gauge Expectations

“A good CX program is built on understanding customer expectations and then exceeding those expectations. COVID-19 decreased physical customer interactions, but it should increase virtual customer interactions,” said Layton J. Cox, an independent marketing consultant. Companies can use the current pandemic to survey and identify their customers' expectations, Cox said. A simple, free Google poll can be developed for basic 1 to 5 scale questions, such as: “From 1-5, do low costs cause you to shop at XYZ?"

By testing various factors that are important to customers, a company can determine which ones to focus on, Cox added. Each factor you identify has an improvement project, usually involving either time or money as the investment on your part.

Don't Be Afraid to Get Emotional

"You need to juice up the customer-brand interaction with more casualness. This is by making the emotive and human side of your business more prominent," said Michael D. Brown, director of the Fresh Results Institute. "You want your company to interact more emotionally with your customers as opposed to this ‘predatory’ perspective they have of you as a profit-hungry firm, desperately chasing their money."

Customer brand communications should tilt away from the typically formalized stern boss-employee discussions into more of buddies chatting by the fireside, sharing a bottle of beer, Brown added. These kinds of interactions should be more pronounced on your social media interactions with your audience.

“When you reply to your customers, integrate more emojis and GIFs,” Brown advised. “Relax, be more of a pal than a brand. Do you notice one of your followers on social media having a special event, say a birthday? Give a shout-out to this individual. Once a week, post less business-related content and more viral-like content with a more social and entertaining edge.”

The whole idea is to revamp your customer experience, flavor it with more emotion-inciting vibes so your audience is sentimentally attached to your company, Brown said. If you can achieve this, you will increase your customers' lifetime value, with more referrals gushing in. 

In a similar vein, Esther Poulsen, CEO of Raare Solutions, recommended relaxing your pace and offering insights, not just sales. What are you doing to keep your workers safe? What transformations improve the safety experience of your customers? How are products and services evolving in a post-COVID world?

“Story-based digests focused on the consumer keeps your brand top-of-mind, even if they are not ready or able to spend,” Poulsen said. “You have a wealth of customer actions, signals, engagements and sales at your disposal. Offering content tailored to their behavior shows that you can continue delivering a personalized, delightful brand experience during a quieter, slower purchasing period.”

Related Article: Mastering the Art of Emotional Customer Experience

Go Analogue With Personalization

Much has been written about automated systems to provide personalized emails and offers at scale, said Matt Eventoff, owner of Princeton Public Speaking.

“I have seen so many great examples, both personally and professionally,” Eventoff said. “Some of my favorites — when ordering from local restaurants for delivery, especially in the Northeast where the pandemic was growing so quickly, on more than one occasion someone had written a two-sentence thank you note. I thought that was very meaningful. I received two calls after having some (very minor) work done on our home to ensure our satisfaction. A bakery we frequent that now does delivery, occasionally throws in an extra pastry that they know I like. All are low-cost customer experience ideas. All have resulted in additional sales to me as well."

Watching business after business step up during this time, whether providing for our healthcare heroes or being there to support local communities, does more than just provide support, it boosts morale and makes our world better, he added. It also makes for a better customer experience. In the same vein as personalization, much like personal touches engender loyalty among customer bases, everyone wants to help. 

Related Article: Which of the 3 Personalization Types Are You?

Seamless, Frictionless Interactions

Though the importance of seamless, frictionless interactions has been discussed by marketing experts for some time, it’s even more important when business is slow, said Janet Balis, global media and entertainment advisory services leader for EY.

“Human expectations are higher than ever as people set the bar by the last best experience they have,” Balis said. With fewer customer interactions, a number of factors are needed in order to exceed human expectations. The customer experience today must be connected and frictionless, she continued.

  • Connected. Marketing, sales and customer care are all part of a continuous customer journey that must be seamless to the human at the heart of the experience. It is critically important that the customer becomes the primary architectural concept of the journey instead of internal constructs.
  • Frictionless. At every point of the customer journey — from acquisition, to engagement, to trial and conversion, to loyalty, to retention and advocacy — we must remove pain points, looking at the experience through the customer lens. Every time a customer encounters friction in a physical, digital or hybrid experience, it is an opportunity to abandon the purchase or, even worse, the brand overall. Companies must be relentless in removing friction in the experience.