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PHOTO: Karim MANJRA

These are unprecedented times of both trouble and of growth. It seems that — after years of building a business, potentially spending millions on customer experience and loyalty, or building products and services that are tailored to our customers — in some verticals we are now not able to serve our customers.

A couple of things have become clear as my colleagues and I have helped customers pivot their programs to face these new challenges.

You may have heard of Maltz’s 21/90 rule, which suggests it's possible to form a new habit in 21 days but it takes 90 days to create a new behavior. But what happens after 90 days of not doing something — does that break a habit or create a new habit? The answer here is it depends on what the habit is and who the customer is and their goals. I don’t expect many of us will suddenly decide we actually prefer staying at home in isolation, but what about habits like eating out every Friday and going to the mall on a Saturday afternoon followed by a movie and a drive-through with the family? As we look at what was once normal — will we all go back?

Everyone is looking forward to being able to do what we once did, but “what we once did” may well take a different format. Many of us may have found new brands and experiences in this weird hiatus of pandemic lockdown. Those favorite quick-service restaurants may have been replaced in your heart by kitchens that have delivered fantastic food to your door, or you may have enjoyed watching streaming services instead of booking a babysitter so you can go to the cinema.

A fair portion of customer loyalty may have been flattened over this 90-day period of the pandemic for businesses that haven't been able to function as usual, and that includes a large portion of the business world. So how do we understand the real customer impact of COVID-19 and mitigate its potency, and how can we capitalize on opportunities that may be ahead?

A Clear CX Strategy for the Months Ahead

A clear strategy is emerging that will help navigate this unusual climate. But first, we have to size up the problem and look at the impact of the current situation. Have you lost channels of engagement or business? Have these channels been replaced by new channels? Have these lost channels of engagement been replaced by new signals? Have you had bad press? Are a portion of your employees furloughed or have you had to make layoffs?

The answers to each of these will have an impact on how your customers’ sentiment towards your business may have been affected. I was watching a news report this week about how a global travel company was weathering the current situation. Not only had it lost an entire quarter’s future bookings, it also refunded accommodations for the last 90 days. Its business has been seriously impacted. However, I am hopeful it will not only regain that lost business but, because it has handled customers so brilliantly during this period, it will win massive market share when the business reopens.

Other companies in the sector have not handled all this quite so well, leaving unhappy customers, negative press coverage and consumer reports in their wake, while loyalty and trust have all but disappeared. Understanding your impact score now based on your actions and perhaps those of your competitors is therefore key so you can prepare your business to take market share quickly.

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

Back to Business Charter

Create a new back-to-business charter and share it with your customers as soon as is practical. Include your commitment to be their brand of choice through good times and bad. Tell your customers and the wider market the good things you have done to look after your customers in this difficult time. Before market research starts to hit our desks, it is fair to assume that service, risk and security have increased as influencers of why customers choose a certain brand, and price and even value may have taken a hit, so it’s important to hit messaging about your position and values too.

Related Article: Deluged By Customer Contacts? Every Agent Counts

What Customer Engagement Looks Like Now

If you have been sensitive to your customers’ time and feelings, you may well have pulled back slightly on sending out customer relationship surveys. If you are not actively open for business, you also will not be getting post-purchase surveys. So what signals should you be using? Unstructured customer data is a great source for understanding the pulse of the customer. It is rich in emotion and sentiment, and can easily be analyzed to extract key customer irritants, opportunities for new business or operational insights, in order to build solutions to help customers self serve. Also, look for new channels and ways to engage.

Consider how this pandemic has changed how your customer uses technology. In the last 90 days, video conferencing has grown exponentially to the point where it is now a communication method of choice for households around the world. This will continue, so I think it is almost certain that customers will feel comfortable leaving video feedback going forward. Video is a great channel to invest in, easy to set up and can deliver a rapid return on investment. It makes sense to offer customers the ability to send you a video of their experience. Additionally, other technologies have also seen significant growth across new user groups and demographics. SMS and Facebook chat have become very popular with a wider age range. This is a new channel to engage quickly and take a customer pulse. Look at direct engagement with social channels as a rapid method of engagement.

I am eager to see the amazing stories that emerge over the next six months. I suspect the real winners will be those that take the customer pulse now, so they know the hill they need to climb. Set about reaching out to customers early, find those customers where they are, and share the warm blanket of your plans to look after them and excite them about all that is ahead.