man walking in Paris,  in front  of the Eiffel Tower,  wearing  a mask
PHOTO: Fran Boloni

We've all been under a fair amount of stress this year, which has resulted in customers being both anxious and at times, impatient. How businesses react can make or break that relationship. According to McKinsey, “a primary barometer of [a customer’s] experience will be how the businesses they frequent and depend upon deliver experiences and service that meets their new needs with empathy, care and concern.” 

So how can brands provide experiences that meet the needs of customers during this stressful time?

For many, the path is much the same as it was before the pandemic. But there are some new things to consider. Here are four best practices to winning customer trust and loyalty — even (and perhaps especially) during an ongoing pandemic.

Build Loyalty Through Personalization

COVID-19 has forced an increase in digital communications, which has translated into anxious customers with more questions than ever before. According to the special COVID-19 edition of the CMO survey, 85% of marketers report an increased openness among customers to their digital offerings, and 84% believe customers place more value on digital experiences than before the pandemic.

Want to know what your customers like? Use digital platforms to engage in direct conversations with them. You’ll find they are often willing to share their preferences as long as you are upfront about what you will use this information for and make preference selection optional. Make it clear that these preferences are used to customize their experience.

Once done, you can then tailor digital experiences to best meet the needs of customers, and offer relevant content and services to them.

Related Article: Closing the Consumer Trust Gap

Make Users Feel Special

Akin to personalization is the ability to make customers feel special. One easy way to do this is by incorporating users’ names into the digital properties they use every day.

Dale Carnegie is attributed as saying, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” And Dale knew a thing or two about winning friends and influencing people.

Brands should heed this advice and use customer's names to make them feel special — whether that’s through a mobile app, website or email offer. Seeing their own name can make people feel more comfortable and reassured that the experience they are being presented with is solely for them. It can also serve as a reminder that everything is working properly.

Related Article: Personalization Goes Nowhere Without Trust

Provide Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Customer preferences are changing. While most preferred speaking with live agents and shunned chatbots in the past, over time, chatbot technology has become more conversational, intelligent and — most important of all — useful.

COVID-19 has led to uncertainty across all industries, with anxious consumers asking questions about retailers’ store hours, return policies, curbside pick-up policies, you name it. And it’s not limited to just retail — COVID-19 has caused a boom in telehealth services, and many healthcare providers are launching chatbots as a way to provide answers to patients’ most pressing questions. For example, Dignity Health, the fifth-largest hospital system in the United States, launched a COVID-19-specific chatbot that answers questions about coronavirus, such as the latest news from the government, tips to prevent COVID-19 infections and common symptoms.

With the improvement of chatbots combined with all the uncertainty of today, there is no need to make users wait 15 minutes get an easy answer. Today, empathy, care and concern include respecting customers’ time.

Consumers now expect self-service options for their most basic questions. According to a recent report from Forrester Research titled, Knowledge Management Solutions For Customer Service, Q3 2020, “Customers use self-service knowledge to quickly find answers to common questions, increasing their satisfaction and deflecting inquiries from the contact center. Self-service knowledge also helps customers to gain confidence in their purchases during the buying process — increasing conversion rates and revenue.”

Don’t make your customers search endlessly for answers to common questions. Either answer the questions upfront or provide a conversational AI that can respond quickly with guidance.

Related Article: A Good Chatbot Is Hard to Find

Make Inclusivity a Priority

We are all now relying on digital experiences to a greater degree than we were before. This transition has highlighted the need for digital accessibility — an area where many companies are falling short.

There are, according to the CDC, approximately 61 million adults with disabilities in the US, making up roughly 26% of the population. For these 61 million adults, the focus on digital accessibility has been a long time coming. We have seen more and more brands embrace accessibility and inclusive design in order to meet the needs of those with disabilities.

Inclusive design helps to ensure that, from the earliest stages of development, a product team is focused upon accessibility. Testing for accessibility is also crucial. Performing accessibility testing with real people, with real disabilities, in real-world environments, will help to uncover issues with accessibility that you’ll want to know about before your product hits the market. Not only does inclusive design and accessibility testing help to make brands compliant with regulations, more importantly, it ensures that all customers have a successful and enjoyable experience — regardless of age or ability.

Related Article: We Need Accessibility and Inclusive Design Now More Than Ever

Safety Above All

It is still possible to win customers’ trust and loyalty — perhaps more so now than ever before — by following the practices laid out here. Brands should continue to focus on meeting the needs of customers and providing seamless and enjoyable experience. Above all, brands should ensure that they are doing everything they can to keep customers safe, whether they are interacting with them via digital properties or in-person customer journeys.