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PHOTO: J W | unsplash

The world has undergone a dramatic change within the past year, and customer experience has morphed right along with it.

If someone had told you at the beginning of 2020 that, in a year’s time, ordering groceries online would be commonplace and QR codes would replace physical menus at restaurants, you might’ve met them with a confused expression and a list of questions.

The reality is that countless physical experiences have become primarily digital. While people everywhere continue to adjust to a world with limited in-person interaction, it’s increasingly important for companies to meet their customers where they are. And empathy is essential to making this happen.

In addition to fueling the rise of digital experiences, the pandemic also exposed the disconnect between companies and their customers. By revealing this gap in empathy, companies have been presented with the unique opportunity to get closer to the people they’re designing experiences for, even if they can’t physically be near them.

Here’s how leading customer experience (CX) teams are using empathy to mitigate post-pandemic challenges and meet the needs of customers.

Perfecting the Art of Gathering Feedback Remotely

Working remotely is the new standard for many industries. Change is almost always hard, but the pandemic revealed that CX teams are more adaptable and resilient than they realized. When change isn’t optional, big transformations can happen in a fraction of the time companies thought they needed.

This is especially true when it comes to the way in which companies interact with customers, including how they gather feedback. In a short time, CX teams have learned that, not only is empathy something that can be achieved remotely, but taking a remote-first approach to customer feedback is a powerful strategy to promote and support a customer-centric culture.

Prior to the pandemic, most companies relied on a mix of in-person and remote methods to conduct research and gather customer feedback. Naturally, this is being done almost entirely remotely today. However, the trend may be here to stay as teams’ eyes have been opened to the benefits of gathering feedback remotely for both their company and — more importantly — customers.

Gathering feedback remotely benefits customers by allowing them to express their needs, try new features or products, ask questions and more, all in their preferred setting. As individuals’ comfortability with in-person meetings varies, remote feedback ensures that customers can weigh in on experiences and products from the comfort and safety of their homes. This also allows for enhanced flexibility. It’s easier on both sides to coordinate remote meetings versus dealing with the logistics of assembling in-person.

This added flexibility means that CX teams can conduct more outreach, and therefore gain a deeper understanding of their customers with greater regularity. Additionally, many companies report that their employees are happier working from home, and a positive employee experience (EX) leads to better CX.

Related Article: Customer Experience Needs Empathy Now More Than Ever

Doubling Down on Customer Experience Efforts

Another side effect of the pandemic is that it stripped many teams of the luxury of analysis paralysis. Companies are pivoting faster than ever to meet the needs of their customers in a completely new environment. And anything that doesn’t directly impact CX or the bottom line is temporarily being pushed to the wayside.

This has helped CX teams cut through the noise and zero in on how they can create the most impactful experiences and products for their customers — fast. Companies who are doing this well are operating from a place of empathy, asking questions like: How can we make customers more comfortable with purchasing our products amidst the context of the pandemic? How can we ease their worries or hesitation? What can we do to make their lives easier?

Many are also increasing their investments in customer feedback and user research to support this effort. The restaurant and retail industries are great examples. Most restaurants and brick and mortar retailers struggled during the pandemic and had to find ways to take what is typically an in-person experience and make it safe for employees and customers alike.

Restaurants enlisted the aforementioned QR code menus, contactless payment options, and protocols to make purchasing takeout uncomplicated. Retail chains like Target have had great success streamlining its digital experience for ordering online and curbside pickup. While in-person dining and shopping may look very different, consumers still expect the same level of service and experience from their favorite brands.

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

Digital Experience Isn't Going Anywhere

Companies who prioritized CX during the pandemic have generated brand loyalty with customers that will carry over into a post-pandemic world. The importance of the digital experience moving forward cannot be overstated as CX teams are tasked with delivering exceptional experiences. Companies who approach these new challenges from a place of empathy have the best shot at meeting customer needs.