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Customer experience leaders have faced multiple challenges in the areas of digital, safety and well-being of customers and data and analytics throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from McKinsey. “The challenge for companies is to understand which customer trends and patterns will endure over the longer term,” researchers found.

Grappling With Digital Transformation

Things weren't figured out in a minute. Most CX practitioners as of late summer were still in reactionary mode, according to Ann Cosfol, principal and founder of Design Mind Consulting, who interviewed several CX leaders throughout the pandemic. Around August, many were still struggling with digital transformation and how to pivot from the reactionary mode of the early pandemic days. “Some of them were just starting to wonder how do they re-energize around customer experience,” Cosfol said.

What have been the greatest challenges for those who care about digital customer experience throughout the pandemic and how have they addressed them? We caught up with some of those leaders.

Related Article: How CMOs Are Leading Through the COVID-19 Crisis

It Starts With Content and Tone

Kevin Malone, director of digital experience for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), said his team’s biggest challenge in 2020 was finding its voice for its membership in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The teams shifted its content away from marketing and services and toward helping membership move forward and face the pandemic's challenge.

“We focused on transparency, authenticity and providing actionable content to help our members run their business in the critics,” Malone said. “By doing so, we saw our traffic numbers rise consistently. As we shifted back toward more marketing content, we focused on keeping the tone of voice we established in our crisis response.”

Most of the PMA’s content is locked down to membership. However, content teams decided to make the COVID-19 response content available to the industry. On that resources page is a video from the CEO discussing how the industry is moving forward together.

“This reflects the transparency and authenticity I was referencing,” Malone said. “As you move down the page you see the actionable resources and content that helped our membership as they coped with the early days of the pandemic.”

More Content, More Work

But it wasn’t easy. Creating new content means creating new work.

The biggest challenge throughout the content pivot? Rising to the task of the influx of content flowing into the site, Malone said. “We had to adapt and work fast, with a focus on our users, to make sure that the content was organized and presented to them the way they needed,” Malone said. “We made updates multiple times a day, and provided our users with regular email communications including the top resources their peers were engaging with.”

Related Article: How the COVID Crisis Has Businesses Changing up Their VoC Playbook

Keeping up With Customer Demand

The single greatest challenge in CX faced this year has been keeping up with customer demand, said Thiago Garcia, VP of customer success at VTEX. “As clients closed their physical stores and moved all operations online, our CX team has worked tirelessly to implement, launch, optimize and support thousands of customers in record time,” Garcia said. “Meeting our customers’ high expectations has been the hardest but most rewarding work we've ever done.”

What went into that super-quick pivot? VTEX CX teams had to prioritize, develop and scale at breakneck speed. “We had to focus on the right projects, be very clear about the scope and improve our processes in real-time,” Garcia said. “We hired more people to support the growing demand as we onboarded net new clients, and leveraged our incredible ecosystem of agencies to supply our customers with what they needed to get the job done.”

Stressing To Customers They Have Support

The biggest takeaway from COVID-19 is to be one with customers during their greatest hour of need, Garcia added. There was a lot of pain and trauma, he said, and not just the tragic loss of life and upended living conditions, but the disruption these businesses endured and the dramatic shift in consumer behavior.

“Everything was on the line for our customers, and we wanted them to know that they could count on us,” he said. “I believe that the services we provided and the support we delivered have cemented our relationship for years to come.”

CX Has Improved, But Could Always Do Better

The good news for digital CX? Those efforts to pivot digitally could pay off based on some consumer trends. SAS reported that since COVID-19 hit, 15% of customers started using a digital service or app for the first time, and 70% of those new adopters intend to continue using digital services in the future. And, to boot, 30% of consumers noted that their customer experience actually improved during lockdown.

That doesn’t mean things change, though. Customer expectations are volatile and evolving, according to a report from the Canadian Marketing Association.  “Overnight, the customer's definition of the ideal customer experience has changed,” researchers said. “Health and safety protocols and expectations are driving a very volatile environment — one that is more complex and evolving quickly. Companies need to review their assumptions around their customers' expectations and adapt to them. This requires creating an approach that allows for an ongoing review to identify any changes. Once identified, organizations must be innovative.”