No one would have wished the COVID-19 pandemic on the world, but top customer experience experts say brands should recognize some of the positives that have come out of their responses.
Speaking in a session at the CX Impact virtual event hosted by SurveyMonkey last week, there was agreement among a group of panelists that, if nothing else, the acceleration of digital transformation efforts may help CX professionals get buy-in for strategic initiatives later on.
Before the pandemic, for instance, there was often widespread resistance to making changes, even if they were certain to improve CX, said Dan Gingiss, a consultant and host of The Experience Maker podcast.
“I remember being in those boardrooms, and most of the time those (CX) meetings were met with eye rolls,” he said, adding that COVID-19 tore many PR and business continuity plans to shreds within weeks. “I think this was the one time where people said, ‘Oh, maybe this could happen here.’”
The virus has also forced organizations to revise what they previously considered acceptable, said Charlene Li, founder and senior fellow at Altimeter, A Prophet Company. When they suddenly weren’t able to serve customers in person at all, changes to experiences such as contactless ways to interact or product fulfillment options such as curbside pickup were almost immediately introduced.
“It was going to be hard work to do all these things,” she said. “The attitude was, why bother when growth is going up? (Customers) were happy enough, so why put ourselves out?”
Jeannie Walters, CEO of Experience Investigators by 360Connext, noted that some of the CX changes brands have made forced them to confirm details customers might have been quicker to assume in the past . She gave the example of the hospitality industry, where brands like Hilton are putting a paper seal across room doors to prove a guest is the first to enter after housekeeping has cleaned it.
“They’re levelling tip transparency of what they’re doing behind the scenes,” she said.
This is happening in B2B as well. Walters cited a manufacturing firm that is using video to offer virtual tours. “They showed how staff are obeying safety protocols as they were putting finished products on the palettes and shrink-wrap. They could see the employees had all the safety equipment on and were being as careful as they possibly could.”
Gingiss said CX leaders should also pay attention to brands like Charles Schwab, which didn’t just send the generic “We’re hear for you” e-mail messages but instead offered specific resources for those worried about COVID-19’s impact on the stock market. That kind of empathy is worth preserving long after the pandemic ends, he said.
“We know what they’re going through right now,” he said. “Because we’re all in this together, we as business people can relate to them and provide experiences to help them.”
These kinds of CX improvements need a team behind them, and brands many be putting renewed emphasis on listening to customers as a result, said Annette Franz, founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc.
“I had a chat with friend who is a voice of the customer program director just this morning and she said, ‘I am busier than I’ve ever been,’” Franz said. “VoC teams are now the bold children of the organization, and some of their work has further informed the digital strategies. I hope that stays, going forward.”
Myra Golden, who provides virtual training in areas such as customer service, agreed, noting how quickly many of her clients pivoted from in-person learning to online.
“We should walk out of this knowing that, all those goals that seemed so lofty and far out? We can do those,” she said. “We should look at all those customer experience plans that are three, five years out and see if we can take that down to a 12-month goal.”
And don’t hold back on ideas that are ambitious, Li added.
“Go all the way out to the very edge — because you don’t know where that edge is,” she said.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.