One of the most prominent second-order effects of COVID-19 has been on the brand-customer relationship. Customer priorities have changed, behaviors have shifted, and purchasing power has been severely curbed. As a result, brands have had to adapt their CX initiatives accordingly.
We asked 17 Customer Experience and Support Leaders to share their thoughts on the impact of COVID-19 on CX and what’s changed as a result. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Nate Brown
“When it comes to CX in the context of a pandemic, two words rise above the rest: trust and convenience. COVID-19 has revealed to us the companies that are dedicated to their brand promise, no matter what.
We can trust them to deliver on the most complex and sensitive experiences. For the more transactional experiences (retail and restaurants, for example) convenience is now king.
Consumers will not want to undergo unnecessary effort (physical risk) to achieve the things they need. The experience designer who makes it as simple as possible will win the day, even if things cost a bit more!”
Nate Brown, CXO of Officium Labs.
2. Lynn Hunsaker
“The silver lining to the pandemic is the enterprise-wide hunger for customer insights. As rapid changes occurred for customers, managers in non-customer-facing areas felt the urgency to adapt to customers’ new realities. Business-as-usual was insufficient
This hunger for evolving with changing customer expectations should be nurtured as a way of life, regardless of whether there’s a global crisis or not.
Staying on top of evolving customer expectations and absorbing them into all managers’ daily decisions are the keys to organizational nimbleness and customer-centricity.”
Lynn Hunsaker, Chief Customer Officer, Clear Action Continuum.
3. Dan Gingiss
“Given that COVID-19 has become a global pandemic, every business should be in a position to empathize with customers as we’re all going through similar experiences.
This is the time to show customers that you really care. So place yourself in your customers’ shoes, think about what would make you more comfortable with or loyal to a company, and then implement that.”
Dan Gingiss, Chief Experience Officer of The Experience Maker, LLC.
4. Annette Franz
“The biggest change that I’ve seen is the increased focus by CEOs in placing their employees and their health and safety above all. And I hope this trend continues post-pandemic.
I’ve been talking to clients for almost 30 years now about focusing on employees and their experience, and it takes a pandemic to put them first!
Here’s why this is important: When employees have a great experience and are given the right tools and resources to do their jobs well, they will, in turn, deliver a better experience for their customers.”
Annette Franz, Founder and CEO, CX Journey Inc.
5. Jeanne Bliss
“We have seen leaders around the world engage personally in the lives of their customers and employees. They have shed the corporate veneer to really understand their customer’s worries, concerns, and shifting needs.
What I hope is that these new instinctual behaviors become habits and a natural part of the way leaders lead. If this happens, then this time period could turn into an opportunity for humanity to be woven into how companies fundamentally operate and drive growth.”
Jeanne Bliss, Founder and CEO, Customer Bliss.
6. Michael Brandt
“Owing to COVID-19, companies were being forced to find new channels and methods to serve their customers. Some coped better than others. In many cases, the main criteria for customers to choose a brand was “how soon can I get what I need?”. This will likely remain a significant deciding factor in the aftermath of the crisis.
Companies also need to bear in mind that the world population is aging. 28% of Japan’s population is over the age of 65. In most of Europe, that figure is over 20%, and in the US, it is 16%. So, companies need to ensure that the experiences they provide enable the older generation (a generation that often has a higher relative income to most other age segments) to fulfill their needs, in a safe and convenient way.”
Michael Brandt, Customer Experience Leader.
7. Steve Curtin
“While much about CX hasn’t changed (e.g., customer expectations of product & service quality, value, personalization, responsiveness, consistency, etc.), companies have had to develop a sense of responsibility to detect and respond appropriately to the customer’s emotional needs.
This refers to increased sensitivity towards how employees or customers might be adversely affected by COVID-19 (be it physically, financially, or professionally). And in physical settings, this encompasses specific attention to cleanliness, sanitation, personal protection equipment (PPE), and related safety protocols such as social distancing.”
Steve Curtin, Customer Experience Enthusiast.
8. Jenny Dempsey
“The pandemic situation has made me realize how much more important it is to connect with customers as humans. While we say this all the time and try to shift our businesses to do it, it’s not always the result.
I’m lucky to work for a company that allows me to be my natural self while interacting with customers: no scripts, no hidden policies, just real, transparent conversations. It’s important that support team managers encourage their team to be more natural and empathetic when interacting with customers. You could even throw in a joke or a song, not because you’re trying to meet some quota or save a sale, but just to humanize the conversation.”
Jenny Dempsey, Customer Experience Manager, NumberBarn.
9. Jim Tincher
“This pandemic’s defining characteristic – its universal impact – is directly responsible for the most significant change we’re seeing in CX. That’s because it’s not just customers who have been affected by it — everyone from the CEO to frontline employees has seen their lives get disrupted in some way or the other.
Owing to these circumstances, we’re seeing a renewed focus on simplicity and ease. The smarter brands, in particular, are recognizing that customers just don’t have the mental bandwidth for complexity right now.”
Jim Tincher, Founder and Journey Mapper-In-chief, Heart of the Customer.
10. Stacy Sherman
“In general, the pandemic has made people connect with each other on a deeper level as we’re all going through something similar. It has also brought about a huge change in our daily routine – for instance, more companies are leveraging video conferencing to engage and interact with customers.
CX is all about humanizing your business and we’re seeing companies do that on a massive scale. When COVID-19 is behind us, I hope this trend continues.”
Stacy Sherman, Founder at DoingCXRight.
11. Colin Flanigan
“Based on my team’s experience, the COVID-19 pandemic is making everyone, in general, a little more comfortable with remote technology when it comes to meetings.
Our tech support team sometimes does deep-dive screen shares/conferences with customers. While the general rule has always been to leave the camera off based on the level of comfort, we’ve recently seen more and more customers have their cameras on. And so, we’ve started turning ours on as well.
It’s been really nice to see our customers do this as we get a chance to talk “face-to-face” with them and connect on a more human level.”
Colin Flanigan, Customer Experience Manager, Pingboard.
12. Julia Ahlfeldt
“In reality, there are a whole host of things that have changed about customer experience. Amongst these, the most important one is a shift in customer needs. Nearly overnight, customers shifted to fulfilling their needs with social distancing and/or lockdown restrictions in place.
This has resulted in a greater reliance on digital and remote touchpoints. Many organizations have had to allocate more resources to enhance their digital touchpoints and provide seamless digital experiences. COVID-19, in many ways, has shed light on those brands that are ready to be nimble and the ones that aren’t.”
Julia Ahlfeldt, Customer Experience Strategist and Business Advisor.
13. Adrian Swinscoe
“Lots has changed due to the pandemic and we are not finished yet. For example, customer behavior has changed owing to lockdown restrictions but it’s not clear how much of that will stick as we return to some sort of normality or a different normal.
Many companies have had to move as much of their operations as possible remote while others have temporarily closed down. Some other companies have quickly adapted to facilitate digital customer self-service.
However, there will be more changes to come especially if there’s another wave of infection. This would further have an impact on the customer experience, both directly and indirectly.”
Adrian Swinscoe, Customer service and experience leader.
14. James Dodkins
“For me, as long as you place the customer at the center of everything you do, you shouldn’t have to drastically change your approach.
But, one of the things that have changed because of the pandemic is customer needs, although that’s not a huge shock. We aren’t heading out like we used to, we’ve become more dependent on apps and online services, and most importantly, we’ve become more conscious about our own well-being. Companies need to spend time understanding these behavioral shifts and ensure the experiences they provide are well integrated with this new normal.”
James Dodkins, Customer Experience Rockstar.
15. Kareem Mayan
“In the world of SaaS, the importance of delivering a good customer experience has only increased due to COVID-19. Here’s why: Budgets have become tighter in many companies and so, they’re less likely to buy new software. That means retention is key to maintaining revenue (or even growing it by expanding your existing accounts).
To retain and expand, you need to have a deep understanding of your customers and their changing needs. And the companies that use their CX programs to constantly gather, disseminate, and act on customer data, have been able to elevate their CX game in today’s world.”
Kareem Mayan, co-founder of Savio.
16. Ian Golding
“The most significant thing that has changed due to the pandemic is the ability of organizations to adapt quickly. Many companies have quickly shifted focus onto their digital strategy, and have started providing more convenient and seamless experiences across online touchpoints.
Companies have also been quick to prioritize the safety and well-being of employees by enabling remote work at an unprecedented scale. The scale and speed at which companies have leveraged technology to not only adapt to customer needs but ensure employees are empowered to delight customers have been quite impressive.”
Ian Golding, Customer Experience Specialist.
17. Mo McKibbin
“We are seeing more companies turn their attention to the end of the customer lifecycle: why customers cancel, whether it’s COVID-19 related, and if they can be retained by offering a pause on their subscription (free use of account for a limited time).
One of the things I’ve seen many companies do is modify their cancel flow so that they can engage in a dialogue with the customer right before they cancel. This has given them a chance to intervene at the right moment, understand their customers’ exact pain point, and support them in any way possible through this turbulent period.”
Mo McKibbin, Head of Customer Experience, Brightback.
CX has become more human
The pandemic has seen many companies worldwide adapt to unprecedented circumstances at break-neck speed. They’ve not only had to change some of their internal processes and workflows but rethink how they interact and engage with customers.
And speaking to various leading CX practitioners has given us a clear understanding of how organizations have become more human and sensitive in these times. They’ve had to really place themselves in the shoes of the customer, make things easy and convenient for them, and also leverage the power of digital to provide experiences that are designed around the customer’s well-being.
However, whether these short-term behavioral trends ingrain themselves in organizations’ cultures and become the fundamental way they operate remains to be seen.