CX during COVID-19: Five lessons learned

During COVID-19, customer experience has been more important than ever before. For many organizations, getting CX right can improve results in a new and uncertain world. Here are five considerations to keep in mind to continue to be customer-experience focused:

1. The relationship between CX and trust is more important than ever...but in a dramatically new way.

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have now changed their definition of CX to include personal health and safety as a priority. Does a product or service provide the basics in health safety? Is it provided in a healthy way that is risk-free? Does it require mnimum effort to access, and is it delivered in a caring manner that maximizes a customer relationship focused on trust?

2. The definition of a good customer service experience has fundamentally changed.

A great customer experience now requires a new definition of safety. For example, when one travels, a basic consideration is physical safety on an airplace, train, or bus; the perceived expecation of not having an accident. Now, this definition must include personal and health safe with regard to the COVID-19 virus. This has resulted in the reprioritization of product and service benefits. For example, consumer interest in going to restaurants and bars has declined dramatically, as has interest in purchsing at brick-and-mortar retail stories instead of buying online. This is all being fueled by the dramatically increased importance of personal health and safety as it relates to customer experience requirements.

3. Online is no longer a nice to have, but rather an essential component of most businesses.

The online experience of many businesses has improved dramatically over the last five years. Some companies have embraced a shift to digital and online business, while others have included it for consideration but not embraced it through greater investments and focus on the customer experience. The COVID-19 pandemic has made online business not only important, but essential to the survival and future success of many industries and organizations. For example, while many restaurants focused their CX efforts on their location and atmosphere are going backrupt, other restaurants who have already relied on their food quality have been able to survive by leveraging online tools to support a take-out and delivery model.

4. CX strategy without effective execution is no longer a dissapointment - it's a disaster.

Due to the heightened sensitivity around personal health and safety, a customer experience strategy without effective execution can be a disaster. We only have to look at the early results of the airlines in the post COVID-19 world to see examples of this.

Some airlines have re-examined their customer exprience in light of the COVID-19 risk and the reluctance of passengers to start flying again. This fear has been buttressed by the media's focus on the transmission of the virus via international travellers. Some airlines have retooled their strategy by reconsidering the customer journey with a view of minimizing the perceived risk of contracting the virus from fellow passengers.

Through customer journey mapping, airlines have considered the onboarding process, inflight protocols and deplaning requirements. They are providing masks and PPE to support their employees as well. Some airlines with a strong marketing focus have even branded their initiatives to make them more memorable and keep them central to their brand proposiion, and many have done an outstanding job in developing this strategy and plan. However...

"A great strategy without proper execution is always doomed to fail."

There are numerous examples of overcrowded airplanes in which social distancing protocols were not maintained onboard. More recently, in an attempt to improve revenues, many airlines have abandoned their social distancing protocols, negating any positive safety perceptions the airlines were trying to create. In a precarious economy with continued consumer hesitancy, customer experience strategies have to be meaningful and well-maintained.

5. Customer expectations are volatile and evolving.

Overnight, the customer's definition of the ideal customer experience has changed. 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.

For example, restaurants by definition are at the forefront of public safety concerns of customers. Restaurants that have opened up around the world have taken truly innovative approaches to address their custmers' needs. Examples include: limiting customers by instituting "reservations only" policies, eliminating physical menus to encourage ordering online, creating social distancing between tables, erecting barriers between servers and tables, and, in one particularly innovative example, providing masks to customers that look like lampshades. But, at the end of the day, a consumer's likelihood of going to a restaurant will ultimately depend on their feelings about how much they trust the restaurant and the related experience.

In summary, the post COVID-19 world is one in which organizations are forced to either aggressively increase their focus on CX or risk failure. Companies that are not willing to embrace this new customer reality, their future is uncertain at best.

Author: John Bardawill 

John is the Founder and Managing Director of TMG International Inc., a results-based consultancy focused on Customer Experience, and the immediate past Chair of the CMA CX Council. He has spoken at numerous industry events and educational institutions and is the author of several articles for a variety of industry publications. TMG International Inc. is a presenting sponsor at CMAcx, which is taking place on August 6, 2020. 

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Tags: customer experience, COVID-19, pandemic, recovery, marketing, strategy, online business, CX, consumer trust