As of today, Coronavirus has taken the lives of 10,447 people among the 254,697 cases reported worldwide. COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 virus as it is being called now, has taken the world aback with its increasingly dangerous effects and communicability. The immediate priority is health and safety of people; still, businesses need to continue even in dire times for that is vital to surviving in this era. Leaders are still figuring out how this catastrophe will affect their customer base.
The first rule of providing a great experience to customers is figuring out what the customer wants and putting in all efforts to provide it to them. That is necessary to satisfy the customers and ensure their loyalty to the brand. For leaders worldwide, a lot of time and resources are spent on retaining the customers and crafting new strategies to ensure that customers remain loyal to the brand. One who can hold a grasp on that is able to grow in this era of cutthroat capitalism. But customer expectations can change in dire situations like this, all because of the change in priorities at an uncertain time.
At a moment like this, the priority might be on maintaining the supply chain of your company. You might ignore the idea that customer behaviors and choices can change at a time like this. It is natural to worry about smooth running of operations in the face of an unexpected event but planning also means adapting to evolved customer attitudes and needs in times of an epidemic.
One perspective is that all brands are hanging by the same thread when it comes to customer satisfaction and loyalty in such times. It means that no amount of efforts will simply retain the customer when there are unprecedented events happening around the world. In a time period of two months, newspaper headlines have changed around the world with most of them being about the virus and the events occurring because of it. Businesses, governments, institutions, and the people; everyone is going through a phase of evolving priorities, needs, and knowledge.
As time passes, the way companies adapt their strategies to the events around the virus will be telling of their preparedness in serving the customer at a crucial juncture. The epidemic has pushed brands around the world on their back foot. ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’, the term has never been truer. Customers around the world will witness the companies they remained loyal to over the years, put in additional efforts to provide the same level of service and quality even in uncertain situations. Those who stand this test of time will go on to grow and achieve new heights. Remember! The chance to succeed or fail is at the highest in situations where emotions are unpredictable, and priorities are evolving; not when the operations are running as per norms.
The events that are transpiring today are unprecedented and has made people around the world finding unique ways to go ahead with their lives. This doesn’t necessarily mean companies can’t prepare contingency plans for different situations and be the customer-friendly entity they always claim to be. Here are a few fail-safe methods, best practices, and guidance for a company to consider:
- Changing Scenarios and Its Effects
As a matter of fact, customer needs and preferences change with time amid new trends in the market. That is a slow and gradual process with multiple factors involved in it. Though, that changes completely when unprecedented events have occurred around the world. Customers have an overload of information now and are soaking in newer details every day; this will build up a reactionary strategy in them and their needs will evolve much like their wants. Moreover, the rules that governments are changing will also be an integral factor in their decision.
The crucial quality of leaders is that they can lead the charge in uncertain situations and be proactive in planning, going the way of ‘act, rather than react’. Leaders can analyze the data insights into customer preferences and choices in these times. To start with, a leader must collaborate with other departments to understand the implications of COVID-19 on customer behavior. Put up to-the-point questions such as: how are the customers coping with all the changes at their respective locations? Are the company’s supply chains at risk of disruption? Don’t envisage your strategy based on only what is known; be ready for any situation and hold an attitude of adaptability. Also, consider how different customer personalities will react in a catastrophic situation like this.
Identify the changes in customer behavior and priorities at such a point of time, you must understand that first, to be ready to adapt. Analyzing the current data at-hand and building a strategy based on changing customer needs is a customer-friendly way to ready yourself for an evolving environment and hold an edge over your competitors.
- Instant Actions Before Knee-Jerk Reactions
If your customers must push the company to get information, then you are in a ‘react, not act’ phase of working while it should be completely the other way around. Don’t get caught on your back foot but build an effective communication strategy to keep your customers in the loop. Don’t push a cliché marketing strategy and advertise your services but evolve with time and provide customers with the information they need. For example, a business can communicate to its employees and customers tips on making sure that they remain safe & healthy. The customers will also like to know how a retailer can make sure that the shopping experience is safe in stores. The type of information a customer might seek can be:
- Can you provide a secure shopping experience to keep me and my family safe?
- Do I have to bring any changes in my buying behavior to keep the risk at a low-minimum?
- How can you be sure that using your products if safe?
- I hear the virus has disrupted supply chains the world over. Are you able to efficiently operate in this environment?
- What do you suggest I should do to remain safe in the future?
The way you structure the responses to these questions depends totally on the industry you are operating in. The automobile industry’s approach will differ a lot from the ecommerce industry. You can go either or both ways mentioned here:
- Act, rather than react
Figure out the importance of providing updated information to your customers through web interfaces, calling, messaging, chatting, or through social media channels. This will enable you to meet the customer halfway and show that you care for them providing an altogether brilliant customer experience. This will help you avoid interruptions in business and reducing the need to be in contact. If you are witnessing an overload of work because of the virus, hire a customer service outsourcing organization to help you take care of the customers.
- Brace Yourself
Make sure that the contact equipment and personnel are in place; keep an eye on your social media handles and sales teams. If you are to provide the customers with a great experience, everyone must be well-prepared to handle different situations for the welfare of its customer. Partner up with a call center outsourcing company for now if you have provided leaves to the workforce or don’t have the resources available now to be there for the customers.
The final piece of jigsaw is analysing how the changing situation and its impact on your customers will eventually influence your communication strategy. Calculate the next campaign in terms of time and resources. Ask yourself questions like would a satirical or humorous ad for your customers in a communications strategy the right thing to do at such a time?
- Putting Plans Into Place
Putting in contingency plans, delivering crucial information, and keeping your ears open to the customer’s needs are great tactics; but as time passes by and the effect of virus is at its peak, the customers attitude will shift towards seeking less information and more about alleviating their fears:
- How will the company deal with cancelled orders and returns? Will it make a change in policies in the favour of customers at such a crucial juncture?
- Does your company offer delivery of products and services? How will you do that if government restrictions come into place? Will you be able to serve customers who show symptoms of the disease? Have you asked your employees to be in touch with health officials?
- Are you able to provide support to people who have been quarantined by themselves or by the government? Can you pull extra efforts and deliver the products directly at the customer’s home?
Solving this conundrum is as difficult a task as any. This isn’t just a single customized solution we are talking about here; it requires cross-departmental collaboration to come up with solutions of such kind. Don’t think that just because your industry hasn’t faced the brunt of losses, the situation might be different for you.
The answers to questions such as these are not easy since they involve issues of product, logistics, inventory, supply chain, and operations. Don’t be fooled into thinking these questions are only pertinent for brands in the most immediately affected categories, like health products and travel. These questions can and will impact your customers in the coming time.
- Prepare for a shift in priorities
Every leader must plan for obtrusion in their on-going projects. Priorities at such a time are bound to shift from the current ones to newly emerging customer needs. The wind can sway in the other direction too, this situation might require the company to complete their current projects at a fast rate. For example, a training programme to better understand customer accents and reply to them in the same one, will be put on hold for now; it will be done because of the increase in customer queries and requests. In a different scenario, a team’s efforts to make FAQs, self-service tools, and manuals available to the customer will be completed at a much faster rate to satisfy customer expectations.
Much like that, the resources of a company will be put in an altogether different direction from resolving gaps in processes and procedures to succinctly adapting to customer requirements. The focus will likely shift on ‘created to serve’ approach where issues will prop up in different departments requiring immediate attention. Usually the leaders emphasize on securing the resources of company but seeing the on-going situation, urgency in resolving issues and prioritizing customer’s needs will be of paramount importance.
The management of your company is already working on contingency plans and figuring out actual implications on the business from COVID-19. Ask yourself if the contingency plans include customer-friendly approaches and if they are based on newly evolving customer expectations? Don’t look at the transactional side of the business. Figure out if the virus can negatively impact your customer’s health and safety. There won’t be a better time to stick to customer-centric notions and lay the foundations for growth. Keep your focus on how the customer needs are changing and be adaptable to that. This epidemic has caused enough panic and hysteria, be there to show the customers that you value their loyalty and trust; show them that you exist to serve, at this time and in the future.
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