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There shall be no return to normal: Focal points for the post-COVID customer experience strategy

Many people think that as soon as this crisis is over, they will rapidly return to life before COVID-19. Unfortunately, life after COVID-19 will not be the same. The COVID period is a harsh transformation period for all organizations. The very foundations on which the existing business strategies were developed have changed. This crisis has marked a sharp change in most business trends. It has changed customer values and expectations, necessitating new customer experience strategies in the post-COVID-19 era.

Drawing inspiration from publications and reports by some of the world’s most authoritative sources, this write up seeks to demonstrate the effect that COVID-19 has had on the economy, and propose a framework for post-COVID customer experience.

The impact of COVID-19 on the economy.

From December 2019 – 16th October 2020 the world has recorded 38,984,808 cases of COVID-19 with 1,099,184 deaths.  4,14% of corona cases have been reported from Africa, 31,1% from Asia, 47.4% from America, 17,1% from Europe (ECDPC, 2020).

COVID-19 has plunged the world economy into the worst recession in eight decades. While it is projected that growth will recover in 2021, the pace of the recovery is still very uncertain and will largely depend on the availability of a vaccine and the rate of improvements in trade and investments. (WBG, 2020). Some of the shocks to the global economy as revealed in an April 2020 world bank study include a 3% drop in unemployment below the base level, an increase of 25% in the cost of imports and exports in international trade, a sharp drop of 20-32% in international tourism, and a drop in household demand for services requiring closer human interactions by 15%. (WBG, 2020).

The global economy’s return to the pre-COVID 19 levels of activity remains prone to setbacks. The global growth is projected at –4,4% for 2020 and 5,2% for 2021. These trends imply high unemployment rates this year and next year for both emerging and advanced economies. It is projected that social distancing will continue into 2021 though it shall fade over time with improvements in treatment and the use of a vaccine. (IMF, 2020)

A September 2020 McKinsey Global Survey, however, suggests a positive shift in economic sentiment as executives are becoming more hopeful about the global economy and their company performance as things are slowly getting back under control compared to the perceptions at the start of the crises.

Focal points for post-COVID customer experience strategy

Given the amplitude of the disruptions COVID-19 has had on the economy, we really cannot talk of a return to normal anymore. Businesses would have to play by new rules, set new visions and review their current operational models. Some business trends that were forecasted before the crisis has accelerated due to the crisis while others have drastically slowed down. Three strategic post-COVID customer experience focal areas include: digital transformation, employee experience and reengineering customer touchpoints.

1. Digital Transformation

Accelerated by social distancing and the adoption of remote working, there could be no better time for engaging in digital transformation projects. The crisis has facilitated the acceptance of technologies that were resisted and ignored before. These new technologies have taught us an alternative way of holding meetings, working and learning.

Digital transformation has also greatly affected marketing processes. The lockdowns and social distancing have pushed people to connect more within online communities, changing drastically the ball game for marketing, and placing the digital marketer at the center of marketing efforts. This trend may not change after the crises and could become the new normal.

The increased online presence and shift to digital channels is reshaping e-commerce. This presents a great opportunity for technology companies. The spillover effect is also beneficial to organizations as these increased innovations and supply of digital services are leading to free and low-cost access to digital services and technologies.

Many companies used this lockdown to transform their business models completely and now operate 100% virtual companies with employees working from home.

2. Employee Experience

Employees are increasingly working from home. Travelling and business trips are reducing, and there are major changes happening in the internal customer service environment. The approach to work is changing, the tools used for work are changing, the approach to service delivery is changing, workflows are being altered, the business operational guides are being adjusted, vacation scheduling is being reviewed and the dynamics that exert external influence on employees such as family, social groups and lifestyle are changing.

The employee is undergoing a 360-degree transformation and many will become obsolete due to the rapid and massive nature of the change.  New talent will evolve and new competencies will be needed. Many performance reviews may not happen in 2020, and for those that take place, many would not be based on the objectives that were set at the beginning of the year. This also means new performance trends will emerge.

The COVID global pandemic has made it easy to differentiate companies with great employee experience from those without it. The approach that has been used by the management of companies to sail through this crisis has shown where most companies stand when it comes to customer and employee care. Some companies have shown no care or responsibility for their workers during this pandemic. The effect on employee motivation and performance will show in the 2020 performance.

Employees are becoming more mindful of personal hygiene and expect the workplace to keep them safe. Companies need to put in place structures and equipment that ensure not only the hygiene of the customers but also that of employees.

With increased unemployment, the shutdown of schools and other activities, the financial burden on workers has increased. Though they may be paid the same salary, much will be needed to keep them sufficiently motivated as their hierarchy of needs has changed. Employee access to health and safety is more valuable to them now.

3. Reengineering customer touchpoints

One evident consequence of the corona pandemic is a total disruption of existing customer journeys. A lot has changed about the customer persona: their taste, motivations, social groups, and preferred channels among others.

Companies need new data to create new user and customer personas. Organizations need to re-engineer their customer touchpoints. They must identify what has changed in the way customers interact with them, customer needs and expectations. Organizations need to design and deploy new customer experiences.

Organizations will need to review and identify changes that have happened in their operations and how these changes are affecting customers. They will need to review their customer touchpoints in order to understand which contact points have become pain points and redefine their strategy. The new journey maps will be subjected to 3 dominant forces. Alignment to the World Health Organization’s recommendations, the organizational changes and the new customer needs.

Conclusion.

Certainly, we will overcome this pandemic but nothing will ever be the same again. The post-COVID economy will be one marked by deep-rooted changes that will affect even the vision and mission of most organizations. Leveraging technology and customer experience management will be the new playground for competitive advantage. There shall be no return to normal. The new normal begins now.

By MBINKAR Kpunsa Fomunyuy |Author | Customer Experience Expert |

10 things every customer-centric organization must do as COVID-19 spreads

By: Mbinkar Kpunsa Fomunuyuy

The CDC describes Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. This virus was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China. As the virus continues to spread outside China, it has been declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization. Many countries have thus taken preventive and curative measures to handle this global pandemic. The US has issued travel ban from Europe, India and Kuwait have suspended visas to all foreigners, Italy is locked down with permission needed to travel within the country, over 39 countries have already announced or implemented school or university closures and this affects business activities of thousands of companies in one way or the other. What therefore should be the response from a customer-centric organization?

  1. Show solidarity with the victims
  2. Join the health organizations in doing sensitization about the pandemic.
  3. Tell your customers how this can affect your company’s activities.
  4. Tell customers the preventive measures you will be taking.
  5. Put in place measures to protect your employees.
  6. Consider remote working options
  7. Divert your corporate social responsibilities efforts to fight the spread of the disease.
  8. Be careful with meetings and travel
  9. Disinfect your business venues & and respect health standards.
  10. Review your business procedures and adapt them to the crisis period

Let us look at these in greater detail:

  1. Show solidarity with the victims: This is the time to shift those marketing messages to messages of care and solidarity to the thousands of patients in this difficult moment. A customer-centric organization is one that truly understands their customer’s needs, their greatest preoccupations and their fears. One that stands with them in difficult moments. This creates an emotional connection with your brand.

A good example of such solidarity can be seen by LUSH offering free handwashing facilities to the public

A sign in the window of a Lush store in Liverpool offering a free hand wash service, source Bristol Post
A sign in the window of a Lush store in Liverpool offering a free hand wash service, source Bristol Post
  • Join in the sensitization about the pandemic: To reduce the spread of this pandemic a key factor is to reach everyone with the most useful information on how to remain safe. Use your media outlets and contact points to sensitize your customers on how to remain safe.
UBA Bank Sensitization flyer on symptoms of coronavirus
UBA Bank Sensitization flyer on symptoms of coronavirus    
BatStateU Integrated School student councils’ twitter sensitization on 7 preventive measures against COVID19
BatStateU Integrated School student councils’ twitter sensitization on 7 preventive measures against COVID19
  • Tell your customers how this can affect your company’s activities: You should not assume that everyone knows there is a problem and that they will understand if there are delays or cancellations. Set a task force to identify how this pandemic affects your industry as a whole and your organization in particular. Communicate to your customers how this can affect your activities and what measures you would be putting in place to overcome these challenges. Do not use the pandemic as a justification for poor service.
ShakeTastic’s notice to customers on the efforts they are making to contain the corona virus outbreak
ShakeTastic’s notice to customers on the efforts they are making to contain the corona virus outbreak
  • Tell the customers the preventive measures you will be taking: as already mentioned, identify what preventive measures you will be taking at each contact point with the organization to keep your customers safe, as well as up-to-date actions you are putting in place. This helps to calibrate their expectations and maintains their confidence in your business. It reassures your customers and avoids unnecessary panics that could shift the existing problem to other sectors.
Everyman Espresso notifies customers on hygienic actions to fight corona virus
Everyman Espresso notifies customers on hygienic actions to fight corona virus
  • Put in place measures to protect your employees:  Your internal customers’ health is also a major concern. Reducing their exposure to risk without compromising the delivery of services is very important. Evaluate the risk your team is exposed to and define strategies to mitigate these risks. Clearly communicate these risk areas and how you expect the team to respond to it. You must do this even if your organization is not in an affected zone, this preventive measure is fundamental in building rapport with your team and improving internal customer experience.
Notice on no handshake zone, to protect employees at Los Angeles International Airport.
Notice on no handshake zone, to protect employees at Los Angeles International Airport.
Source US Today / Frederic J. Brown
  • Consider remote working options: Do a business management assessment of what can be done in the office and what can possibly be done from home. Give your team members in affected zones the possibility to work from home, the possibility to stay away from work if they fall sick. This should be a priority in high-risk zones and a factor to be considered in low-risk zones as it is not clear where the virus will be next.
Hypernode takes on remote working as a COVID 19 protection measure
Hypernode takes on remote working as a COVID 19 protection measure
  • Divert your corporate social responsibilities efforts to fight the spread of the disease: Thousands of health workers risk their lives every day, millions of people could be safer if they had certain facilities in place. Research laboratories need funding as they all put hands on deck to find a cure and a vaccine. This could be a great area to divert your company’s corporate social responsibility.
Comment from Facebook health department on measures Facebook is taking to fight the COVID 19 virus.
Comment from Facebook health department on measures Facebook is taking to fight the COVID 19 virus.  Source Facebook
Mark Zukerberg on solidarity response fundraiser for WHO  to fight the COVID 19 virus.
Mark Zukerberg on solidarity response fundraiser for WHO  to fight the COVID 19 virus.  Source Facebook
  • Be careful with meetings and travel. Truly review your work models and see which meetings can go virtual, which movements could be postponed, which events could be postponed. Reduce the risk of exposure of your team and your customers by reducing meetings and travel as much as possible depending on the risk level of the zone in which you are located.
Oxford United FC postpones matches for COVID-19 health concerns
Oxford United FC postpones matches for COVID-19 health concerns
  • Disinfect your business venues & demonstrate the standards: get help from health practitioners on the right chemicals and cleaning materials to keep your surfaces and offices clean and protected as much as possible. There is a need for awareness on how to manage public areas and how to orientate customers to avoid contact with risky surfaces.
Delta airlines expand their cleaning processes to include a fogging procedure that disinfects surface areas that are often touched in the aircraft.
Delta airlines expand their cleaning processes to include a fogging procedure that disinfects surface areas that are often touched in the aircraft.  Source Delta Airlines
  1. Review your business procedures and adapt them to the crisis period: one key factor about customer centricity is to constantly remodel your business to focus on improved customer experience. What temporal measure do you need to take to keep your team and customers safe? What procedures do you need to modify to make the workplace safer?
Red River co-op food store notifies customers on new rationing policies due to COVID19
Red River co-op food store notifies customers on new rationing policies due to COVID19
Verizon waives late fee for customers and small businesses disrupted by COVID 19
Verizon waives late fee for customers and small businesses disrupted by COVID 19

All businesses exist to serve customers, today the world is fighting the COVID-19, and this is not some strange virus that only affects others. It affects you and it affects your customers. These guidelines will help you approach the virus more professionally and maintain the best customer service standards.

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