30 Apr - Customer Experience // By Scott Pandel

Re-Thinking Customer Experience in a Time of Crisis

The current crisis goes beyond the obvious. It is an evolving puzzle with pieces moving in every direction. As we do our best to navigate troubling times, we need to realize that many operations will continue to move forward. True, numerous businesses have been critically damaged during the outbreak. But there is one section of the population that still exists today and will flourish tomorrow: the customer. However, the way customers and companies interact have changed. It is crucial to pay close attention to how your customer interactions have been altered. Companies need to align with the new expectations of customers. So with that in mind, the way companies approach customer engagement also needs to change. In this article, we’ll walk you through the way you can realign to your customers’ expectations quickly, adjust to the fast-changing landscape, and provide an experience that works with this “new normal”.

Because every element of a customer’s experience has some component of service to it, you need to quickly reconsider those specific services during this time of crisis to make sure it works with your customer for this new interaction model to provide a seamless and quality experience. Remember, the customer exists, but touchpoints are no longer the same. And because services are still offered, engagement methods need to change at a rapid pace to meet the growing concern of COVID-19.

As an example, consider grocery shopping. Whether we imagine a self-service shopping experience where you collect and haul your groceries to the self-checkout POS before manually bringing them home with you, or we utilize a more high-touch solution where you order groceries on your phone. They are left at your doorstep with the promise of a no-touch interaction, and each has a service involved where you and other people are interacting with that grocer. Given the current state of our world, businesses need to swiftly reframe their offerings as a service to provide to their customers despite this time of crisis.

The experience a customer has each time they interact with a company, say a grocery store, has the potential to raise doubt and induce anxiety that will engender trust and assuage fears about this crisis. It is the responsibility of each company to ensure their customers trust their products, services, and the mechanisms to deliver their services. This is critical. Companies need to consider each touchpoint their customer has with the company’s products and services, and they have to “design” those experiences. Which is to say they have to understand each of those interactions, contextualize the way they deliver their products and services at each of those moments, and provide guard rails so those services won’t fail. The successful delivery of services is more critical than ever before. Now is a time we need to place our trust in human-centered design to help our businesses quickly adapt and succeed.

To gain this trust, you must plan accordingly. Companies need to map the services they’re providing their customers to ensure each interaction—and the potential behaviors and expectations within that interaction—has been anticipated and accounted for. On top of that, each associated message provided is contextualized and relevant to that moment. To accomplish this, companies need to follow these three practices when designing a service: understand, contextualize, and test.

Understand

To best design a service, you need to understand all the facets required for success. The first step is to speak to your customers. But don’t wait. Do it immediately. Time is of the essence now more than ever. To accomplish this, you will need to put boots on the ground.

But as you know, the process for outreach and engagement has changed to be more fully remote. So embrace that by utilizing digital communications and reach out via the phone or video chat to speak with your customers. This way, you’ll learn directly from them without wasting time.

Focus on your primary segment that will be affected by COVID-19. For example, retail shoppers who primarily shop in-store are heavily involved and, therefore, would potentially feel the pain of quarantine as their behaviors and habits have been upended. This is a real change that they are experiencing in their new day-to-day routines. You need to become a part of that through communications to ensure their experience is still seamless. But how do you properly accomplish this? By talking directly with them.

By talking to your customers about their new experiences, especially as it pertains to the experience your company provides, you’ll understand the issues and the joys consumers are encountering, both the temporary and the lasting. You’ll see where they come into contact with your products and services, how they’re used and experienced by your customer, and at what cadence. You’ll get insight into how they live their lives, what else they keep in their regular routines, and how your products and services intersect with those routines.

Doing this will give you the competitive edge of gaining clarity into problems you didn’t know were being experienced. Consumers are still vying for opportunities to engage with brands. But you need to discover ways for how your product or service could potentially solve ongoing or one-time issues.

You’ll gain transparency into problems you didn’t know were being experienced, and identify ways for how your product or service could potentially solve ongoing or one-time issues. You become a trusted resource through their journey. Forget yesterday’s problems and focus on today’s norm. Prepare yourself to understand their issues and concerns so you can directly provide them more joy and delight by adapting and enhancing their experience during these troubling times.

Contextualize

Whereas time had previously been on your side, things have changed, and processes have evolved. That means you need to map out your route for achieving your CX goals right now. Maybe this seems daunting or even chaotic. But break down contextualizing into smaller, more digestible parts.

Begin by selecting a customer journey that has a high level of person-to-person interaction—like grocery shopping—and start with a single touchpoint that has the highest impact area. Because you now understand the current pain points of your customer, you can select a location to focus on. As an example, consider the process of checking out with a clerk while grocery shopping and how best a grocer could improve that person-to-person interaction.

Next, you want to outline each of the interactions your customers have with your company in the highlighted touchpoint while asking yourself one simple question: with the change in the way people are interacting with each other, how can we reimagine this touchpoint to serve the customer experience better? To adapt quickly, it is vital to focus on each touchpoint and identify areas of improvement by pinpointing specific responsibilities to reimagine how these tasks will evolve to provide better CX.

When re-designing these service interactions, you’ll want to examine what happened at the moment before to help anticipate the best course of action, as well as how to message your customer. How do you do this? Begin by considering a few questions. What happened just before this touchpoint? What and who was the customer interacting with? How will this affect their expectations and behaviors as they come into this touchpoint? This will ensure those touchpoints are intrinsically connected to guarantee a connected experience is provided for the customer. After that, you’ll want to identify the next best step a customer will take, encourage that action, and lead them down the path to ensure a seamless transition from touchpoint to touchpoint.

Moving forward, you’ll then want to identify the different teams within your company that interact with your customers at the given touchpoint. Let’s stick with the grocery shopping example. At checkout, a customer may have coupons your marketing department created, while the clerk is interacting with the point of sale system that the company’s IT team controls. Just as a customer sees each touchpoint in their encounter as part of a single continuous experience—say moving from the website to a customer service phone call and back to a website—companies need to make sure their teams are connected across touchpoints to ensure the experiences each team is providing are connected. The result confirms a seamless approach that meets the needs of your customer.

Doing so is easy to get started. Get your teams that interact with the identified touchpoint together and conduct a short alignment workshop on who is responsible for what piece of that particular experience today. Once teams have been more uniformly aligned around a customer experience they’re providing, it’s time to focus on improving the human interactions happening at the given touchpoint.

Test

You need to provide consistency in the given experience. This guides customers down a clear path to get their problems solved expediently, and at scale. But you don’t have time to wait anymore. In the past, companies often created scripts for their customer service associates. The goal of doing this is to deliver a unified approach and message to incoming customers. It’s time to rethink and test this approach to meet the current needs of your customers best.

It may sound easy, but a lot goes into it. And you don’t have time to waste. So, how can we intelligently design for and solve issues within a service experience? Let’s try an experiment. Put yourself in a Hollywood movie director’s shoes and script the new experience you want your customers to have. Think of one that solves both their highly prominent and seemingly insignificant issues. To do this, consider everyone involved. Picture your customer, your teams, your partners, and your contractors as actors. Then write the script for each moment that they will encounter. Personify your product and think of it as an actor as well. Identify and align on what you want your teams and your products to do and to say in anticipation of your customers’ needs.

Begin by writing out the script and testing it with customers. This is very important to help you understand the plight of your customer while contextualizing their new experience. Walkthrough your dialogue, even if it is over video chat, to see how your customer responds. Gather that info, see what resonates and what doesn’t, and iterate on your script until you’ve got it just right. Your messaging must be clear. Use this script as a guide to design your service experience and ask yourself the tough questions, like: What should your digital products be doing and saying? What kind of experience should your employees that are involved be providing? How are we solving our customers’ pain points?

Once you’ve thoroughly tested your service experience, you can run it through a small pilot and try it in the market. Create relevant training materials for employees in the field and coach them on how to execute a perfect experience. Align your digital product experience with the service it’s attached to, and make sure it’s giving customers the right information at the right time. Build products and service experiences that work for the people using them and engender trust while considering the human experience.

This crisis we’re all experiencing is a tragedy of epic proportions for humanity. But, there’s no doubt it will precipitate a wave of innovation. When considering what we as a people decide to focus our efforts on, we need to concentrate our intentions on doing better for one another through and after this crisis. The time is now. Every moment wasted is a squandered opportunity to deliver an experience your customer wants and deserves. We need to design a world that is focused and make certain that people are at the forefront of our minds when making these lasting decisions.

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Re-Thinking Customer Experience in a Time of Crisis