Manuela Pifani Guest Blog

I can picture the situation. Tyga’s “Bored in the house, in the house bored…” song lyrics are playing extremely loudly from your teenage son’s room; your daughter is self-videoing yet another ridiculous dance routine in an attempt to gain more likes on Tik Tok than her friends; your partner is fast asleep on the couch in front of episode 34 of Joe Wicks’ latest workout programme, overwhelmed by the heaviness of the daily overcooked and under flavoured pasta lunch; and your dog is hiding in the garage, behind a mountain of stockpiled toilet paper multipacks, trying to avoid being taken on yet another ‘exercise walk’. Still wearing your pyjama bottoms and with increasingly uncontrollable hair, you have been sitting in front of your laptop for a few hours, in the improvised office space which has been your homeworking cage for the last several weeks, jumping from replying to the many somehow ‘urgent’ emails from your boss to joining random business update video calls and checking the latest news on YouTube. The ping notification of a new email landing in your inbox immediately distracts you and attracts you at the same time and you cannot resist the urge to check it out… just to find out with disappointment that it is the latest communication from yet another bunch of so-called experts who are opining about the impact of the pandemic on the social and business environment and sharing their immensely valuable tips on how to mitigate its impact.

So, ‘ping!’, here I am wondering why most people are talking only about survival. While I do not want to diminish the undeniably negative impact that the pandemic is having on most organisations, at the same time I am optimistic by nature and my can-do attitude to everything immediately puts me in a ‘glass half full’ frame of mind. Indeed, I believe that truly customer-centric organisations are approaching the crisis as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship with their customers at a time of heightened need and uncertainty and will be able to increase their loyalty and advocacy afterwards. These are the organisations who, instead of immediately jumping into Business Continuity Plan mode, started to listen to customers to understand how needs and behaviours were changing and the reasons behind that, both at a functional and emotional level, and how this shift was creating new customer segments (like people self-isolating or the elderly), which required new or adjusted propositions and delivery models.

Finding innovative ways to continue to deliver your brand promises

One of the best examples is Morrisons, who quickly launched the innovative ‘food boxes’ solution using one of their key strategic assets (ample supplies of food and home essentials) and joined forces with Deliveroo to leverage theirs (the currently under-utilised and scalable delivery service) to achieve a win-win-win for them and their customers. This, coupled with a fast response of extensive in-store functional and soft behavioural changes, positioned them at the forefront of the highly emotional race to #FeedTheNation, and therefore at the forefront of people’s respect and trust.

This is not the time to abandon your customers. This is the time for creativity and innovative thinking. Think about what your brand promises are and the assets you have, and how you can flex or redeploy them to continue to meet your customers’ needs or tap into those that have changed. Some traditional restaurants are offering new take-away meals or ‘ingredients and recipe’ boxes supported by online tutorials on how to home-cook the same meals customers were enjoying in their premises before. Some manufacturers switched their production line to fill product gaps like hand sanitisers or medical equipment. Not only will this continue to provide you with a revenue stream, but also it will create unprecedented closeness with your customers.

Building closeness with your customers

At a time of increasing social distancing and isolation, maintaining that closeness with your customers is of paramount importance. However, this is not achieved by sending long ‘letters from the CEO’, outlining all the measures being taken to handle the situation and emphasising commitment and safety.  In most cases those messages are irrelevant or of no interest to people, especially if the interaction with that company was a one-off occurrence a long time ago. Even if fuelled by good intentions, many of these feel like pure marketing wrapped with fake empathy.

Most customers expect to be kept informed of developments which are relevant to them now, and won’t be interested in long-winded general updates. Messages should be personalised and relatively short, to ensure people read what actually matters to them. Frequency of communication should maintain an ongoing conversation to keep customers informed and engaged with your organisation in a relevant and value-adding way, but without flooding their inboxes every other day. But most importantly, these are not times for blanket self-promotional messages. Think about your customers’ communication needs, not yours.

Support your customers and communities now, and they will continue to support you later

In addition to information, customers now also expect full support. They need to feel that you are looking after them and proactively helping them through the current situation. Most of your customers now need empathy and understanding. They expect you to go above and beyond your standard processes and procedures and your normal terms and conditions, to demonstrate that you not only value their custom, but you also care about them and their well-being. This is not the time to impose strict rules and put your near-term revenue protection first. Don’t project on your customers your frustrations and try to make them compensate for the inevitable near-term business impact you are suffering. Show them empathy and care and they will continue to rely on you now throughout the crisis. Proactively look after them now, without waiting to be asked, and they will look after you later by remaining loyal and engaged.

Another essential element, which is extremely important in these times of crisis and in this era of purpose-driven societal focus, are the different needs of the broader communities within which you operate. The strength of your brand and your customers’ perception of it will also depend on that. Many organisations seem to have jumped on the bandwagon of offering freebies to the NHS, which is admirable and extremely useful, but there are plenty more opportunities to help local communities and vulnerable people in more differentiated ways.

Like Maya Angelou said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Independently of the actions you are currently taking to navigate through the crisis, don’t forget that your customers are creatures of emotion – and that emotions are particularly heightened now by the situation. How you make your customers feel now about you, will determine how successful you will be when things go back to normality. If you can make your customers feel that you are doing all you can to help and support them and their loved ones through these difficult times, you will be able to come through the crisis stronger than before.

Author: Manuela Pifani, Founder of CXellence Consulting 

Manuela Pifani is a multi-award winning CX consultant, trainer and thought leader. She has over 15 years corporate experience as CX Director for large financial services and retail organisations across Europe like Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, Direct Line Group and Kingfisher, with her achievements demonstrated by notable business results and winning 18 CX awards, including UK CX Professional of the Year 2015. In 2018 she founded CXellence Consulting to partner with more organisations and Customer Execs to help them achieve success through customer experience excellence. Her services include strategic experience design, customer journey mapping and transformation, executive mentoring, CX training and capability building.

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