Social Distancing has prevented direct customer contact, destroying the customer experience… or has it really?
As businesses scrambled to embrace social distancing whilst keeping transactions going, a hands-off customer approach seemed necessary, despite the damage to the transaction experience. Does this mean we forget about the customer experience for now? Do so at your peril, I say.
Markets are facing a huge amount of turmoil and confusion as the implications and results of the COVID-19 pandemic are played out in everyday lives. Uncertainty seems to be the major trend. People are having to face new ways of transacting that exacerbates this uncertainty, whether it be tapping vs swiping cards whilst behind masks and screens to learning how to order and pay online for items they have never seen in person, to receiving a product via a 3rd party delivery man. As businesses we need to take note of this uncertainty and adapt our customer experience accordingly. But how?
- ReMap your Entire Customer Journey
- If you haven’t done this already before, this is about putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and going through the whole process of realizing their need, making a purchase decision, and then going through the motions of completing the transaction, right up until using/consuming the product or service.
- Be as specific as possible, do a customer journey map for a number of your real key customers. By taking the different approaches of different customers you are able to address a wider range of possible customer experiences.
- How has social distancing affected these journeys, what different customer journeys does it create?
- Test and Assess your Customer Journeys
- Don’t assume, its better to physically go through the transaction process as a ghost customer, not letting your staff or systems know you are internal. This way you get the real customer experience.
- If you can, ask your customers to relate their own experiences back to you.
- Are the real experiences like the journeys you mapped? Where are the differences?
- Where are the critical decision-making and satisfaction points?
- What will the impact of differing levels of social distancing be on your customer journeys?
- Identify critical touch points and outline the ideal experiences here
Most purchase decisions follow the same general process, your specific category will determine how in-depth each step is and the consecutive order of these. What are the key influences and factors taken into account at each step?:
- Identify a need
- Seek solutions
- Compare solutions
- Select a solution
- Commit (or purchase)
- Take delivery
- Reassess solutions
- Products have quite different journeys to services but the steps above will still apply in some sense to both.
- Assess what you as a business supply to your customers to assist them to complete a step and progress to the next – these are potential “touchpoints”. How have the touchpoints changed with social distancing?
- What is the ideal feeling and response you would like your customer to experience at each step?
- What issues or problems at each step would prevent them from experiencing the ideal?
- Define your ideal customer experience and set up systems/ training to achieve this
- Set the standards/targets for the experience you wish to achieve (if not done already). This must be stated in measurable inputs. Stating “we want customers to be happy with our service” or “quick payment” is not specific enough. “Customer rating of 4/5 for service” or “payment transaction concluded within 3 minutes” are better measures.
- Ensure your standards are realistic, but also that they are in line with or better than your industry standards and competitors. Are they still realistic in a social distancing environment? What changes and adjustments need to be made, what new measures in place?
- Check again, can I realistically measure the standards I have set in place. Will it be easy for me to track how my efforts have impacted my customer’s experience?
- Set up an Action Plan for how you are going to achieve these new standards. This may involve setting up new processes and procedures in your business. Ensure you have assigned roles, responsibilities, timing and budgets to your actions. Focus on high impact low cost interventions first.
- Assess the expected ROI of implementing and achieving your customer experience targets. There is no point in implementing customer experience standards that mean you end up making losses vs. profits, but also take into account the lifetime value of a repeat customer vs. just the once-off transaction value.
- Train all staff on these new standards (even non-customer facing) and how to achieve these. You may even need to investigate and implement new systems and processes to achieve your new targets. Once again, staff will need to be trained up on systems to actually deliver the experience.
- Monitor your progress on your action plan.
- Track and measure customer experience interventions
- Putting customer experience interventions in place is worthless if they:
- aren’t implemented properly, and
- don’t have any effect on the customer’s actual experience
- Measure and then adapt your action plan and interventions to focus on what’s working or fix areas that aren’t.
- Putting customer experience interventions in place is worthless if they:
Addressing Specific Social Distancing Customer Experience Issues
For a large proportion of customers they will be now looking to buy categories online that they have never bought online before. Their ability to pick up, touch, turn, weigh items is now severely limited. In some way, their ability to compare items on shelf is also reduced. It is essential to provide as much information as possible to help rectify this. Some of this may include:
- Detailed product descriptions
- Product specifications including size and dimensions, weight.
- Packaging descriptions and what to expect when it arrives
- Good imagery – from all directions, preferably video as well.
- Functionality – for some products showing how it looks in use or in the hand helps hugely.
- Product comparison sheets or views: enabling side by side visual and specification comparison.
Many people have been forced into making purchases online where they have avoided this in the past but also may have not made online purchases for such large (or small) amounts. Parting with money for items that they do not have in their possession creates a huge amount of perceived risk, which needs to be alleviated. Here are some ways to settle the nerves:
- Guarantees and transaction cancellation options: Giving customers an opt out or money back option lowers risk hugely.
- References and ratings: Show evidence of other customers successful transactions (for specific products even) to indicate you are legitimate.
- External Verification: Verification from external online security or banking institutions is essential. Membership of official industry bodies also offers trust and an option of recourse for failed transactions.
- Transaction Confirmations: your separate, written acknowledgement of your obligation and the details thereof (before and after actual payment) to provide your side of the bargain is a physical legal document customers can use to confirm an online transaction.
- Delivery tracking: Showing you have already instigated delivery procedures shows you have accepted their funds and are fulfilling your side of the transaction.
Online Delivery (i.e. services)
This applies in only a few categories but is hugely important to them. For services, you need to ensure you provide as many tangible cues of the quality and value of your service as possible. Records and minutes sent after each interaction or meeting (including online) will provide physical evidence of value provided. MOU’s, contracts or scopes of work provided before delivery of the service is conducted will also help clients understand and have proof of what they will be “getting”. Itemize and “package” services as much as possible – give specific package names, design a service package look and feel, describe the service in detail and provide this as either a physical package that can be sent to the client or email/downloaded as a file which is their own. Gifts and useful physical items can also be provided as a “something” that clients are getting alongside with the soft consulting material. Regular recaps and results reports (in written form or verbal) on what has been done (actions and inputs) and achieved (progress reports, results) helps clients to realize what work has been done. Finally, listing the specific skills and experience and networks you have had to tap into to provide a service gives a more tangible display of the abilities clients have not got that they have purchased.
More often than not this is the real moment of truth for a customer who has bought online, where their expectations can be compared with reality. We have all seen the popularity of “unboxing” videos on the internet that attest to this exciting time. Firstly, selecting a suitable delivery service that provides good delivery tracking and stays in contact every step of the way with the customer and you, the seller is hugely important. Managing expectations on when the delivery will take place and taking into account any change or queries from customers quickly and effectively makes a massive difference in the whole customer experience. Ensure customers always know where their delivery is in the process, and who to contact for more information. Many sellers offer a personal transaction assistant who communicates directly with customers throughout the delivery process. Secondly, packaging is hugely important, not only to protect the goods in transit, but to ensure the professional brand experience offered online is continued. Packaging also offers the opportunity to continue to communicate with customers at this critical time. Messaging that emphasizes this exciting moment can be put on packaging like “congratulations you can now enjoy your purchase”. Also include a thank you to the customer for their purchase, which can include a personal note as well as a gift voucher or free gift which shows how much you appreciate their support. Follow up the delivery always as soon as possible to check that the item has been delivered, is as expected and that there is no damage and, finally that the customer is satisfied. For more complex products or items this may be a good opportunity to explain or offer training on use. Finally, this is also the best time to get all important feedback on the customer experience, whilst it is all fresh in the customer’s mind.
Health and Safety Requirements
As the social distancing is primarily a health prerequisite due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the risk and uncertainty customers face is with health concerns. This applies to both their own health , as well as being seen to comply with legislative health requirements. Provide as much evidence of the specific health and safety steps taken to ensure the health of both customer and staff. This can be in the form of physical barriers and signage as seen in many retail outlets, but also safety certifications, checklists and behind-the-scenes steps and procedures taken, which can be shared with customers. Businesses that can prove they have taken significant steps to ensure they are safe and secure will reduce the perceived risk and uncertainty of their customers in transacting with them.
Warmth and Personal Rapport (especially for Sales)
How do you replace or replicate the benefits of face-to-face interaction? We know that body language represents the majority of our interpersonal communication so what to do when this isn’t possible? Luckily for us, we live in a digital age where multimedia, incorporating voice and visual imagery can be used relatively easily, and to ensure we can keep our personal relationships intact, we need to use this. Video calling is essential, especially in initial stages of the client/customer relationship-building phase. Ensure the customer can see your full head and shoulders. Mix up your call venues with personal office surroundings as well as other business related areas, to introduce them virtually to your working world. Don’t try and be constantly too “perfect” with virtual backgrounds, perfected offices, etc. as this removes the realistic and personal flavour of these calls. Train yourself to be natural, warm and friendly over video and look directly into the camera. We all need to develop the skill of the professional presenter or actor, and connect personally with the viewer. Try and use a normal, warm friendly conversational tone and facial expressions, as formal approaches are exacerbated on camera. Turn your own view of yourself off if this helps.
It’s also important to include as much video and live content of you and your staff, physically in person, in your sales and media channels to help potential customers form a more personal and visual reference for you and your business. Mix up full body views with close-ups, to provide both the whole body language and specific facial expressions.
Keep video calling short and sweet. Try and provide detailed information in document form upfront and use video contact to discuss issues and problems (and deal with emotional responses), rather than delve through fact and detail. Work on ways to start and end calls professionally and warmly to avoid awkward silences. Where bandwidth or internet speed is a problem, use video to establish a visual reference and then revert to audio only. Ensure you have a good, friendly profile face shot to maintain a visual reference when using audio only.
I do hope this article has prompted you to the realization of the importance of continuing to ensure the best possible customer experience especially during this time of uncertainty and I trust I have provided some seeds of inspiration and advice on how to do this in the world of social distancing.
Please let me know of any specific challenges you have had in your own business with regards to customer experience over this time.
I’d also appreciate your comments and input on any of the suggestions I have offered here or any additional advice you may have to offer businesses out there from your own experience.
Keep safe, keep going forward!