Covid-19: Customer care and employee experience in times of widespread social stress

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Chanice Henry

Image of hand washing Covid-19

With SARS-CoV2 virus and Covid-19 (coronavirus) dominating the headlines, many businesses are starting to contemplate how this outbreak could shift customer needs and employee expectations.

Customer needs

Crisis and significant global movements can trigger changes in customer needs and behaviors.

One study found that the global financial crisis of 2008 had a direct impact on purchases. The research authors noted: "These results suggest that consumers ought to be vigilant when shopping in a state of deprivation, since their purchasing decisions might be unduly swayed by the ensuing experience of discomfort."

Different nuances will be seen from industry to industry, but in general the current climate is a time of anxiety and concern for many customers. More than ever, businesses need to be plugged in to the voice of the customer (VoC) so they can be sensitive to any shifts in customer journeys in reaction to this potential global epidemic.

Rather than basing decisions on internal bias and gut feelings in the boardroom, brands should let the customers do the talking. Real-time visibility on voice of the customer data will be crucial to brands acting in a timely and relevant manner to overcome new customer pain points that surface due to the outbreak.

Listening to VOC

Customers are constantly communicating their perspectives to brands on their own accord through a variety of mediums, from surveys and email, to social media and website browsing patterns. Each signal has a meaning that can help build CX strategies.

For instance, a spike in web traffic on cancellation pages may signal that customers are concerned about the future of their service in light of the outbreak and want to know what protections are in place should they need to amend their order. Upfront communication of these protections could also remove a barrier-to-purchase for prospects.

It is vital that these signals are analyzed to increase responsiveness and the ability to pre-empt future customer behaviors.

Social media can serve as a great gauge for sentiment and because of its spontaneous nature it can help companies refocus actions in near real time. To be effective at social listening, the right keywords and phrases need to be flagged. This can include various phrases relevant to the virus and brand relevant words such as the company name, key stakeholders, products and product categories.

Supply chain planning and digital channels

Sophisticated analytics technologies such as machine learning can be very helpful in identifying shifts in buying patterns to bolster decision-making. This will inform inventory forecasting, product manufacturing and warehouse activities. This visibility will enhance the agility of a business to not only react quickly, but to pre-empt any disruptions to supply.

For instance, brands may plan to prepare for more reliance on digital channels or voice rather than face-to-face channels in coming weeks in response to the outbreak and instructions to self-quarantine. This could lead to companies deciding to prepare added internal resourcing to field an influx in enquiries over the phone, email or via social channels. Live chat pop-ups could be added to certain high-traffic webpages to allow chatbots and virtual assistants to shoulder any additional customer care burdens that arise due to the epidemic.

As well as using analytics measures, organizations should stay in close communication with stakeholders. Efficient issue escalation protocols will ensure information moves swiftly to the right people, allowing stakeholders to prepare contingency plans. Should a full product or resource shortage or disruption hit, this groundwork will minimize the effects and distribute resources wisely.

Read more: The secret behind Australian Red Cross’s agility to the bushfire crisis

Communication with consumers and frontline staff

Both internal and external communication measures should be mindful of the current climate, as decisions here can have a lasting impact on customer loyalty. After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the swift operation of convenience stores restocking basic goods was met by gratitude of Japanese consumers. Be sure that your brand’s external communications are level-headed, demonstrate empathy and are rooted in facts. Avoid irresponsible marketing ploys that are angled to take advantage of the situation.

Arm frontline staff with tools and resources in real time on what your brand is doing for customers in light of the evolving global health emergency. This will put employees in a position to bring value to your customers rather than being left without anything to say. To build these resources, listen to your contact centers for visibility on the sorts of queries being asked.

This strategy links into one of the core values of employee experience. As Fred Reichheld, the creator of the Net Promoter Score (NPS), said in an interview with CX Network, employee experience is about “…. helping your employees lead great lives of meaningful service”.

“What you can do as a boss is be accountable for putting teams in a position to win for their customers,” Reichheld remarked “This not only creates economic success, it creates the inspirational environment where people feel like they’re living the right life if they’re in a job where they are consistently doing things that customers love and making customers’ lives better.”

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Employee experience

Especially in times of widespread social stress, employees need to feel valued, informed and supported by their employer. This environment retains employees and in turn boosts the customer experience they are likely to provide. In response to the outbreak many businesses are halting corporate travel and distributing updates in support information to help protect staff members.

As Stephen Bender of the Disney Institute aptly put it in his session at the 2019 edition of Qualtrics X4 London: “The extent to which you care for your people is the extent to which they will care for your customers and for each other.”

During this incredibly sensitive time, be mindful of the decisions your brand makes as the impact on customer loyalty and employee experience may last long after this health epidemic blows over.