CX Pros: Help Your Company & Your Customers Deal With COVID-19

The jolt that nations, and communities, all over the world have experienced in the past few weeks due to the relentless spread of COVID-19 is enough to induce whiplash. While the situation is extremely fluid, all signs point to it getting a lot worse in the U.S. before it gets better.

I’m not going to presume to address what this means for the people, and their loved ones, who are directly impacted, and suffering or even dying as a result of contracting this virus. I am devastated for my fellow human beings all over the world and here at home.

But medicine isn’t my area of expertise and I can’t alleviate that suffering, beyond, of course, taking the recommended precautions to prevent further spread of this pandemic.

Customer experience, however, is my area of expertise. And in that arena, I might be able to be of service. And you probably can be, too – more than you may realize.

This is not a drill

It’s clear that businesses will be impacted (many already have been), it’s just a matter of how much, even in areas that currently seem virus-free. Economically, the fallout could dwarf the Great Recession.

It’s also clear that far beyond those who are directly suffering from infection, there are going to be drastic changes in customer behavior across every business sector. Again, there already have been, as anyone who’s seen empty store shelves – and empty stadiums, and empty streets, and empty restaurants – can attest.

Your customers – whether they are other businesses or end consumers – are anxious. They are having to react and change course more quickly and more often than perhaps ever before.

This is an unprecedented Moment of Truth in your customer experience.

It’s bad…don’t make it worse

Like it or not, you’re facing an important opportunity. You have the potential to reduce the friction your customers are experiencing as a result of this pandemic, thereby easing their stress, building trust, and strengthening your relationship with them. Or you can miss the mark in your messaging and actions, add to their anxiety, and make them think they should find someone else to work with.

Too often, we’ve found that CX professionals are passive, taking direction from above. But it’s time to put aside your surveys and act.  Your business partners need your leadership right now. Sharing what you know about your customers and helping build a targeted, strategic response can make a real and immediate difference.

Find out what direct and indirect pandemic-related actions your company is taking and make sure that persona and journey data is being factored in. The stakes are high and transparency is critical to maintaining trust. With so much conflicting and changing information in circulation, it’s important that your messaging doesn’t just add to the noise.

The key – as always – is to look at your customers, and respond to them, through the lens of their emotions. Pull out your journey maps and remind yourself what drives your customers’ behavior. Because while specific behavior may change as they react to this pandemic, personas’ motivations remain rooted in the same emotions.

Use what you know

In our book, How Hard Is It to Be Your Customer?, we talked about our work with a hospital system, and our identification of a High-Maintenance Holly persona there. Holly is anxious about her health in the best of times. How do you think she’s doing right now?

Conversely, another of their personas, Seen-It-All Stanley, has a high level of trust in his health care system. So today, he’s probably looking to that system for guidance. What resources are they making available to him?

Another Heart of the Customer client is a large B2B firm. That firm discovered that more than half their customers were operating at the edge of bankruptcy…and that was during a strong economy! Would those customers appreciate preemptive messaging from that B2B firm that recognized the hardships the days and months ahead might bring? Would the firm benefit from showing customers they cared enough to address that?

In other words, are those organizations using what they know to guide their customers through this experience in a helpful and differentiating way? Or are they operating on autopilot, sending out the same “we care and are taking precautions” emails their competitors are? You know the ones I mean. All of our inboxes – mine, yours, and your customers’ – are filling with them.

Step up to the plate

If you’ve done that foundational CX work, now is the time to help your communications team build messaging that reinforces your customers’ trust in your brand and, where possible, devise targeted initiatives that mitigate your customers’ uncertainty and stress, so you can do more than just follow the pack with a one-size-fits-all effort.

This is why creating personas and journey maps based on customers’ motivating emotions has always been so crucial to building loyalty. All that time you spent creating the building blocks of a customer-centric company culture will pay off as you respond effectively to your customers’ changing needs during this crisis, and any other down the road.

And if you haven’t done this work yet? There’s no better time to begin identifying and meeting your customers’ needs.

We hope you and your loved ones are healthy and safe, and that you all remain so as this situation evolves.