Re-evaluating customer experience across social distance.

A few days ago, a client competitor emailed a standard research survey without a single mention of current world events or any adjustment in tone.

Clearly, this had been scheduled long before the pandemic. How else could you explain requesting email addresses in exchange for a free flashlight?

Worse, this company works in an industry where small-, medium- and large-sized businesses will require government assistance to avoid Chapter 11.

Clearly, the old approaches no longer apply. That’s why we’re working with our clients to re-examine their brand’s customer insights, customer journeys and experience strategies. Some require mere tweaks, but others need reshaping entirely.

Assume every customer experience has changed.

This is why every brand should make this reassessment a priority. Besides avoiding obvious missteps, the real impetus is to find new opportunities. With retail options severely limited in the face of online commerce, the customer experience is more important than it was just weeks ago. None will happen with physical contact for quite some time; this will be the largest and fastest sales and marketing shift in human history.

Even if you’re not ready to completely reshape your business and customer experience, here are three steps that can boost your customer connection during these times:

1. Determine what success looks like.

Right now, it’s no longer a simple measure of sales or stock price. Ask yourself these tough questions and be brutally honest:

–  What do my customers, and their customers, need from us right now?

–  How must the value we provide our customers change when it comes to my products, my value-added services and my communication?

–  What portions of our customer experience can we stop investing in to allow us to start investing in helpful new services and tools?

Once you know these answers, you can plan the next few weeks and months to rally your team around a revised vision of success.

2. Recommit to your core audiences.

No matter how complex your business, now’s the time to focus on two priority audiences: internal and current customers.

Your sales, operations and marketing teams: Check in with these internal audiences far more than usual. Sure, you want to provide information and guidance, but you also should solicit their suggestions on customer needs. Lean into the deep knowledge and firsthand experience of your frontline people to ensure you have the best decision-making information.

Current customers: While we have all increased our time online, your customers are still starved for valuable connection. They worry about every disruption to their businesses, so do not go dark. At the same time, do not pretend you have all the answers. A couple things to consider:

–  Business continuity is vital. Are there any opportunities to institute virtual connections with customers beyond your sales representatives?

–  Say thank you. Challenging times can be the ideal context for a surprise and delightful effort that makes your loyal customers feel appreciated.

3. Re-evaluate your communications from top to bottom.

The company that sent the research flashlight email likely didn’t realize that the email was in the queue. Don’t be that company.

Marketing and communications audits are always essential, but situations are changing quickly. For example, some of our clients experienced a surge of demand in the first two weeks of the crisis, so they stopped all product promotion to tamp down demand. Now their supply chain has rebuilt capacity, so they need to quickly pivot to create more demand.

As you make your assessments, pay close attention to:

–  Messaging and CTAs: You don’t want to encourage customers to “visit your retailer or local veterinarian.” Similarly, messages like “breathe easy” for an animal health bovine respiratory disease product can feel tone deaf in today’s environment.

–  Channel mix: Revisit your customer’s digital consumption; chances are it’s changed a lot in a month. For some brands, we are recommending more social and search while limiting IP targeting. For others, the opportunity lies in streaming audio and podcasts.

BONUS: Build the pipeline for post-virus engagement.

Now isn’t the time to forget about growth. Your marketing, business development and sales leaders must work together to determine how to build awareness and generate leads for the long term.

Remember to continue nurturing leads. We are working with our pet care and food clients to capture and nurture leads digitally, so we will be ready to move forward when opportunity returns.

And do some spring cleaning including:

–  Improve the quality of your customer management system (CMS) records.

–  Update basket analysis to understand how buying patterns are changing.

–  Lean into your metrics to optimize your ongoing owned sites and paid channels.

–  Build out that crazy big idea you always push to the bottom of your to-do list.

Remember, now is not a time to go dark.

Your customers need connections and experiences they can count on now more than ever. Make their customer experience better in difficult times and you’ll be rewarded with deeper, more lasting loyalty over the long haul.

About the Author

JoDee George is a former VP of Marketing who developed brand and customer experience strategy for a global food ingredient company. At Bader Rutter she considers her primary role to be a connector — bringing the best of Bader Rutter, to help solve business and marketing challenges for CEOs, CMOs and CCOs.