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Customer Experience , Voice of the Customer , COVID-19

The customer journey will be forever changed as a result of COVID-19

by Lane Cochrane, on Mar 26, 2020

Staying connected to your customers through customer feedback will help your brand navigate the impact of the coronavirus now, and after we emerge on the other side of the curve.

From how we as consumers are adjusting our daily habits, to how Enterprises are shifting to accommodate these evolving needs, some of these changes will undoubtedly remain in place post-pandemic. Continuously listening to customers during this time will be critical to help brands determine how they can change, and keep their Customer Experience (CX) initiatives on track moving forward.

 

Customers are seeking alternate paths to their needs and brands

In the wake of the necessary behavior changes imposed by the pandemic – social distancing, lockdowns, store closures – the customer journey will be forever changed.

The physical limitations on mobility and face-to-face human interaction have, of course, pushed users online. As stay-at-home advisories continue and shutdowns perpetuate, consumers are flooding to the internet to try to meet all their needs. 

Comscore reported that traffic to Top Retailers had increased significantly since the start of February 2020:

 

Digital Visits to Top Retailers (Source: Comscore)
Week of Feb 3, 2020 Week of Feb 24, 2020 Week of Mar 9, 2020
705 million 750 million 779 million*

*Most of any week so far in 2020, at the time of the Comscore post referenced in this post

 

Downloads of grocery apps were also reported to have increased by well over 100 percent. Most significantly, 41 percent of grocery shoppers are now doing this online for the first time.

The forced adoption of new experiences will undoubtedly change behaviors once restrictions ease, and the economy returns to a new state. Existing customer journey maps will have to be redrawn, as changed consumers will begin their journeys again, leveraging their previous habits along with new insights, tools, and experiences they gather during these unprecedented times. As Econsultancy recently shared:

“The consensus is increasingly shifting towards the idea that there will be a impact from this abrupt digitalisation, as consumers become used to availing themselves of digital services and form new habits.”

 

Customers are looking for brands’ digital presence and testing how far they can alter their journeys to meet both old and new needs. The blurring of digital and physical experiences into simply "the experience" will be upon us once we emerge.

 

Enterprises will both follow and lead consumers online

There is no denying the massive upheaval and the inevitable negative consequences to the economy and enterprises from this crisis. The data overwhelms us every day. Industries in which physical locations and engagement are the product will struggle the most, and efforts will mostly surround survival.

However, crisis sparks creativity at both the industry level and within the enterprise itself. Innovation will help both navigate this crisis and develop unique consumer options to address both old and new needs.

In the early days of restrictions, many local ventures quickly started offering online versions of their services, such as personal training, tutoring, and church services. Culture and entertainment have also shifted to online channels, one such example being the massive volumes of online gatherings recorded in China during the lockdown.

Similarly, enterprises are creating more online interactions. Pharma reps, no longer able to visit hospitals, are leveraging new interactive tools to stay in contact with healthcare professionals. Call center providers are facilitating moves to work-from-home to maintain customer support.

Further into the crisis, but with amazing speed, we saw the acceleration of innovative solutions in China to limit physical contact:

 

The speed at which customer benefits can shift to online versions, and the creativity with which services can be altered, will be keys to success. 

 

Within the organization, the nimble movement of employees to optimize new or growing channels becomes a key tool in the battle to navigate the crisis. Employee knowledge becomes an asset, and that knowledge will find new roles in support, content development, process optimization, and customer engagement online as physical-based roles take a back seat to online. Shifts of labor towards digitally-driven customer experiences, instead of layoffs, will be part of future success.

As an example, cosmetic company Lin Qingxuan was forced to close half of its stores in China due to COVID-19, so they made a shift. Shopping advisors went online, providing personalized customer service and engagement. In an article by Alibaba Cloud, Sun Laichun, founder of Lin Qingxuan, shared:

"I have been operating in a traditional retail environment while eyeing opportunities for digital transformation. Suddenly, the old environment is no longer viable due to the coronavirus outbreak. We had no choice, and we had to take the new digital path. So, we went all in. And now, we've realized that we can do business in this new digital path." 

 

Lagging digital transformation projects will be renewed where the means exist, as industries respond to the crisis. Depending on the length of the crisis, we will witness a step-wise leap in the digitization of the customer journey, and the associated enterprise processes, from supply chain interaction all the way to consumer engagement, transaction, and support. 

Internal touchpoint process maps and customer journey maps will evolve at record pace. Keeping these changes aligned with customer sentiment, needs, apprehensions and actual experience requires ongoing customer engagement and continuous feedback collection.

 

Adapting the customer journeys, and the need to continuously listen

How many of these new customer behaviors and Enterprise initiatives will remain standard options once restrictions ease is yet to be seen. However, the rapid experimentation and adoption of new methods will undoubtedly affect the customer journey in the future.

What we know for sure is that:

  1. The journey will become even more complex, because...
  2. The choice of paths, and customer comfort with them, will increase, and...
  3. The digital options will grab a bigger portion of the interactions.

If brands want a glimpse of what that will look like for them, they need only to look at their ongoing customer feedback data. Within the comments are the current and emerging needs and behaviors that will become the new journeys post-pandemic.

With traffic spikes on digital channels, customer feedback and digital listening posts via Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs become a crucial source of this insight, as customers look to feedback tools to tell enterprises what they need. Enterprises can then easily translate feedback data to find:

  • Trends in customers’ shifting needs and the sentiment surrounding them.
  • Insights to understand what the enterprise should be doing from the bottom-up.
  • How well-aligned the internal enterprise solutions and efforts are to the customer.

 

Within the feedback lies the insight that will trigger the innovation necessary to align resources quickly to each key customer touchpoint along the customer journey that are active during and after the crisis. 

Enterprises cannot wait, and customer feedback is an ongoing source of rapid intelligence that supports decision-making and innovation throughout the whole customer journey. Customers are eager to provide their sentiment, their needs, suggestions and frustrations, as well as their next steps. Brands are solutions to problems, and this feedback is the basis of innovating those brands to solve for the customer. Brands that do that well, will be remembered now and long after the crisis has dissipated.

Making small adjustments to your listening program will ensure you can act on data quickly. For example: 

  • Monitor the shifts in channel traffic and the primary purpose of visit associated with each to mobilize resources to these areas.
  • Develop digital content quickly based on the primary information needs being expressed.
  • Leverage your post-feedback “Thank You” message to highlight any specific content or programs you have running to support customers during this crisis.
  • Use the profile generated from the feedback to direct customers towards relevant content or tools.
  • Build out new topics in your text analytics lexicon to capture customer sentiment.

 

You can also implement targeted surveys and listening posts for COVID-19-related issues to feed your key stakeholders with consumer insight and suggestions. This data will optimize your current, fast-developing strategies, and feed the medium-term insights that will help your enterprise respond quickly to the new customer journeys that will emerge following this pandemic.

 

Final thoughts

At the time of this post, there are cautious indications of recovery in China, based on the easing of restrictions, store re-openings, and manufacturing and shipment growth. However, very few brands, if any, will emerge unimpacted by the events of this pandemic and the measures launched to combat its effect.

A sobered population of consumers will renew their customer journeys with new emotions, hesitations, tools, insight, and appreciation for brands that helped them during the crisis. In parallel, enterprises will need to review all their innovations and the herculean efforts of their employees to deliver even better experiences to customers based on the new journeys that will emerge.

 

Top image source: Pexels

Lane Cochrane
Lane Cochrane

Lane Cochrane has more than 20 years of management and business development experience in the market research and analytics industry. As Chief Innovation Officer, Lane is responsible for developing customer analytics offerings that maximize the value of customer research within the evolving customer experience management industry.

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