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Smash the scripts- Customer Experience in times of crisis

Smash the scripts: Customer Experience in times of crisis

Esmee Vesseur

Consultant, Customer Experience



The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world dramatically, in both professional and personal contexts. What we observed from a Customer Experience perspective in this challenging time is that the importance of experience did not decrease – it only changed!

New customer missions arose during the pandemic, emotional needs changed, and more and different journey steps appeared. What we discovered is that there are six important pillars that have underpinned changing customer needs - now, and in the future.

  1. We buy our products online. Due to COVID-19, Dutch consumers used online channels even more frequently, or tried digital and remote experiences for the first time. Once consumers become acclimated to new digital or remote models, we expect some consumers will switch permanently - and other consumers will at least increase their usage of these channels.

The result? Existing behavior shifts towards digital have been swiftly accelerated. Brands need to combine tech and touch to offer the best experiences for their customers. A great example of mastering this combination perfectly is the shoe brand Omoda. The customer mission they’re designing towards is not just buying shoes, but finding a pair of shoes that makes you feel great. At their offline channel, Omoda has great sales personnel who assists customers to find the perfect shoe. Due to the inability to give the best advice at 1.5 meter distance in-store during the pandemic, Omonda has also launched a digital personal shopper -with options for customers to choose the personal shopper who best fits them, as well options to interact across a wide variety of platforms including WhatsApp and Facetime. The touch is definitely back in this tech order process.  

Tip 1: Look at the online experience of your brand. Are there important experiences of the offline customer journey that are missed during the online shopper experience?

  1. We experience economic hard times. COVID-19 has been hard on all of us. Dutch consumers are worried about falling sick. But even more, are they concerned about their financial planning for the future and the long time it will take for our economy to recover. These experiences impact the emotional needs of people during their customer journeys. They need brands to be partners who take away part of their concerns and worries, and let them dream about future plans again.

There is a big opportunity for brands here. As a company you can be your customers’ life partner and take away their fears. A lot of Dutch consumers will experience financial struggles due to the COVID-19 crisis, and with all our subscriptions and financial obligations, times can be tough. Try paying your phone bills, mortgage, car lease, and insurance policy when less or no money is being earned. In response to this situation, insurance company Zilveren Kruis has proven to be a great example of a brand that takes away the fears of Dutch consumers by offering them flexible payment terms.

Tip 2: Take a look at the customer journey of your brand. Are there specific moments where you can help to take the money-related issues of your customers away, and increase conversion rates? For example, by providing more flexible payment terms?

  1. We are generation Zoom. Forced to adopt new communication technologies, we have now all become Generation Zoom: video chatting with friends, relatives, colleagues, and business relations. Many Dutch consumers have experienced the positive side of not having to travel for business meetings, and have found that they’re actually talking to their relatives more often while seeing them on screen. What we know for sure is that Generation Zoom is here to stay.

As a brand, you have to act upon this changing pattern of meeting people online instead of face to face. IKEA taps into this new customer desire with their downloadable set of backgrounds for video calls. With these backgrounds, your room always looks tidy and perfectly furnished without you having to put any effort into it – which saves Dutch consumers a lot of time now that they are working from home more often.

Tip 3: Look at the micro-journey that customers go through to get in touch with you. Can you include video conference in your customer contact offer?

  1. We buy our products locally. COVID-19 originated in a market in China. Consumers will therefore find it increasingly important in the future to know where their products exactly come from. Low price may no longer be the leading driver of brand choice for many consumers. We want to know where a product was produced, and expect transparency from suppliers throughout the entire process, from production to delivery.

Customer journeys change, and an important new step is their interest in the supply chain. They are taking the time to ask and investigate: Where do my products come from? Supermarket Albert Heijn is acting upon this need by showing a world map on their website that indicates where their private label products are produced. In doing so, they meet consumers’ increasing demands for transparency.

Tip 4: Can you bring your supply chain and the customer more closely together? Can you be as transparent as possible about the origin of products during the buying journey of your customer?

  1. We value corporate social responsibility. We are entering an era in which corporate social responsibility and sustainability issues are no longer a secondary concern, but rather the basis of consumer decisions. We will buy our products more locally, but we will also want companies to act more responsibly and be more sustainable.

KPN is showing other brands how it’s done: they are among the most sustainable telecom companies in the world as stated by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. This is thanks to KPN’s great initiative to reuse parts of old smartphones; their focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and their goal to be “circular” by 2025. In today’s reimagined customer journey, customers want to know more and more about the sustainability of their providers, and they will attach more value to external sustainability ratings and indexes.

Tip 5: Can your customers find the necessary information they need during their purchase journeys regarding the impact your products have on the environment?

  1. We want you to take care of your employees. Not only customers have different needs due to COVID-19. Inevitably, products are being delivered by employees that have experienced COVID-19 and all of its consequences. No wonder, then, that consumers have indicated that by far that the most important thing that brands should do (now, and in the future) is protect the health of their employees.  

A great example of what a financial services brand is doing for their employees is Ally. What they are offering their employees reaches beyond economic aspects. They not only offer assistance in paying unexpected costs related to working from home, but also cover diagnostic testing, and have even expanded their care to support employees well-being and mental health. They go the extra mile and care for their employees – which in turn is highly appreciated by their customers.

Tip 6: Did you already think about the way you will treat your employees after the situation goes back to the “new normal’? What will you do differently to protect their health and well-being?

In summary, brands should keep in mind that the journeys of their customers are not set in stone. Desires and needs change, especially in times of crisis. Make sure your customer journey is ready for rapid change, and bear in mind that customer experience does not just end there. Evaluate the adapted experience of your customers, and never forget to monitor the success of your actions.