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Beyond the outbreak: 6 strategic actions to ensure customer experience in the new horizon

Jari Kekkonen / April 23, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak is a global human behaviour test – one of the biggest for decades. It will permanently change the way we as citizens and customers - not just consumers but also business customers - want to interact and collaborate with brands, vendors and authorities, and get served. How to deliver winning customer experience in post-pandemic world?

The outbreak changed the business environment of most industries just in few weeks maybe more than we really realize yet. Even if the crisis is still upon us, it is time to start thinking beyond it and prepare for the future horizon. We have already learnt a lot from the outbreak and can expect certain changes and implications to become more long-lasting in post-epidemic world.

Long-lasting changes in customer expectations: what have we learnt from the outbreak already now?

Shopify Inc. – one of the leading e-commerce platform provider operating in 175 countries – tweeted last week that their normal daily online traffic is already at the same level than last Black Friday. Amazon announced all time high deliveries last week too. A Finnish retailing conglomerate Kesko indicated that their online grocery grew almost 700% very recently leading to severe fulfilment and pick-up challenges in delivery stores.

Alongside with the booming online shopping, mobile and card payment options – especially contactless payment options – are being adopted faster than ever both online and offline. Microsoft, Zoom, Slack and many other online meeting and collaboration platform providers have reported even 10x or so rise in their user base in certain markets since extensive lockdowns began several weeks ago.

The marketing and advertising budgets of many companies are getting axed which, on the other hand, have forced marketing leaders to re-think their marketing and engagement strategies in these days. It won’t be surprise if brands and manufacturers also gradually transfer the remarkable chunk of the axed marketing budgets from offline to online to reach more efficiently widely cocooning customers.

Even if many restrictions have been in force just a short period of time in most western countries, the coronavirus outbreak will leave a long-lasting impact on us. Tens of millions of people across the globe have made a huge leap in the adoption rate of digital collaboration and engagement tools and e-commerce services – just in few weeks. This alone will accelerate the change of many our preferences and old habits - how we evaluate, shop and consume products and services - even in very old-fashioned industries.

Although the outbreak is a severe global health and economic crisis, it will also create new jobs and work, and seems to push many emerging digital business models across the chasm such as online grocery, B2B commerce, e-learning, mobile payment, etc.

Post-outbreak imperatives for customer operations and customer experience

Based on the learnings we have already now, we believe all brands and vendors aiming to differentiate with great customer operations and experience should consider embracing the following actions as new imperatives going forward:

1. Prepare for digital first economy even in old-fashioned industry. People across the globe are extensively forced to rely primarily on digital channels and online shopping options across the board during the lockdown. Millions of people are first time buying online. Many product categories are sold extensively online first time ever such as groceries but also many industrial products. This will change e-commerce landscape permanently. It is time to re-think what sells online versus offline. This is also a great opportunity to streamline and integrate sales processes across channels and finally turn the organisation and processes genuinely to customer centric.

2. Re-define your customer segmentation and engagement strategy. The coronavirus outbreak will change permanently your customers’ behaviour, habits and engagement preferences. Existing customer segmentation and engagement models must be re-visited. Don’t be surprised if your machinery customer next time prefers online meetings or spot-on webinars instead of travelling or traditional business conference sessions. New preferences and habits might also boost the latent demand for new industrial services such as turn-key deliveries, vendor managed inventories, predictive remote maintenance, virtual shopping experience, etc.

3. Make a difference by arming sales and customer service agents with digital tools that help them to reduce customer frustration and collaborate in any channel. Many companies have failed to provide even average level of customer service in digital channels during the outbreak. Many complex services and industrial processes are still lacking feasible digital tools and processes to meet customers equally online and offline. On the other hand, those who have understood the role of omnichannel and integrated sales and customer service already before the outbreak and made necessary digital investments have even bigger edge over others now in the midst of crisis. A laggard, it is not yet too late to make your customer service and sales reps customer experience superstars and arm them with integrated digital collaboration and customer data weapons. That will boost your customer service job satisfaction too.

4. Customer is a king but make high-quality content a queen – especially in digital channels. As customers our needs to find quickly answers usually surge in uncertain times and during unexpected events like now. High-quality content and relevant information keep your customers happy and “self-served” also in peak times without sacrificing cost structure of customer service and sales organisation. Content plays a key role in all phases of customer journey, like getting customers attention, search and evaluation, products comparisons, inventory availability check, payment terms, personalized recommendations etc. In each of these moments of truth, tens, hundreds or thousands of competing alternatives are fiercely trying to win your customer’s attention. The high-quality digital content and personalized communication pays back especially now.

5. Re-assess business continuity plan of customer operations. The outbreak was expected but still too few were truly prepared. We need to prepare to face the second wave of the Covid-19 virus and other similar crises in future. Every organisation should re-assess their existing business continuity plans and ensure more outbreak-resistant criteria and measures for marketing, sales and customer service operations in the digital first economy.

6. Implement agile innovation process and customer-centric culture that is prepared for unexpected sudden changes and customer behaviours in market environment. Agile methods have been adopted in many businesses already for years in a team, unit or even corporate level. At best, agile innovation is part of the corporation culture. Agile innovation methods boost business and product innovation in good times, but they can become even vital for facing unexpected challenges in whole business environment like now with extensive social distancing, lockdowns and other restrictions. In particular, the agile methods help greatly to pivot existing mode of operations and quickly find out new alternative customer-centric ideas, offerings and service models – be they temporary or more permanent.

Scenario-based planning will help your business to navigate out of the mist to the new horizon

A scenario-based planning is a great approach to understand past, present and explore the future. It requires honesty, openness and braveness, but tends to be very golden in the middle of complex uncertainty when business visibility in a mist is short.

Connecting customer insight into tangible scenarios as well as longer-term considerations around shifts in target markets or business models are the elements to be considered when navigating out of the mist as a winner.

Indeed, we consider scenario-based approach together with the presented new customer operations related imperatives very efficient and pragmatic way to attack also the challenges and uncertainties of current outbreak.

Do you need help with re-visiting your customer experience strategy and scenarios for the post-outbreak horizon? Or do you need fast remedy for re-focusing ongoing customer engagement or digital transformation initiatives?

Feel free to contact us:

Jari Kekkonen, Head of Technology, Customer Experience

Aleksi Kärkkäinen, Principal Business Consultant, Customer Experience

Stay healthy, stay brave – especially now!

The authors help Nordic customer-centric organisations to navigate in the misty seas also in tough times and bring clarity and focus to customer experience strategies and digital transformation.

Aleksi Kärkkäinen
Head of Advisory, Design & Innovation
Jari Kekkonen
Head of Technology, Customer Experience Management
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