It’s easy to think that the average consumer has radically changed over the past 12 months. Because twice as many people are buying online now compared to March 2020, you should invest every penny into digital infrastructure.
I mean, sure, but what about the coming years? Physical stores are going to reopen and life is going to find equilibrium again. Knowing this, what lessons can we take away which are likely to stand true for the next 2, 3, or 5 years?
Here are 5 customer experience lessons we’ve taken from 2020.
1. It’s about knowing, not just anticipating, customer needs
In recent years, the companies succeeding most in any industry have been asking customers, “Hey—what is it you want?” and acting on those answers. But even until a year ago, most companies were not doing this. Instead, they just assumed they knew.
But when Covid-19 hit, companies basically grabbed their megaphones and yelled, “TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT!” from the rooftops and worked relentlessly to make it happen. It was a collaboration of sorts. And for many it was the only way to make sales and keep businesses alive.
And it turns out customers enjoy getting exactly what they want. This kind of ‘collaboration’ will be demanded as part of the customer experience long after 2021 has ended. We can expect more companies to be asking what their customers want, rather than saying “here’s what we have.” By knowing your customers’ needs, you put yourself in the best possible position to make the sale.
And if you’re not offering what the customer really needs, there’s a rival out there that is!
2. A digital presence can complement physical premises
There’s a lot of chatter around “safe retailing” and “becoming fully digital”—and yes, maybe, but these are lessons for the now, not for the future. We need to be planning for when the pandemic eases and the virus is contained: what from 2020 should be carried through 2021, and what can be mercifully left behind?
The reality is we shouldn’t all become fully digital businesses. Do artisan coffee shops in small towns need to have a thriving digital infrastructure? I think that’s misleading. The lesson isn’t “Being digital will save your company”, it’s that being adaptable will.
If we all take a breath, then we know that brick-and-mortar retail and in-person business interactions are coming back. Sure they might be different for some of us, but it’s not so black and white.
But marketplaces are saturated, and having some online presence which complements your physical premises will be a strong move. With every Tom, Dick, and Harry moving at least partially digital, you need a presence to be heard. So time invested in things like a responsive website will not be time wasted.
One survey found that 82% of businesses during the pandemic have benefitted from investing in “technology that connects them with customers”—be part of the 82%!
3. Adaptive communication will help with retention
Who knows where the next 12 months will take us? Your business might have no idea how to handle each new hurdle and kick to the groin (none of us do!) but you can differentiate yourself by still communicating with your customers. Announcements, distributing content, raising awareness…there’s lots you can do.
By communicating clearly and frequently with your customers—even when it’s bad news—you earn their respect. Countless sales, subscriptions, and memberships have been lost over the past year because customers just have no idea what’s happening with the company. No matter what comes your way, always make time for communicating with customers.
4. It’s time to start leading with empathy
It’s not so much about putting the customers’ needs ahead of your own: it’s about reshaping your needs such that they are your customers’ needs.
In 2020, it was the brands that led with empathy and a genuine desire to help their customers which fared best. Banks introduced more favorable terms; coffee shops took themselves outdoors; literally every company became “contactless” in some way—and a thousand other examples. They gained trust and loyalty by standing up and taking worries from their customers’ plates.
And in ever more saturated marketplaces, you can’t put a price on trust and loyalty. We’ve all been shaken up over the past year, and growing a business in the next few years is likely to require more patience, emotional intelligence, and active empathy than before.
Plus, if it’s true that companies that provide an emotional connection with customers outperform the sales growth of their competitors by 85%, then what are we waiting for?
5. We can roll back the “features-first” customer experience a smidge
In recent years, many brands have veered towards feature-rich personalized marketing as the primary way to improve engagement and loyalty. In response to the pandemic, however, there was a massive and critical surge back to human-centric CX.
This isn’t a new idea and it’s what brands should’ve been doing long before the pandemic struck. And while some were, many more learned the hard way.
A March 2020 study found that 71% of respondents would permanently lose their trust in any brand perceived to be putting profit over people. Pinch of salt if you like, but this is compelling stuff.
In fact, all 5 of these lessons relate back to that one thing: the human factor. Without human customers, every business on the planet would fail. So if you take only one lesson away from 2020, make it this: as long as you build around the human beings that are your employees and customers, your business should be just fine.