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Customer experience in times of crises

April 1, 2020

Why it’s so important to focus on your customers’ needs and expectations – especially in times like these.

Possibly like never before, companies need to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Customers aren’t buying, internal budgets are cut or relocated, purchases are paused, and organizations have to adapt to new ways of working across teams. Retaining existing customers is more important than ever; caring about your customer experience is more important than ever before.

Feeling safe is a basic need for humans. In times that come with a lot of uncertainty and irrationality, providing well-structured, accessible, and tangible offers is key. In other words: The role of customer experience is bigger than ever.

Those who have planned ahead and built what-if scenarios are at a distinct advantage. If you didn’t, you shouldn’t resign yourself to this fact. Instead, you should give it a go immediately. Here are some questions you can ask yourself.

How can I stay relevant?

Like in sports, often the best defense is a good offense. Of course, this is only relevant if you ensure that people still come to watch you play. You have to make sure that you emphasize your proactive tactics and make people see your efforts taken. Sometimes your short-term tactics need to contradict your long-term strategy.

Personas, stakeholder maps, and journey maps are handy tools for understanding where you are, where you want to go long-term…and where you might need to go in the short-term. They help you to understand the current strengths and weaknesses of your service, and decide what you need to do now to retain your customer base.

Make sure you identify opportunities along your customer journey and build on them, identify old and new pain points and find ways to tackle them. Your frontline staff and customer facing touchpoints are critical to maintaining your customer base, but you have to ensure that your whole team understands how to support those in direct touch with your customers. This becomes critical when communication channels change quickly and behaviour patterns adapt to a new reality. You need to simplify those backstage processes as much as possible, and ensure that your frontline staff have got what they need to serve your clients the best way possible.

If necessary, change your service’s narrative. Communicate regularly, be transparent and approachable, and most of all, be aware of who your customers are and how you can most deliver value in this time of crisis and change. For example, give regular insights into how you’re holding up by updating your social media channels, or sending out weekly newsletters with updates on major happenings.

Rethink your personas and offer simple solutions

Build personas – or adapt the ones you already have – to focus on the current situation, evaluate what’s important for each of them, what their anxieties are, and how you can help them to overcome those in the best possible way.

persona template in smaply
Build personas that allow you to slip into your customers’ shoes.

Your personas during the crisis might be quite different from the personas you have under normal circumstances. Priorities have shifted – for them and for you. That could mean that some of your personas are not as relevant right now as they’ve been before. Maybe you’ve gained an additional customer group you now need to serve in the best and fastest way possible. For example, local farmers who have lost their restaurant business, might now welcome access to direct-to-consumer markets.

Link to basics of personas article: You will learn what personas are, why you need them, how to research, define and create them and some templates and a cheat sheet.
Check out this article if you want to learn more about personas!

Build on your personas and create journey maps that visualize their current experiences and new challenges. You don’t need to get lost in tiny details, but try to get a clear picture of what’s currently happening and needed.

Tear down hurdles, offer simple solutions, be generous when possible, and map out scenarios that show how to ensure all this. Maybe it’s finally time to go down some untrodden paths – your customers may be doing the same.

Journey Map in Smaply
Journey maps help you to better understand your customers’ experiences and to more easily identify opportunities and pain points.

How can I ensure that I’m transparent and honest?

From a journey perspective, you do this by strengthening the line of interaction (the divide between interactions of customers and front-line staff) and shifting the line of visibility (The divide between those things your customers can and cannot see). Just as some restaurants allow their guests to see what’s happening in the kitchen, providing customers visibility to your work in the background might be a thing to consider. It fosters trust, shows how hard you are working for them, and this kind of transparency can allow your customers to develop empathy for your business at this time.

line of visibility
line of interaction in Smaply

Especially in times of physical social distancing, doing the opposite in the digital sphere might help you bond with your customer in a more intense way. Authenticity cannot be faked and in times of crisis a culture of transparency can help you prevail. Proactively communicate through various channels and find the perfect moments and right channels to do so for each customer group / persona, based on what you know about what they may be going through right now and how you can deliver meaning and value in this unique time.

channel overview in sample

Visualising the channels you use to communicate with your customers (and vice versa) helps you to understand when and how to best deliver your content / messages and to subsequently build an omnichannel communication strategy for each persona / customer group.

How can I provide an outlook to the post-crisis future?

At the same time, try to set realistic expectations. Being honest and transparent is  preferred over giving vague outlooks. We are all in this together and everybody understands. Just make sure to point to a potential solution and how you can achieve this goal together.

You don’t know what the future holds and you shouldn’t act like you do. But you can remind your customers that there will be a time after the crisis and that you will be a part of it. Talk to your customers as much as you can! Gather feedback, learn about their expectations and restraints, learn about what makes them anxious and where they feel confident. Ask what you can do for them (and find out what they could maybe do for you).

If possible, include them in prototyping sessions of your future, post-crisis service. Collaborate, co-create, and build future-state journey maps based on these insights. If you have some spare cash, incentivize them to participate, especially if your customers may be facing unemployment or other forms of scarcity right now. You can also ask a pro for help; there are many service design experts who can assist you in remote rapid prototyping and ideation.

Who can I join forces with?

First of all, join forces with your customers themselves. Make them your advocates, include them where possible, and build a we-help-each-other-through-the-crisis atmosphere.

You can also check your service ecosystem for potential partners. Build a stakeholder map, visualize connections, and evaluate who could help you, and who you can help in return. Challenges are mastered best together and surviving a crisis is a team sport. Use your existing network or extend it, and find potential synergies. Does somebody in your network have an online shop already through which they can sell your goods, in case you don’t have your own yet? Can you provide them with valuable data in return? Can you co-finance a campaign together? Do you have expertise in serving a specific channel that they don’t and vice versa?

Link to stakeholder map article: You will learn what a stakeholder (map) is, why you need them, how to create them and a helpful cheat sheet to work with them.
Check out this article if you want to learn more about stakeholder mapping!

Also, try to connect your customers to each other. Whether  B2C or B2B, pay attention to your customers’ feedback and identify opportunities for them and yourself. Is there an item on your roadmap which is now heavily needed and which you can prioritize? Is there a new product that fits your portfolio but which you didn’t dare to include to your shop yet? Also, try to connect your customers, as they can also learn from each other.

visualization of a stakeholder map in smaply
Stakeholder maps help to understand your ecosystem and identify core players within it. Identify potential partners and evaluate how you could help each other best.

How can I take advantage of the crisis for future business?

Those who go through a crisis together are more likely to bond afterwards, as such an experience can create a deep connection for every person involved. Customers will remember what you did for them and you’ll know how to compensate them for their ongoing support. What better story is there to tell, than the one about how you ensured survival together and came out of a crisis even stronger than before?

This is the time to focus less on growth and more on customer retention. If you can afford to give them something for free, do so. If you can allow your business to defer a payment, do so. If you have an idea of how you can help them to keep their business running (and yours in return), do it. In other words: be one of the good guys!! They are the ones that will be remembered and most trusted in the future.

We can help you with some of the above – Get in touch to find out how. And most importantly: stay safe and keep your business running. This crisis might be an opportunity – seize it and become the (even more) customer-centric organization you always wanted to be.

Create a customer journey map