Guest Blogger

by Dom Boyd, Managing Director UK, Kantar

We’ve entered a new era of customer-centricity. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed relationships between businesses, consumers and employees, and continues to be a catalyst for new needs, expectations and customer journeys. This is driving brands of all kinds to rethink the customer experience (CX) – their frontline – to shift emphasis from selling to serving.

Customers will remember businesses based on how they act now, and how they make them feel. Heightened emotions lead to greater memory activation, and this is a time when long lasting brand memories and associations are being made.

Many brands have recognised this, and have adapted their CX by taking proactive and practical actions that help consumers and employees in their daily lives. It’s worth the investment: CX is the shop window for the brand promise. When it’s good, it motivates customers to spend more. When it’s great, it delivers long-term brand growth.

From purpose to responsibility

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the value of having a strong purpose. Emphasis was already moving from purpose to responsibility before the pandemic: BrandZ data shows that the importance of brand responsibility to consumers has trebled in the last 10 years. The recent disruption, and the new societal values it’s helping to shape, is accelerating this trend.

By reimagining and adapting the CX to put customers and employees at its centre, businesses can create competitive advantage for the future. For many, this requires an evolution from a ‘donut’ brand – which looks outward to the consumer and focuses on meeting their needs – to a brand with a strong core of intrinsic values, brought to life through a CX that enriches people’s lives.

So what does this look like in practice?

Fuse brand values and CX more closely together. To build the brand from the inside out you need to have a strong sense of what the core values are. These should direct all decisions made about the CX, and the CX must clearly reinforce them. This way, all the actions taken will come from the heart of the brand. Iceland’s decision right at the start of lockdown to open its stores early for older shoppers was a perfect example of this.

Take positive, practical action to make life easier. Responsibility is a sharper thing than purpose; you might say it’s ‘purpose with a point’! By finding ways to remain a relevant part of consumers’ day-to-day lives, brands can strengthen relationships and loyalty and secure their position as top choice in the post-pandemic world.

You need to establish:

  • What your customers want and need right now. This could be practical or financial help, relevant advice, support with emotional wellbeing, simple reassurance – or all of those things, at different times.
  • How the brand can leverage its expertise and capabilities to provide the reassurance, information and solutions customers seek.
  • Which aspects of the current CX could be changed to make a meaningful difference to consumers’ lives.

Behaving responsibly isn’t enough – brands should also create better behaviours by designing experiences that help people make the right choices. In the UK, retailers including Tesco did this throughout lockdown, with new signs, cues and procedures that prompt people to stick to government guidelines. In Asia, Thai Airways rewarded Royal Orchid Plus members with free miles for staying at home during the pandemic.

Become more empathetic; never stop listening. You need to understand what consumers expect, feel and need – and track how this is shifting for different audiences over time. Consider adapting your voice of the customer (VoC) programme to ask less and listen more, adopting more empathetic language in survey invitations, and using text analytics to isolate key themes.

Segmenting customers into groups can also help with identifying what matters most, and making targeted improvements to the CX. Kantar has identified six ‘Tribes’ to better understand the different ways UK consumers are responding to COVID-19, for example: OstrichesPrecarious worriers, Follow the rules, Chilled and compliant, Patiently waiting and Troubled but trusting.

Identify the moments that matter – and optimise journeys at the point of need. A CX is made up of multiple small interactions across multiple touchpoints. Pinpoint the emotional ‘hot button’ moments, and look for ways you can introduce small empathetic touches that make a positive difference and drive behaviour; right now, these will have more impact than grand gestures and big ideas. Lidl took this approach when it launched a WhatsApp chatbot to help customers find the best times to do their grocery shopping and avoid long lines.

Understanding the peak moments of each touchpoint in the customer journey will guide the prioritising and focusing of actions. People judge brands on how they feel at the peak, so knowing where that is will give you greater control over the experience by enabling you to manufacture that moment.

Align the EX with the CX. UK consumers expect businesses to care for their employees during the coronavirus crisis, above all else (Kantar’s C-19 Barometer survey). A great employee experience (EX) is just as important as the CX, and every business should be connecting with, supporting and empowering employees as well as customers, then communicating clearly about what they’re doing.

Employee pulse surveys can be used to find out how workers are coping, and check how well the work arrangements and policies that have been put in place are landing. Stakeholder interviews, meanwhile, can generate valuable qualitative feedback about what matters most, and the real impact COVID-19 is having on people’s jobs.

As the government further eases lockdown restrictions, businesses will continue to have a vital role to play in helping their customers and employees to adapt. This might include offering guidance, creating engaging content, and building a CX that makes it easy for customers to reconnect with the brand.

While the principles of a great CX haven’t changed fundamentally, this is a time for brands to reimagine themselves, putting customers, employees – and society as a whole – at their centre, and providing positive, enriching experiences at the moments that matter.

Dom is Boyd Kantar UK Managing Director, Offer. A recent Chair of industry body the APG, Dom has been Chief Strategy Officer at Publicis Poke, a founder of DADA CX consultancy, and Group Head of Strategy at Campaign’s Agency of the Decade, adamandeveDDB helping VW and John Lewis on their digital transformation journeys. A recent editor of WARC’s ‘Winning in the CX age’ edition and regular writer, awards judge and behavioural economics practitioner, he counts DJing and bringing up two kids as a continuous work in progress.

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