For the most part, Customer Experience used to be a pretty safe and positive playing field. It was all about making something better, building on an inherent foundation of believing in good and aiming for greatness. That's all changed, thank you very much, COVID-19.
Over the past several months (or what feels like forever), Customer Experience conversations have become much less strategic and a lot more uncomfortable. Out of necessity, retailers have been forced to focus on the most immediate operational challenges – shifting regulations, new hours, capacity restrictions, curbside pick-up, masks, social distancing, furloughs, and on and on and on. Toss in the societal growing pains, and it's fair to say that retailers have a lot to wrangle these days. No time for real strategy - just take it day by day and try to survive - literally.
If your current approach to Customer Experience is all about the "what" and the "right now," you're missing the big picture and a huge opportunity to differentiate from the competition. Now is the time to focus on the "why," and that means it's time to get real. Ready?
Everyone is scared right now. Some wear it better than others, but deep inside, to some extent we're all a mangled mess of anxieties, emotions, fears, doubts, worries, zoom-schooling and online shopping carts. When it comes down to it, that's the truth. That's the BIG WHY.
To build a successful strategy now and for the future, it's critical to openly acknowledge our current emotional and psychological state. The level of your success directly correlates to your level of self-awareness, empathy and ability to execute in ways that address our deepest emotions and fears.
Once you're focused on the BIG WHY, here are few tips on how to take the next steps toward a winning Customer Experience:
Where to Begin
Your commitment to the experience begins with aligning leadership around a business-wide approach that's based on answering "yes" to these questions:
- Are we listening?
- Are we being honest?
- Are we being empathetic?
- Are we being supportive?
- Are we optimistic?
- Are we being proactive?
As a leader, strive to instill this affirmative approach in your team, in the atmosphere you create and in yourself. Think about specific actions you can take to appeal to positive emotions in your customers and staff – what are some measures you can take to ease anxiety and create a greater sense of understanding and appreciation?
For example, at Mood Media, we've shifted our organization to put more people in a better position to support our clients. We've used this time to significantly improve our account manager-to-account ratio and provide teams with new tools and resources to help them address our clients' needs more efficiently. We've taken a hard look at ways to make it easier for our clients to do business with us. We've used this time to reimagine what our business looks like on the other side of this mess and what we can do now to ensure long-term success.
Beyond structural changes and customer-facing initiatives, look specifically at how you engage your team as well. Here are some starting points.
- Have a REAL team meeting. Open up and be vulnerable. Encourage transparent dialogue by getting personal and sharing your own doubts, fears, and concerns while also offering encouragement. Understand employees' doubts, fears and concerns, as well. Get real about what's holding your business back and what's really needed to fix it across teams. It's okay to admit that you don't have all the answers upfront, but use this time to map a future-focused plan.
- Really understand your customers. Customers are hyper-sensitive to their environments right now. As consumers, our sensory antennae are standing at attention on high-alert. Everything we see, hear, touch, taste and smell is passing through an entirely new filtering process. Consider whether the elements of your Customer Experience foster positive emotions. Employees and management need to be mindful of the fact that customers are hyper-tuned in to everything around them now, so it's increasingly important to be aware of their total sensory experience.
Think through each and every step and touch point along the customer journey to understand where and how you can offer messages of safety and assurance and where you can offer moments of joy, discovery, and relaxation. For example, consider how overhead messaging and digital signage can be used to reassure shoppers that they're in a healthy, clean environment. And it's amazing how much something as seemingly simple as in-store music can lift shoppers (and employees) spirits and help them relax.
- Exhibit confidence. Take extra good care of your employees, and they'll exude more confidence in their work. The smiles will be sincere, there will be an extra bounce in their step, and your customers will feed off the positive energy. Customers also need to see constant and active efforts to provide a clean and safe environment. It's one thing to have stickers on the floor and to provide bottles of hand-sanitizer; it's another for customers to see employees wearing masks, practicing social distancing and using sanitizer regularly.
- Empower your team. Let employees know that when they come to work they have the unique opportunity, and a responsibility, to impact their community in a positive way. Empower them to be part of a place that makes life a little easier and a little less scary, if only for a while.
Empathy. Optimism. Vulnerability. Confidence. Helpfulness. Your ability to actively demonstrate these characteristics will determine whether or not you can transform fear and anxiety into stronger, more meaningful lasting connections. The future reputation and success of your brand hinges on it. Your customers and your team rely on it, and so do you.