No one can argue that the words “customer experience” have taken on a new definition among the challenges of COVID-19. We now live in a changed world where digital channels are no longer a choice, data is king and business models have been completely transformed. Trends and tactics that seemed like they were years away from adoption have been kicked into high gear. Even the marketers who spent years perfecting their omnichannel strategies have had to shift priorities and improvise to keep up.
The best marketers are channeling these shifts and aligning their customer experience (CX) to this new reality, in which customers now associate new technology with greater convenience instead of hassle and negative emotions. In fact, according to a recent study Kobie conducted, 83 percent of consumers rank convenience as the most important benefit. This change in mindset has opened the door for innovative services and features to be widely accepted and appreciated.
With this new outlook, it is possible to emerge from this crisis with a greater sense of loyalty from your customers, but you have to improve in the right areas. As you explore ways to augment your customer experience, consider these strategies.
1. Turn the spotlight toward alternative payment options
Brands as different as Jimmy Choo and Lenovo have integrated their shopping experience with companies like Afterpay, Quadpay and Klarna. Using these services, consumers can receive products before they have completely paid for them — a model perfect for customers who may be between jobs or dealing with disrupted paychecks.
Flexible purchasing options are important tactics in gaining, retaining and nurturing consumer loyalty in a good economy. Flexibility is even more effective in a downturn when customers need it most; they’ll remember which brands have helped them out before. By adjusting your payment options, you will create a greater relationship with your customers.
It can also be good for your bottom line; according to Quadpay, businesses increase their conversion rates by 20% and their order value by up to 60%.
2. Make payments contactless to create a safer option
Americans have been slow to adopt the contactless payment trend, but will want to capitalize on it now. According to a recent study by Accenture, “a strong push toward a cashless society” rated No. 1 in potential long-term impacts that the pandemic may have on payment processes. A contactless payment reduces time at the point-of-sale to less than 15 seconds, creating a seamless experience for your customers—and a safe one too.
3. Free shipping as a standalone is no longer enough for a successful subscription program
Subscription programs for the delivery of goods proliferated during lockdown, especially for groceries and dining where customers, not unreasonably, expect same day delivery. Amazon initially stumbled on meeting those increased expectations for same-day delivery, which created an opening for new subscription services for many other grocers and retailers to fill.
Walmart’s July 2020 launch of their Walmart+ subscription service relies heavily on same day delivery. The question is whether Walmart+ arrived soon enough. First movers are more likely to benefit in an environment where there will be increasing pressure to cut back subscriptions as more customers feel economic pain. Amazon may continue to lead because in consumers’ minds, Prime is a two-fer subscription for groceries and entertainment which is supported by a vast selection of goods. The other route is one like Instacart, where personal grocery shoppers create loyalty through personalization by interacting with customers to suggest items to substitute when the original item on the list is not available or is not sufficiently fresh.
4. Embrace virtual experiences
Since COVID-19 slowed (and in many cases, completely halted) foot traffic in brick and mortar stores, now is a great time for marketers to consider which in-store experiences have staying power and reinterpret them by leveraging digital channels. While in quarantine, your brand can make updates to your digital experience by incorporating new virtual tools. Examples of these innovations have popped up with beauty retailers like MAC Cosmetics and Sephora, which are utilizing virtual reality to let customers try on makeup via photo, and clothing brands like Kohl’s, which is using livestreams to advertise and sell products.
5. Manage expectations and be fully transparent
The best way to maintain your customers’ trust is by sharing key information with them at all touchpoints in their customer journey. Nordstrom released a video that explained how the in-store experience will change post-COVID to both consumers and employees. Shop in Place Chicago, a directory of stores in the Chicago area that tracks inventory in real time, is showing shoppers where to buy essential products when it’s most convenient for them. Communicating pertinent information will help consumers trust your process and increase the perceived value of your relationship.
The path forward is anything but clear, but one thing is for certain: we cannot afford to go back to the ‘old’ way of doing things. The companies that aggressively adapt will emerge stronger from this crisis. As brands define the new normal, these tactics can also create loyal customers who will reward the brand with increased wallet share and brand advocacy. The recovery will not be a straight path, but those who innovate and anticipate customers’ changing behaviors will build stronger relationships and should start betting on sustained long-term growth.