Recently, the CDC lifted its mask guidance for people vaccinated for COVID-19. To many, it was a signal that we’re beginning to reclaim some sense of normalcy after the pandemic’s more than yearlong hold.
As we move closer to recovery in the U.S., and hopefully soon, worldwide, it’s important to recognize the lasting impact the last year has had on consumers and how we can use these learnings to inform our business strategy going forward.
The COVID-19 lockdowns pulled the future forward, accelerating an evolution that was already happening in consumer behavior. People are now driven by a reality where software gives them access to almost anything they need, when and where they need it. This has ushered in a new, agile way forward for digital customer experiences.
Businesses need to build from this point. Many proved they can exist in a digital world. The next phase will be about becoming a loyalty leader during a time when loyalty may be dying. According to McKinsey, consumers are switching brands more than ever before. In addition, mass employee turnover is on the horizon once the pandemic loosens its grip.
Nearly every business is sitting on a growing problem: how to keep people engaged in a world where relationships aren’t built in the physical realm. Here are a few strategies businesses can use to foster a connection with customers and employees alike.
IT’S NOT JUST THE MOMENT THAT COUNTS, IT’S THE EXPERIENCE
The past year demonstrated the need for businesses to stop focusing on moments and instead look to consumers’ expectations for experiences. Think about it: There’s a department focused on getting customers to your website. Another that cares about making the sale. A separate area solves issues. And yet another enables payments. Businesses are so focused on perfecting individual touchpoints that few can craft a great experience. As marketers, the pandemic reminded us to be more thoughtful about how we orchestrate the overall customer experience to engage them at the appropriate time and with empathy.
Loyalty leaders in the future will be effective at orchestrating experiences in the most holistic sense across marketing, sales, and service. When your experiences are fluid, consistent, and in tune with their needs, your customers and employees will stay.
DON’T FORGET TO BE HUMAN
It’s a long-held belief that consumers rate efficient service above all else. In businesses’ efforts to deliver on this, many only see customers as transactions instead of people. While efficiency is important, to thrive today businesses must restore the power of human connection through digital interaction. In fact, a survey my company launched examining how consumers were impacted by the pandemic found that two-thirds of consumers prefer an empathetic service experience over a speedy resolution.
While companies are getting better at tailoring specific engagements for individuals, many can’t deliver empathetic experiences. To be clear, empathy isn’t about being nice or polite, and it’s not even something that humans can be solely responsible for delivering. It’s about proactive, predictive, and personalized experiences at scale. This is enabled by technology. Sometimes it shows up as fast self-service, and other times it requires the human touch—but it’s always about knowing each individual’s needs, every time.
AUTHENTICITY IS OK (REALLY)
I believe that one positive result of COVID-19 is a resurgence of authenticity. Working from home has forced us all to show a fuller view of our true lives, not just our work selves. Your co-workers are now accustomed to your kids or pets popping up on the screen. Even your customers are used to hearing the sounds of normal life in the background, instead of typical office sounds. This has introduced new levels of transparency that consumers not only expect from each other, but from businesses too.
There are few companies that convey authenticity really well. Most struggle with this on two fronts. Either they don’t allow employees to be who they are, or they aren’t true to their own brand story. As consumers increasingly seek brands that match their values, businesses need to be clear about what they stand for if they want to drive engagement.
FIGHT THE URGE TO GO BACK TO THE WAY THINGS WERE
In some ways, 2020 simplified how we approach work as we were forced to rethink what we did and how we did it. We gave ourselves permission to not do everything we previously did. In my business, this resulted in a few structural changes that will stay. Beyond the obvious question of hybrid or remote, assess what other changes you made for your customers and employees that make sense to keep.
One of the most important lessons I learned is that you have to think bigger and take risks to really achieve a level of success. Our recent research found that 70% of consumers worldwide think a company is only as good as its customer service. At the heart of this is the ability to provide a connected experience. While things are starting to go back to normal, it’s essential to evaluate how the pandemic impacted how you do business to map the best way forward for engaging your customers and employees.
Joyce Kim is Chief Marketing Officer, Genesys