Things got really strange really fast, didn’t they? I’m sure that like me, most of you are still processing what all this means – and how COVID-19 may affect you, your families, your day-to-day life, and your job.
Small consolation: none of us is alone in this. Like you, I’ve received and responded to dozens of texts, calls, and emails from clients, friends, and associates trying to reconcile what we’re dealing with personally with the reality of how this is impacting our businesses.
Looking at and thinking about the conversations I’ve had, and out of a very long list of “what do we do next?” answers, I wanted to share three customer-related actions that any organization should do now.
Show customers you care. Know what they’re thinking. Grow the relationships you have. Show, know, and grow: here you go!
1. Show customers you care
In the face of the unprecedented challenges that each of us faces, now is the time to show your customers that you genuinely care for them. This means making decisions with their best interests in mind and avoiding the clumsy missteps that are filling inboxes everywhere.
You know the ones… a brand you haven’t heard from in years using many of the right words – “This is hard. We get it. We’re looking after our customers and our employees, and in these difficult times, rest assured, we’re still offering our products and services!” – while totally lacking any actual empathy or emotion.
Our customers are people. They’re genuinely worried for themselves, their family and friends, their employees and businesses. Show them you care with actions as well as words. Think of the many craft distilleries using their equipment to produce hand sanitizer and giving it away. Or Facebook offering $100M in cash grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 small businesses.
2. Know what your customers are thinking
Understanding customer perceptions is a critical capability for any organization to more effectively manage their customers’ experience. Today more than ever, this information can prove crucial for your business.
This means actively listening to your customers where they are, leveraging all listening posts—from unstructured employee feedback to call center text analysis and surveys to social listening. The ability to have your fingers on the pulse of customer feelings will give you the ability to understand their fast-changing expectations and respond appropriately.
Recognize that in crisis times like these, customers’ needs across their journey with your organization may rapidly change. It’s more important than ever to have the ability to quickly assess customer attitudes, feelings, and expectations so you can make the right decisions.
Put another way, data from your monthly customer listening program is woefully out-of-date in this fast-moving world. You need to know what’s happening NOW.
3. Grow the customer relationships you have
Growing customer relationships doesn’t always mean selling them more. In more customer-centric organizations it also means getting closer to your customers and engaging beyond a sale.
Depending on the implications of COVID-19 to your customers and your business, you’ll have myriad opportunities to build stronger relationships through proactive actions, communications, and offerings. Consider the many companies waiving late payment and change fees, or credit unions stepping up to help members with zero-interest loans and drive-up financial counseling.
On the other hand, consider companies putting profit first, like the major hotel chain that won’t refund a six-figure deposit for a commercial real estate firm’s (now cancelled) annual event. These “bad profits” will haunt balance sheets in the form of diminished goodwill long after today’s P&L concerns have faded into the past – It’s time to put relationships ahead of revenue.
The reality is that none of us knows what tomorrow will bring, even as we share common hopes for a relatively swift, painless return to normalcy in the next several months. But there are a couple things we can count on…
That when things do get back to normal (whatever that may mean), customers will remember the companies that did the right things, and that built or expanded on their relationships.
And that those same customers will remember the organizations that put their own short-term profits ahead of the best interests of their customers.
Given all that we and our customers are facing today, it’s never been more important to connect in meaningful ways. After all, we’re in this together.