The CX Angle Podcast: CX during a Pandemic

customer experience podcast series

We are in the midst of a Customer Experience (CX) revolution and customers are demanding an enhanced experience.  In this episode of The CX Angle, itelligence Corporate Communication Manager, Jeremy Cross, and Customer Experience Account Executive, Ryan Kubec, discuss a recent article by Janessa Carder entitled, How CX Can Beat the Coronavirus.

Read the transcript below or listen to the podcast.

(Jeremy Cross)  Welcome back to another episode of The CX Angle podcast. My name is Jeremy Cross; I am remote with my colleague Ryan Kubec. Ryan, how are you doing?

(Ryan Kubec)  I’m doing all right, Jeremy. How are you?

(Jeremy Cross)  Not bad. Well, we are recording this on a Tuesday afternoon; it’s going to come out on Thursday, and it’s entirely likely that the content of this podcast is going to change over the course of the next couple of days. We’re going to see.

Obviously, we are talking about the impact of the Coronavirus, COVID-19, how it has altered our lives significantly over the last few days, even over the last two weeks specifically. We thought it’s quite timely; it’s topical, and we wanted to talk about how CX is being impacted by this – and look at a number of different things. So we’re going to unfold this conversation today, see where we go with this, because, again, with so many things changing there’s a lot of different things that we can get into talking about.

So, Ryan, go ahead and get us kicked off here. Again, we’re talking CX, that’s the angle for this podcast, you had some thoughts … what do you see, from the angle of CX, with relation to everything that’s been going on?

(Ryan Kubec)  There’s a few different ways that CX is being impacted, I guess in general, not just from a CX perspective. Let’s take a look at the business world, and if anyone is paying attention to what’s going on in the global stock markets right now, they’re crashing incredibly quickly, and a lot of that is even the customers we work with. Everyone is following the guidelines of the CDC and the World Health Organization and we’re participating in social distancing, which means a lot of companies are pretty much shutting down. They’re sending everyone home; they’re working remote.

You know, we’re no different. I’m usually a remote employee, so this hasn’t disrupted my life too much, but for our customers, a lot of them are saying this is going to be one of the worst quarters they’ve ever had. Customers aren’t buying anything; some of these manufacturing plants are shutting down. I saw a notification that Lamborghini was shutting down their plant. I know that’s not representative of probably most U.S. manufacturing, but a lot of these companies are shutting down. What does that mean? That means that companies that are suppliers for them aren’t selling stuff to them because they don’t have any need to consume that.

And a lot of things are grinding to a halt, or at least to a very, very slow pace right now and for the foreseeable future. The flip side of that is if you go to any grocery store — and I’ve talked with people all over the country, and actually all over the world — they’re saying that you go into the grocery stores and the shelves are empty. So consumer buying behavior is obviously very abnormal right now. And people who work in maybe the CPG industry, where you’re putting out consumer goods or food products, their business is probably doubling their order volume, or tripling. And their call volume is also coming in, which means that they’re really bursting at the seams to keep up with capacity. And then they have different demands of customers that are saying, hey, when am I going to get my stuff? And so the customer experience and the business experience are very different. But we are going to focus today more on the customer side of that. And when there are big disruptions like this, how do you still meet the needs of your customers? And that may not necessarily mean that you fulfill 100% of your orders, but what it should mean is that your customers know what’s going on at all times. That’s the true customer experience – keeping your customers informed; not necessarily just meeting needs.

(Jeremy Cross)  Yeah, I went to our local Kroger this morning to grab a gallon of milk. That’s the first time I’ve been to the grocery store in the last week, and I could not believe the way that the shelves were just barren, just absolutely ransacked across the place. And Kroger, I know at least here in Cincinnati, I believe even on a national level, they’ve altered their hours to provide their clerks the ability to restock as best as possible in the evenings. And it’s just the cycle where it happens again the next day. And so you’re right, it’s the way that things have been impacted here, the buying habits of consumers, or consumer habits in general. As we look at this, it is very interesting to see how things are being impacted.

(Ryan Kubec)  Yeah, absolutely. I am in the same boat in West Michigan, the big grocery store is Meijer, and my wife and I actually came back from vacation and went to do some grocery shopping. And this was a week ago, actually, a week ago today. So it’s crazy how quickly things changed from a week ago today. There wasn’t a whole lot of panic, and we just did our grocery shopping, but I did notice and actually had heard while we were on vacation that there is a toilet paper shortage. People were hoarding that. I thought it was ridiculous, like a lot of people did. So when we were doing our grocery shopping, I noticed every single cart had a huge economy pack of toilet paper. And I was like, these people are silly. And then we got home from grocery shopping and realized we had one roll left in our house. I had to eat crow and go back to the grocery store and be that guy that was walking around with packs of toilet paper.

But it does speak to the fact that disruption happens, and we’ve talked about this from a CX perspective with a lot of the companies that we work with, and a lot of the examples we use are:  Uber was a disruptor, Amazon is a disruptor. And we’ve talked about it from the standpoint of what new company, what new technology, what new way of doing things, what new platform is coming out that’s going to add a disruption to your industry or to your business specifically. And we’ve overlooked some of these natural disaster-type things that are also very, very strong disruptors. And we talked about, just last week, how things are very, very different seven days later.

A lot of times we talk with companies and say, how agile is your business, how quickly can you adjust to changing factors in the market? And I think that somewhat resonates with companies because they say, if an Uber comes along in our industry or something like that, we do have time to change. Or if some new piece of technology comes along, we’ll have time, or we’ve planned for that, or we keep a good pulse on what’s going on in the global economy and upstream and downstream in our supply chains. But I don’t think anyone was really ready for how quickly things changed with this virus and the buyer behavior, and everyone’s kind of struggling just to keep up. And I guess the one silver lining on that from an economic standpoint is that everyone’s in the same boat and everyone is trying to be understanding of both their suppliers and their customers for the most part, and that everyone’s just trying to keep up.

(Jeremy Cross)  And as we look at this, the reality of the situation is that we know this is likely going to go on for at least the next eight weeks, if we’re basing it off of the CDC guidelines with them advising against gatherings of 10 or more people for at least the next eight weeks.

Here in Ohio, as of a few days ago, all restaurants and bars have shut down. I know gyms have now shut down and more and more commerce is getting limited on a day-to-day basis. Now, those restaurants and bars can serve for delivery and for carry out, but we’ve seen those shifts happening. So we know for at least the next eight weeks, we’re going to continue to see more strict guidelines likely being put in place.

Now, what’s funny is, as you have these industries, you have restaurants, you have bars that are shutting their doors and are looking to try to survive this, you have big companies such as Amazon that can’t hire people fast enough to meet increased demand because of this. We’ve seen the disruption of this virus really even pushes more [people] to online shopping, to e-commerce, to virtual because of social distancing to isolate ourselves. You’ve seen where Amazon can’t keep people hired or cannot hire enough people. And yet you have the swing side of things, other industries that are being disrupted and hoping to be able to weather this storm, if that’s possible.

(Ryan Kubec)  Yeah. Just this morning, one of the companies that we work with, a large food distributor, I heard that their business is down significantly because they distribute primarily to restaurants, which are all closing right now; or if they aren’t completely closing, they’re offering delivery and pickup. But most people are kind of hunkering down and trying to weather the storm, so their business is significantly down.

And then an hour later, I have a call with one of our CPG customers, where they are in an Amazon-like situation where they are bursting at the seams, they’re running their production facilities 24 hours a day. They are not a toilet paper manufacturer, but similar to the toilet paper story, where they can’t get product on the shelf quick enough. So how quickly can you ramp up that production? A lot of that has to do with your production capacity or what type of system do you have that’s running that? How quickly can you get your supplies in, your raw materials, and actually run that? But in concert with that, how agile are you and how quickly can you get information out to your customers?

And let’s break this down more specifically from a business-to-business standpoint, because that’s our primary focus, and most of the companies we work with are business to business. If you’re a manufacturer of hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes or toilet paper at this point, how quickly are you able to or how easily are your customers able to get information about what’s the current status of their order? How many cases can they be expecting? What priority are they? And in times like this, where there’s a shortage — and for those listening who aren’t familiar in the B2B world — there’s a concept called product allocation, where when there’s a shortage you have higher demand than you actually have supply. Those of us who took economics 101 realize that’s a shortage situation. Usually you use price to even that back out. That means that maybe your prices are too low. But in a case like this, it’s not price. There’s a spike in demand due to an unforeseen circumstance and you have to allocate that product accordingly.

So if you are, let’s say, we’re a company and we make bleach, we make sanitizer, we make disinfectant sprays and wipes. How quickly can our customers get information about what’s their current order status, when can they expect that product, maybe additional information about why they’re not getting their full order? They’re not getting their full order because we’re fulfilling hospitals in high-risk areas before we fill a new grocery store. That grocery store needs to know, because ultimately that grocery store is probably having to meet the needs of their customers when their customers are saying, when am I going to be able to buy hand sanitizer, when am I going to be able to buy toilet paper again, when can I get disinfectant wipes so I can keep my environment clean? And that’s part of everyone playing their part right now.

And so having a customer portal or a distributor portal or a business-to-business portal, however you want to describe it, is one of those digital platforms that companies can login to see their current status, communicate. It’s a more effective way of distributing that information about what’s going on with an individual customer, because the other thing that happens during a time like this — where you have abnormal demand — where Procter & Gamble and companies that make hand sanitizer and soaps and disinfectants, their call volume has probably tripled with companies calling in saying, where the heck is my stuff, when am I going to get it? Everyone’s panicking right now and they can’t really keep up with that call volume. And you can’t hire a ton of people to just sit around and answer calls and look up information on order status. That’s something that we’ve talked about on this podcast before. I’ve never called Amazon and said, what’s the status of my order, no matter how important it was for me to get it. I’ve logged into my portal, I’ve been able to click on that order and see the current status, see when it’s going to be delivered, and if it’s already on the way, there’s a tracking number. That is imperative to provide that same access to companies in a B2B world.

(Jeremy Cross) Well, looking at this from a number of different angles, you’re talking about self service and communication, ultimately. Let’s think right now about where we are — we have grocery stores and different stores in general that can’t keep products on shelves. High-demand products, like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, cleaners. Let’s assume that we are going to be in this type of a situation for the next eight weeks. And maybe that’s the minimum or the best-case scenario: eight weeks, and we’re out of this. It could be longer; who knows?

If you really think about this, you have these shortages, and if we were able to communicate to customers that these products were coming in, you’re going to have fewer people constantly out and about trying to find these things or maybe driving all around town to find that one product that they need. If I’m keeping people educated, I am communicating with them. They know when I’m going to have something; they know what I’m going to have it on the shelf. Now, that doesn’t not mean that I won’t have a rush for it eventually once I get it in stock. But, ultimately, a lot of this is going to even contribute to people making smart decisions to make that trip when it’s necessary as opposed to driving all around town if they really need to keep themselves quarantined.

(Ryan Kubec) Absolutely. And something that you just said kind of hit something on the head for me. I think in general — and this certainly applies in the CX and buyer behavior — but I think in general when you have accurate information for people, it limits or reduces the panic and erratic behavior. And then, taking that a step further, if all those individual grocery stores had the ability to communicate — it is similar to when you go there and they’re out of meat that’s on sale. In a normal environment, you can get a rain check and they let you know when it’s coming in next.

One way to curb people hoarding the products is to allow them to have some type of portal that your end customers can go in and say, I need to come back; I need to get a pack of toilet paper, I need hand sanitizer, I need soap, I need disinfectant wipes, I need bananas, I need whatever. So allowing places to place those orders, you can put digital limits on there so they can build that order. You can pair that with the different services that a lot of those companies are offering where they’ll deliver the products to your home or they offer curbside pickup. I saw a lot of the places that offer curbside pickup waiving their fees, saying, during the next eight weeks we’re offering our curbside pickup for free, especially for different populations who may be more at risk, who still need to get stuff. But if you have some other type of illness that weakens your immune system — I’ve got family members who are in that that boat –going to the grocery store might feel like a huge risk to them right now. So those are additional customer experience services that are being offered. And we see that with a lot of the restaurants as well, offering delivery, things of that nature, to help people still feel safe and participate in the social distancing.

(Jeremy Cross) So what do you think? I mean, ultimately, what do you think the companies that end up weathering this storm, what are they going to have in common, the ones that are the successful ones? Let’s focus on the positive side of that, as opposed to saying which ones will fail or what the successful companies that make it through the foreseeable future. What are they going to have in common, do you think, from a CX perspective?

(Ryan Kubec) Jeremy, that’s actually a great lead-in to one of the next parts I wanted to talk about. So preparing for this episode, there was an article online I read called, How CX Can Beat the Coronavirus. And obviously when I read that, I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me; this is ridiculous. But the article makes a lot more sense and it’s less provocative, I guess, than the headline.

This article is by Janessa Carder, she’s the Vice President of CX strategy at Dentsu Isobar in Japan, and she specifically states toward the bottom of the article, what’s your online CX strategy? And I’m going to quote this directly, reading this directly off the article that she wrote, “There’s uncertainty as to when this virus pandemic will subside and if it will come back again next year,” which is something that maybe we’ll talk about in a few minutes, what can companies do once this comes back to normal for a little while. But she says the brands that come through for customers now are brands that will be remembered and create loyalty in the long run. And then she offers recommendations. Consider focusing on the following points:

Quick fulfillment. Some of that we’ve already talked about, and that can be limited to your production capacity, your distribution capacity, what your suppliers are able to offer at this point, but quick fulfillment.

Easy online ordering. So we’ve talked about having some type of online portal – we would typically call that an e-commerce environment — but that almost sounds like it’s not doing it justice. E-commerce, most people just think about that as ordering something online, but it can be so much more than that. We often talk about it as a customer portal because the e-commerce ordering component is just one piece of that. The information dissemination is another piece, the status updates and tracking numbers, and it’s really that information portal that allows people to interact with you as a business on a very personal level, the same experience that we get as consumers with Amazon.

Video-based services. And so, again, that video-based service, a lot of times you may want to have that on a platform if you are a B2B provider being able to get that information out. I think everyone has had their inbox flooded with probably every company that has your email in their marketing database with what their official company stance is. If you just Google your mailbox looking for “your safety is of utmost importance,” that’s pretty much how they all start.

Going beyond those official statements and helping your individual customers or business partners that you work with understand where you are today, what you are doing, making sure they have the most up-to-date information. Videos are a great, great way to do that.

What I think she might be getting at is video-based services and some of those online providers, Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, obviously those are ones whose stocks are performing very well while the rest of the world is kind of taking a hit right now.

Software, online and cloud solutions. Obviously. I do want to give a shout out to a company that is getting this right, their stock is also doing well, and that is Zoom, the video conferencing software. Their CEO made an announcement, I believe, late last week that they were going to offer up their software platform free of charge for K-through-12 schools who are now having to move to doing everything remote for the foreseeable future. Don’t call me on that if I’m getting it wrong — that was from a Forbes article I read. Do your own due diligence. But I do want to recognize companies that are doing things like that. Zoom, aside from the fact that it is being heavily used right now for a lot of companies that are working remote, definitely doing the right thing in helping out the K-through-12 environments.

And then the last bullet point that she offers is entertaining or education content. So, again, they’re entertaining on the Netflix and Hulu side, right? What are people going to do? You know, Jeremy, you talked about how all your kids are home for the next few weeks and they’re all trying to work remote. There’s a lot of families facing challenges here. The educational content certainly can be what Zoom is providing for the K-12 environment. A lot of the universities are moving to an online-based system. A lot of those universities already had some type of platform or infrastructure in place for that. But education on the part of your suppliers and your customers, being able to pass that information about what you are doing, what can they expect, keeping them up to date, keeping your customer informed is the best thing you can do for customer experience. If they know what’s going on, they know where they stand. They are able to make good decisions for their customers, as well.

So it’s a great article; we’ll put a link in the show notes, but it really talks about the impact of what’s going on with coronavirus, how it’s impacting businesses from a stock perspective, and then also talks about companies that are CX focused that are really helping to beat the coronavirus.

And as much as I thought that the title was a little crazy when I first read it, she does talk about companies like Uber Eats that are delivering food for folks that they are allowing us to participate in social distancing. That is, you cannot deny that it is good to keep people from gathering in large groups at restaurants. It’s allowing you to still get your weekly food or not just have to eat whatever you were able to find at the grocery store that was left. And there’s a couple other companies that they talk about in here, so I want to point that out and give her credit for writing a very insightful article.

(Jeremy Cross) I think that as we look at all of this, we can speculate, we can say, hey, we think the reality is that the companies that are right now surviving this are the ones that are proving that they’re agile, that they are able to think creatively about the situation and are ultimately, at the end of the day, being very grounded.

And you have Zoom, for example, let’s go to that. What they’ve done — and I checked as you were talking — it was four days ago Forbes reported that Zoom is providing their platform to K-12 for free, which is a fantastic thing. They are looking to help meet a need during this pandemic, and it will benefit them in the long run. It’s not about who’s signing up at this point – it was, “we have a product, we have a service, and we are able to fill this gap.” And, ultimately, they will survive this. They’re in the market, too, and it’ll be interesting to see what others will follow in that respect.

(Ryan Kubec) You hit the nail right on the head, Jeremy. Well, it really depends on how agile you are and what type of structures you have in place to meet the needs of your customers. Whether this is increasing your business significantly, like we’ve talked about with some of those companies that are making products that are in very, very high demand right now. How agile are they, what type of platforms do they have in place?

And, likewise, the companies that are taking a hit, how prepared are they for the huge bounce-back that’s going to come? If you’re not allowed to eat at restaurants, and you’re used to that or that’s a part of your lifestyle and you have to eat at home for the next 8-10 weeks – one, you’ll save a lot of money by just eating at home, but two, the second you’re able to get back to a normal life, you’re going to dive right into that. And so I think we’re going to see another wave, another boom in those industries that are taking a hit, and are they prepared for that wave that’s going to come? If they’re not, they need to start getting prepared for that now.

I know a lot of companies are nervous about what these next few weeks are going to mean for them, because they don’t have a lot going on with sales or revenue coming in, and they’ve got people that are focused on that. But I would strongly encourage them to start focusing on how they are going to handle that wave because it is going to be a boom as this thing subsides and there is significantly increased demand for those products and services as soon as people are allowed to engage in them again.

(Jeremy Cross) Well, it’s certainly going to be interesting to see what comes from this. I’m sure we could record another episode of the podcast in the coming days, and there will be a ton more to talk about with relation to COVID-19 and how it is shaping a new reality for everybody, whether it’s working from home for the first time and being remote, or if you’ve had a habit to eat out all the time and now you’re not able to do that, how does that shift your behavior. Quite interesting as to how this is going to have impact on many different parts of our lives.

All right. So we’ve talked about a lot today. Ryan, what I want to know is, what are your three takeaways from today’s episode?

(Ryan Kubec) Sure. So I guess, trying to summarize, there are three main takeaways. One is, how agile is your business? We talked about this being a huge disruptor, one that a lot of people haven’t thought of. What are the possible disruptors for your business or your industry that you haven’t thought of? What’s the likelihood that they will happen? And then you’ve got to make an informed decision about what you need to put in place to respond to that from a customer experience standpoint.

My second takeaway is tied directly into that first one, because if you don’t have it, you need a self-service portal. I know I talk about this in probably 50% of our episodes, but I do think it’s that important to get correct information out when something like this hits and your customers are demanding information or they’re trying to check status. Where are they going to get that information? Do they have the ability to get that on-demand whenever they want, from a self-service portal or some type of login or an app? Can they get that information, or are they calling your call centers and blowing them up because there’s only so much capacity, and then people are going to be waiting on hold. And that’s a bad customer experience; none of us like waiting on hold regardless of what we’re calling about.

And then my third takeaway would be for the businesses that are being impacted by this — and certainly everyone is being impacted both on an individual or business level. But specifically, if you’re in one of those industries that is susceptible to infectious disease, this isn’t a new thing. And maybe this is the most serious in recent history, but we did have H1N1, the Swine flu, the Avian flu; we’ve had SARS, we’ve had West Nile Virus and now coronavirus. And there’s many more. And certainly there’s a lot of articles right now comparing how this disease or this virus is stacking up against those others, so this is semi-regular. And at least what I heard on the news yesterday is that this possibly could be going on here in the U.S. until June, July, or August. So let’s be optimistic and say that we know we get a handle on this thing and it starts subsiding in June. That means that businesses that are directly impacted by this type of outbreak have six months before the next flu season starts, because flu season typically starts picking up in late fall or early winter, and I think that’s what we saw with this virus. So what are you going to do in those six months? How are you going to prepare if we have another bad flu season or if there is another strain of this, how are you going to handle that? How are you going to respond to that? And what infrastructure do you need to put in place to be better prepared to meet the demands of your customers next year that you didn’t have this year?

(Jeremy Cross) Ryan, thanks. Those are great takeaways for today’s episode. As we close out, this is a business-related podcast, but we want to make sure to say that we hope for everybody who’s listening that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy during this time and that you’re able to navigate what is probably the very first time that any of us have had to do this in our lifetimes. This is certainly uncharted waters for many people, and so, definitely, we extend well wishes, hope that you are well and that you stay healthy during this. Remember, practice good social distancing. Get out there when you need to, but keep yourself safe and healthy.

Ryan, you got anything that you want to add as we close out?

(Ryan Kubec) No, that was perfectly said. We were looking at this from a very particular angle of business and customer experience, but I think we both have people in our lives who are at risk for this, and so we do understand and recognize the seriousness. And like you said, we hope everyone out there is staying safe and healthy, and hopefully we get through this quickly and can get back to some sense of normalcy.

(Jeremy Cross) All right. Well, thanks for listening to this episode of The CX Angle podcast. We do appreciate your support and we look forward to seeing you next time. Thanks.

Listen to more podcasts:

Episode 1: Why Talk about Customer Experience?

Episode 2: CX Winners: Domino’s

Episode 3:  Barriers that Impact Customer Experience

Episode 4: CRM Pitfalls and Recommendations

Episode 5: AI, Smart Speakers and Virtual Assistants

Episode 6: Solving Customer Experience for Black Friday

Episode 7: CX and the Manufacturing Industry

Episode 8: CX Winners and Losers – Hertz and Kroger

Episode 9: CX and the Retail Industry

Episode 11: 5 CX Trends from COVID-19

Episode 12: Retail Trends During COVID-19

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