The CX Angle Podcast: 5 CX Trends from COVID-19

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 five trends that have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the transcript below or listen to the podcast.

(Jeremy Cross)  Hi there, and welcome back to another episode of the CX Angle podcast. My name in Jeremy Cross. I am joined by my colleague Ryan Kubec. Ryan, how are you doing from your home office today?

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

(Jeremy Cross) I’m fine. Hanging in there, learning how to live in a “new normal” of working from home with your spouse, full time homeschooling two of your four kids, and then two of them in what we would refer to as daycare. So it is controlled chaos around here and learning how to do that. How about yourself? Are you learning to exist in this new normal?

(Ryan Kubec) Oh, sure. Yeah. My wife is actually starting a new position, so she is doing orientation remote and learning how to work from home. She’s always been a go-into-the-office person, so she is learning the challenges. The biggest challenge we’re having in Michigan right now, aside from everything — and obviously I’m being somewhat tongue in cheek here — is just that the weather has been cold and rainy and it would be a little more bearable to be stuck in your house all day if you could go outside and work on your yard. But it’s still a little chilly here.

(Jeremy Cross) It’s been a little bit chilly, actually. Nice here. A few chilly days here in Cincinnati. But other than that, I can’t complain. But realistically, we’re operating now in a new normal. Things have changed even in the two weeks since we did our last episode. Things have been changing on a day-to-day basis, and so we thought to be a good idea to get back on the podcast and talk about some of these changes with regard to our topic, customer experience.

And realistically, many states now have gone to shelter in place, meaning we’re all working from home. We are home more often; we are trying to access things in different ways; we might not be going out to all of our stores on a regular basis. So at its core, things have changed. And so what we want to look at today are what are five trends that we need to consider with regard to customer experience and what businesses need to be considering. What are five trends that are either operating now in this new reality, this new normal that we are experiencing? And what can we take forward once we’re past all of this? What are the trends that are going to carry forward? And so I think it’s appropriate for us to start out with the first trend being digital-first. Would you agree or disagree there, Ryan?

(Ryan Kubec) I would agree 100 percent. I think that’s been the major shift everyone has made. At least here in the U.S. recently, and worldwide over the course of the last month or so, is that everything has moved online, everything is digital. Everyone is getting used to having team meetings with their Webcams. There are some really funny videos out there of students getting used to that for the first time. So I encourage you, if you need a mental break, go search for some of those online meeting fails. Those are those are pretty funny.

But the whole the whole world is moving online. And that means all of the business transactions for the most part are also moving online. So those companies that were ready for that and had a digital-first strategy, or had those self-service portals, or customer self-service options, or e-commerce portals, are probably doing stronger right now, or at least weathering the storm better than those who are scrambling to find out how will they get information, their customers, how are they taking orders, how are they giving updates? Those companies that are doing really well, how are they updating their customers on fulfillment issues? Because that certainly is going on.

If you remember, we talked about it two weeks ago, and it hasn’t changed at all. You know, the toilet paper, the normal items that you would buy, like Lysol disinfectant wipes, things of that nature, and sanitizer. There are still shortages on the shelf.

So how are those companies handling their product allocation and informing customers when they’re going to get their stock if they don’t have a digital platform to do that? And my hunch is that they’re currently just getting tons of call volume coming in, emails, inquiries, trying to get information to their customers. And that digital-first needs to be something that we think about, whether you have it or you don’t have it. I do think that we’re going to have a big paradigm shift in how business is done both in the B2C and B2B markets. When we come out of this — and it’s just going to be different moving forward – digital-first is probably going to be the foundation that is built upon.

(Jeremy Cross) I think you’re right, when we look at this aspect of being digital and having the ability to have a digital platform.

I want to reference a Digital Commerce 360 article where they reference a Gordon Haskett Research Advisor shopping survey. This was conducted on March 13th. So if you think about March 13th, it seems like forever ago at this point, really at the onset of a lot of this. Many states hadn’t shut down completely; we had access. We were probably still going to more establishments more often as usual at that point. But in the study, they reference that from March 13th and over the past week from there, 41% were buying food online for the very first time. Forty one percent of people were buying food for the very first time, using an online digital-first platform. That blows my mind, as somebody who is using it constantly. But for 41 percent of people that typically would go to the store to buy what they need; they didn’t use that digital platform. It’s an example of, if they weren’t digital at that point, these people are rushing to use it for the very first time. If they had a bad experience, if it was difficult for them to use the platform — think of all the things that could impact CX in that first instance that they got a chance to use it.

(Ryan Kubec) One hundred percent. And that’s where I think we’re going to see that in multiple industries, and food is definitely one more. People either don’t feel safe going to the grocery store or can’t go to the restaurants. So they’re ordering things online, having it delivered or doing the pickup, when a lot of those businesses have waived any fees that they have for pickup, which is fantastic.

But, like you said, if you didn’t offer any of those options, you’re scrambling to find out how can you do that now? And if not, you’re losing your market share right now — and a lot of folks are losing market share. Stocks are down across the board for the most part, and customers are going elsewhere for that experience. Now, when things do get back to normal, I believe most customers are going to go back to their local grocery store that they normally would, whether they had that digital option or not. But they’re going to get used to that experience, since and we’re using a grocery store example. But this is going to be similar with the B2B space, as well, if you don’t offer a self-service channel or a digital channel for your company or for your customers.

They’re going to find it somewhere else right now, and they’re going to start diversifying where they’re purchasing and their vendor mix. And they will probably come back when this is all over. But they’re definitely going to want to know, what are you doing? What are your key initiatives? What are your plans for how you’re going to better serve your customers moving forward? And so in some of this downtime, we are seeing some customers that are just trying to figure out how to keep the lights on. And that’s, you know, certainly a challenge that a lot are facing, and a lot of others are taking this time where things have slowed down a little to start strategizing and planning. How are they going to get up to speed? How are they going to put some of these pieces in place? Because, as much as we certainly don’t want to have to go through this again, that is a possibility. The real fact is that people’s expectations are going to be different about how they interact with companies both in B2B and B2C post-pandemic world.

(Jeremy Cross) Yeah, it certainly is one where we’ve seen a change in behavior. We’ve seen the switch to online, and in order to meet that, these companies — whether they be B2B or B2C — they have to, in order to be successful, they have to be able to adapt their existing platform or figure out how they’re going to fill in these gaps for the time being. And I think you’re right. Having that e commerce element, having that self-service portal, having those tools are definitely going to be an asset for some companies. And they might be the ones that at the end of this come out ahead, whether they are benefiting right now or they’re just able to weather the storm.

So let’s look at another trend that is coming out of this, and that is for companies we started with being digital, but in that digital element of it, you lose the human element of it. And so how can companies remain digital-first and at the same time start to also meet people on the human level, leverage that human emotion or get to that human level?

(Ryan Kubec) Yeah, I think this is so. I’ll give a couple examples. One is obviously everything’s digital. First, having a social media presence does help with the human emotion or human element, because everyone is participating in that for the most part. I’m generalizing everyone, but people are there. So having your business have some type of presence that allows maybe your customers – now, I’m talking maybe local small businesses that have their own Facebook page or Instagram feeds being able to connect and interact with their customers one-on-one.

When you take that up to a larger level and you’re talking about large enterprise mid-market companies, a lot of them in the B2B space or even B2C space, having that digital platform where then you can post some type of video. And so we’re starting to see some of these companies where their CEOs or board of directors, some of those leaders of the companies or of the industry are getting in front of a camera and talking directly to their customers, talking directly to their employees, and sharing those messages. Not everyone can be on C-SPAN or CNBC or the different news networks that might be following business; Bloomberg Network and things of that nature. But you certainly do have the ability to communicate directly with your customers and share messaging and updates and how you’re handling things. If you have that digital platform — and most companies at least have a website — so I’d be encouraging them to take advantage of video and start sharing messages directly with their customers.

I was actually, oddly enough, working with a local business owner in my hometown that runs a fitness establishment, and his entire livelihood and streams of revenue are tied to his gym. And right now his members are paying for access to a gym that they are not allowed to go to. And this gym has a fantastic culture, but a lot of that is because of the people that are there and the interactions. And so now that is all taken away. How do you do that? A big part of that is making sure that he’s able to get in front of all of his members and his customers multiple times a week through video messaging, checking in with people; having that personal human touch, even if you’re not physically with them. You know, I would say for small businesses, picking up the phone and calling your customers just to check in, how are you doing, how is your family doing, is one way to do that. And then you can scale that all the way up to the largest enterprises having those videos from the CEO. So you’re still having that personal touch, people are still seeing some of the culture. And frankly, you’re just sharing some of your humanity.

(Jeremy Cross) Yeah, I think the video side of things definitely — coming from being a video marketer and working with video marketing — I think that is something that is absolutely important in being able to meet people on a very human level with regard to this. So we’ve talked about digital-first. We’ve talked about what you can do to be digital, but you also then have to be able to leverage that human element of it. I would say the next thing probably would have to be when you are communicating with your clients, with your customers. We want to talk about setting expectations and over communicating. What are your thoughts about that trend that’s come out of this new normal that we are living in?

(Ryan Kubec) Yeah, communication is key; that is really the only interaction. Everyone, for the most part, has been impacted. I don’t know many organizations that are saying now that it’s just business as usual; nothing’s really changed for us. And so communication is key. People need to know what’s going on with your business, what’s going on with their orders. Your employees need to know what’s going on. And so I think we’re seeing a lot of that is moving to online remote systems for working, having those digital meetings with your customers, kicking your webcams on is a part of that. But then also setting some type of regular cadence so your customers can get used to when they’re going to hear from you, when they’re going to get updates. And this is, again, something that I’ve worked with that local business owner in my town to say, if you’re going to post an update post it every single day at the exact same time so people can start allowing that to be part of their routine. He is a gym owner where a lot of people were used to getting up, go into the class at the exact same time every day — that whole routine is now thrown off. So helping people get some semblance of their normal life back and your communication strategy can be a part of that. So communication is key. The way that you’re doing that is probably through remote, online video to video chat, or some digital platform that you have, an e-business platform.

(Jeremy Cross) I think that’s a great example when you look at a cadence. A cadence helps people to set expectations as to when can I receive or when am I going to get this update, when am I going to get this piece of content. And in the over-communicating aspect of it, we have enough uncertainty in our lives that we’re working with communication about commerce, communication about customer experience. That shouldn’t be an uncertainty. That should be something where we’re coming in and we’re over-communicating to our clients and to our customers to make sure that we’re one thing that they don’t have to worry about.

(Ryan Kubec) Yeah. And we’re all familiar with the term “flatten the curve” now, and to utilize that in a different context. If you think of the amount of uncertainty among customers, where do they go to get answers? Well, they’re going to look to the businesses that they’re a customer of to get answers. And how are they going to get that information today? And these are questions that I’m asking.

So a lot of the companies we work with are, where are your customers going to get answers to their questions? Do you have that digital platform or an e-business platform where they can go get that information? If you don’t, they’re probably calling call centers and call volume is up. We’ve talked about that earlier. And one way you can flatten that call volume curve is by setting expectations with your customers of when you’re going to give them updates, hitting those dates. And then over-communicating, giving them more information than they asked for, letting them know what next steps are, letting them know when you’re going to talk to them again or when you’re going to be sending out new updates and making sure that you’re setting and meeting those expectations is key.

(Jeremy Cross) Absolutely. So the next trend that I want to look at is, building on this, we’ve gone digital, we are making sure that we’re not missing the human emotion of it, we’re setting expectations, we’re over-communicating. We have all of these things that seem very rigid, kind of in the way that we’re approaching this, like, I have this model that I have to follow in order to meet all of these expectations and these trends. But then ultimately it comes down to staying alert, staying flexible, and being able to move with things as they come up. What would you say to that?

(Ryan Kubec) I think everyone is trying their best to do it. This is actually kind of a good one, because the overarching is all of those pieces — staying alert, making sure that you know what’s going on. And that’s where companies who have very good analytics and have real-time data as to what’s going on in their business at all points are able to respond quickly. And it seems like every single day, you know, last week the stock market was going great, things are starting to rebound today; it is nosediving. So business is changing. Everything is really volatile right now. So staying alert to what’s going on in your business, staying alert to what’s going on with your customers; certainly your order volume being flexible.

There are a lot of companies right now that are doing everything they can to weather this storm. And so if that group of businesses falls into your customer base, seeing what you can do to be flexible and be a good partner through this, that helps build loyalty among customers, and those customers that are being helped out by their vendors or their key business partners right now will remember that when they move forward. And they’re going to say that this wasn’t all about the bottom line when chaos broke out. But we work together as true business partners, which is what a lot of the companies we work with, they look to us and they say, we want you to be a strategic partner. So if that term rings a bell, how are you being flexible with your strategic partners right now is something you need to consider because that’s going to build that loyalty and that partnership moving forward when everyone comes out of this.

(Jeremy Cross) So we’re talking about coming out of this. That’s a great segue for our final trend. And this is a trend moving forward. But at some point in the future, we know that we’re going to end up having to restart. And businesses are going to get back to normal. Not the “new normal” we’re talking about, but get back to a normal where they can operate. They can open, and so forth. So this is really where I want to pick your brain, because how can businesses be ready to restart? Because let’s go back to digital-first very quickly. This digital-first aspect of it is either going to reinforce or condition new behaviors in consumers, where people who weren’t buying online before are now going to realize how convenient and easy it is to buy online and likely moving forward. They will continue to buy online. Some of them, at least, will continue to buy online. And so we have new consumers with new behaviors coming from this. If a business wasn’t ready for this Coronavirus bomb that disrupted everything, how can they get ready to restart? As we look to come out of this in the next month or two.

(Ryan Kubec) Yeah, so that’s the million dollar question that everyone is starting to figure out; how do we do this? And if you don’t have a digital-first or a digital platform and e-business platform, customer portal, a self-service portal, whatever term you want to put on it, you need to start working on that now. You need to contact your strategic partners in the infrastructure or solution space — and that’s certainly where we work and that’s what we work with our customers on. Build a strategy, finding out what are other people in your industry doing when it comes to those self-service e-business portals. Who’s doing it really well, and then how does that fit with your customer base. It’s starting to get a plan in place for how you’re going to be able to accommodate that need, because things are going to eventually come back and we’re in a “new normal” now. But when things get back to business as usual, it’s going to be different. I mentioned it earlier. I think there’s going to be a before COVID-19 and an after COVID-19 way of doing business.

And we’re hearing a lot of companies realizing right now that working remote and offering that flexibility to their employees is not as bad as they thought it was going to be. And I’ve heard from some of the customers that we were talking with over the past week that their employees are actually more productive on the days that they work from home. And I hear that from our employees that there are some days when I have a lot to get done, I make that my work-from-home day because I know I’m not going to be interrupted. And people are doing this, being more productive while all of this is going on. And a lot of them, like yourself, have kids at home and they’re trying to juggle all of this stuff, but they’re also not having the different interruptions during the day. The tradeoff from that is that you are in a workplace losing some of the culture or losing some of that camaraderie. And that’s where products like Zoom and Microsoft Teams and these other digital collaboration tools are helping people stay connected somewhat.

So I don’t think companies are going to move 100 percent remote, but you better believe there’s going to be a higher percentage of people working remote after this than there were before. I guarantee that companies are investing in the solutions and platforms that allow them to do that. They’re realizing that they’re still able to get their jobs done, and so if they’re not working from their office where they’ve got all those direct connections to maybe their vendors that they buy from or the companies they buy from, how are they going to get that information from their house? And my bet is going to be that it’s going through some type of digital e-business, self-service platform. And I know we talk about that a lot.

That should be the first pillar you consider; how are you going to get that in place? And what we’re working with companies now — because there’s a lot of people realizing, man, we didn’t have that, we weren’t ready for that — how quickly can we get something set up? And it’s easy to start saying, well, let’s design the greatest customer experience ever known to the human population and in the business world. So they will write papers about us and then I can give TED talks for the rest of my life on how great we are. But that typically requires lots of budget and lots of time to get up. What probably is the best tip of where to get started is if you have a digital e-business platform where customers can self-serve. If you do not start figuring out what’s going to be the best value to your customers, probably getting status updates on orders, paying invoices online, reprinting documents. Some of those are very basic things and get to what we recommend to a lot of companies as getting a minimum viable product that’s going to provide value, be useful to you as a business and to your customers, and start looking at what is going to be the next release that comes out. And this is a continuous project, and some companies have the ability to do that internally, some outsource that, but get something up sooner rather than later.

(Jeremy Cross) So as we look to recap trends that we’ve talked about today and what it means moving forward, how can companies focus on CX? How do these trends impact that? We looked at digital-first, so the companies that are going to be making it through this are going to have a digital platform or have the ability to move to digital-first. We know that’s not going away. Then, even though you’re digital, make sure that you leverage human emotion; don’t forget the human element of it. So whether that is using your social networks for pushing out personalized video where people have that personal touch, don’t forget that. Then we talked about setting expectations. Make sure you over-communicate during this period and moving forward to where we don’t want to create any more uncertainty. So over-communicate and set expectations. Also, make sure that you stay alert, stay flexible, so as things continue to change we know that your business is able to be flexible in your approach. And then finally — probably the most important thing here — is make sure you’re ready to restart. Going into this, knowing that some of these behaviors, such as switching to online, are not going anywhere. It’s going to continue. In fact, it’s probably going to get stronger, perhaps even looking at something like delivery services. If you are in an industry where delivery is part of your organization right now, consumers are demanding delivery. And so making sure that you have in place, that’s not going anywhere. So get ready to restart with your business so that way you can hit the ground running after we’ve gone through and weathered this storm of uncertainty and absolute disruption to our lives that we’ve never experienced prior to this point. Ryan, do you have any closing thoughts here before we close out today’s pod?

(Ryan Kubec) No, the only thing that I’d like to say, again, the same way we ended last week, is that we’re talking about business. We’re trying to look ahead and give recommendations for how companies can improve their customer experience moving forward, knowing that a lot of people are struggling and having a hard time with this in general. So take care of yourself. Take care of those around you. Check in with your coworkers. Check in with your customers. And we wish everyone the best.

(Jeremy Cross) So we want to say, thank you for listening. This has been another episode of The CX Angle podcast. We hope that you will all stay safe and weather this storm. We’ll get through all of this together. And brighter days are certainly coming ahead. So, Ryan, as always, it’s been a pleasure. Can’t wait for our next episode and we’ll look to hear from you then.

 

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