How to meet higher customer expectations post COVID-19
COVID-19 has dramatically altered the way our businesses operate. In the last 15 weeks, customers have gone from being able to work and shop freely, to being asked to socially distance, work from home and only visit shops if absolutely necessary.
Businesses have likewise had to adapt to order to survive and ensure that their employees have got jobs to go back to.
How have businesses adapted? There are plenty of examples across sectors that have been designed to assist both organisations and end-users.
- Extended return period for items – from book loans being increased from 3/4 weeks to over 2 months, to businesses giving customers longer to return faulty items; these extensions have been given to alleviate consumer stress and take into account that they can’t easily come to visit stores.
- Increased staff and working hours – in the wake of customers not being able to freely walk around stores; businesses have delved more deeply into the world of delivery. Even local convenience stores, bakeries and butchers have launched websites and delivery services to keep their business afloat. To help ease this transition, many have increased their employee numbers and their opening hours in a bid to keep up with these delivery times and order demands.
- Special consideration given to customers in self-isolation – to assist those unable to visit shops, businesses have introduced speciality products that are aimed at keeping their customers safe. These range from food hampers to toiletry hampers to stay at home picnics, etc.
- Free access to tools and products for people who are struggling financially or Payment Holidays for services – these have been particularly helpful for furloughed customers and those whose hours have been vastly reduced (cutting their pay).
- Support and info for non-brand related issues they may be having – it is not uncommon for businesses to offer advice; however, most could be linked back to their business, products or services. In the current climate, businesses have gone a step further by offering advice completely unrelated to their service offerings. For instance, one clothing brand has given tips to its customers on how to work from home while their kids are off from school.
- Shared resources and equipment with the community to support local businesses and key workers.
- Key Worker Benefits – supermarkets and takeaways have particularly jumped on this idea by offering Key Workers early access to their stores; discounts and free products.
- Remote and virtual experiences to test/view products – for businesses reliant on customers being physically present in their stores; many have taken to using their social media accounts and websites to do virtual consultations or demos of their products being used. This ensures that they are not forgotten and that their customers know they can still reach out to them for advice.
- Contactless payments in stores – to eliminate the need for cash in stores contactless payment limits have increased. This is ideal for customers who can’t remember their pin or who rarely carry cash.
How have these changes affected customer expectations?
Many businesses should be applauded for the steps they’ve taken to keep customer satisfaction and product accessibility at an all-time high. In light of these alterations, we have to understand that baseline customer expectations have shifted and won't return to the "old normal".
Expectation follows an upward trend, but since the arrival of COVID-19, despite people's empathy with the difficulties around doing business, the business response means people now expect a higher level of customer service, especially when it comes to:
- Extended return periods – the more time, the better.
- Fast turnarounds for deliveries, especially of goods deemed as essentials - even if they’ve missed clearly labelled cut-off times; customers are no longer content to wait a week for delivery. This is compounded if you’ve hinted that it can be within a few days, as they’ll expect it every time.
- Support and tips for other areas of their life.
- A demonstrated interest in their community and causes.
Likewise, since they’ve had access to certain products – some of which were only introduced because of COVID-19 - their expectations in these areas have similarly changed. For instance, they feel it is now the norm for businesses to offer:
Free/reduced priced solutions for high-performance technical tools, or speciality products for people in their situations e.g. a ‘new mum hamper’ or a ‘complete working from home software bundle’.
As you can imagine, this has triggered changes in consumer expectations in regards to the actual shopping process itself. Not all of it positive.
Take for example early access.
To help with social distancing (for the vulnerable and elderly) and key workers having to work longer hours; a lot of - but not all - supermarkets have started offering early access to these specific groups. This has been a great help to these groups, offering them safety, reassurance and flexibility. However, it has also led to customers expecting other related businesses to offer these same early access options - something not all of them have been able to do due to staffing, illnesses, opening hours, etc. Then there is:
- Virtual Experiences and demos – in many ways COVID-19 has proven that not everything has to be done in person. Take house viewings – potential buyers can now go on virtual tours of properties, ensuring that they and homeowners don’t have to worry about social distancing and contamination.
- Cashless – with the limit for cashless payments set at £45, it is unsurprising that no one carries cash anymore - especially given COVID-19. This is fine in most stores; however, there are some that still can’t take card payments under £5, leading to customers either having to spend more in order to qualify or walking away unsatisfied.
How can you meet these new expectations?
The truth is COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Even though case numbers are dropping, precautions still need to be taken to prevent another spike. As a result, you’ll need to be ready to meet their expectations head-on.
To tackle this, we recommend doing the following:
- Provide 24/7 Customer support – take advantage of chatbots, social channels and digital tools, and use them to ensure that you’re constantly accessible to your customers.
- Identify areas where you can make your supply chain and delivery process more efficient to help speed up turnaround times in normal working conditions – take a close look at your business and identify any areas that you can automate. Automation not only helps to free up your team to work on specialist tasks, it can also reduce human error and prevent duplication.
- Utilise social media and other digital channels to share content relevant to your target audience - even if it isn’t a direct promotion of your brand’s products/services - including support for local causes – offering support of any kind will endear you to customers.
- Identify what products your target audience needs and evaluate whether you can provide them with a ROI long term.
- Use virtual experiences to help shoppers with your products – from online demos to allowing them to virtually try clothes on; this will keep them connected to your business.
- Show that you understand and appreciate the challenges faced by different audience segments by providing them with customised experiences – this can include key worker sales or offering assisted shopping experiences to your elderly customers.
COVID-19 is set to affect our businesses for a long time to come, but that doesn’t mean you have to let your business suffer. By simply adopting the above ideas, you can stay on top of customer expectations and ensure that they continue to use your business for many years to come.
For more advice on how to adapt your business to COVID-19, contact our team at Stunn today.