Nikhil Shoorji at Infobip shares some key customer experience takeaways from how we have dealt with COVID-19.
As companies navigate the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, many have been left in the difficult position of making cuts and closures as they prepare for a new reality of physical distancing and evolving consumer behaviours.
However, there are some industries whose services have been more in demand than ever during this difficult time.
Notably, supermarkets, who have kept the nation fed over the last four months. This can of course be attributed to selling vital products, but it also comes down to providing a solid customer service.
Many big-name supermarkets were quick to pivot operations at the start of lockdown. They championed the needs of vulnerable or elderly customers by offering peak hour slots for easier shopping.
They were also some of the first to implement in-store safety measures and expand offerings around online shopping for home delivery, for example Morrisons’ Doorstep delivery service.
In fact, according to our research of 2,000 consumers, the UK public ranked supermarkets highest for good customer service, with three out of every five Brits (63%) claiming they were satisfied with their supermarket experience during lockdown.
Tesco, Asda and Marks & Spencer were specifically called out for their strong customer experience. Placing human interaction at the heart of operations has been the differentiator.
Tesco experienced strong sales (up by 9.2%) over lockdown, and has implemented comprehensive priority measures, such as early hours for key workers, the vulnerable and elderly.
Researchers deemed Asda the “safest supermarket” for its visible signage, disinfectant availability, one-way system and social distancing. And Marks & Spencer has married physical and digital services in-store with its touch-free offering, Mobile Pay Go, allowing users to scan and pay for groceries without visiting a till.
It has, like many, faced a decline in in-store sales with the stark reality of employee cuts, but has reported a 39.2% surge in online sales, showing that pivoting offerings towards online and digital is key during this time.
In fact, supermarkets have stood out across online services, with only 3% of customers claiming they were dissatisfied with their online shopping experience.
They have also accommodated sharp increases in traffic by expanding delivery slots and offering broader product catalogues so people can shop safely and happily from their home.
External communication has also been refined – weekly emails from the CEOs to customers, pre-recorded in-store announcements and clear floor markings to help guide shoppers. Every element helps reassure customers and fosters brand loyalty.
Stuck on the Ground
Other industries haven’t fared so well. For travel agents, customer service has been more challenging than ever due to cancelled flights and quarantine restrictions. This is reflected in our research, with only a fifth (22%) of customers satisfied by their experience during lockdown.
Homeware retailers have also experienced low satisfaction (22%) and clothes retailers aren’t performing much better (32%).
The research, conducted after non-essential retail opened on 15 June 2020, found that putting the brakes on normal in-store procedures, such as trying on clothes in fitting rooms, paired with the snaking queues outside shop entrances, frustrates many.
The Right Message at the Right Time
Many companies now face trying to boost customer experience while keeping costs down. Building meaningful relationships at scale is no mean feat, particularly during a pandemic.
This is where technology-enabled communications can help brands keep in touch and reassure their customers, wherever they are.
Automated services and notifications are invaluable in the age of technology. Providing real time updates via SMS messages or email alerts – straight to the consumer’s device – helps to ensure a consistent service across the entire customer journey.
It also limits the need for customers to proactively check the status of a service or product with an agent.
It’s likely we’ll see an inflexion point from COVID-19 when it comes to embracing technology, especially as social distancing and local lockdowns remain present.
Ultimately, it’s about understanding the channels your customers like to use – whether that’s on their mobile, over email or even on WhatsApp – and ensuring an excellent service is available across all of them.
There is a diminishing space for companies who don’t pair digital transformation with customer centricity – you only have to look to Woolworth’s or Blockbuster to know that.
For retailers, travel agents and restaurants, pleasing everybody during lockdown is an impossible task.
Although there is a downwards trend in complaining, it’s by no means diminished; 54% of people still contacted a customer service team during COVID-19.
It’s not just about knowing your customer but understanding them and anticipating their exact needs – whether these are online or in real life.
In an age where brand loyalty is declining, businesses must offer an experience that people want to come back to, and this is where technology comes into play. It’s driving us towards a new era: the experience age.