Empathy as a Commodity: Customer Experience Pivots Post-Pandemic

In the wake of COVID-19, the role of customer experience is at a crucial tipping point. Many organisations are asking, is CX a non-essential business function that gets cut when budgets are trimmed? Or does CX have an opportunity to move up the value chain in enterprise organisations? 

Since the pandemic transcended into Australia/New Zealand in early 2020, InMoment’s APAC Sales Director Simon Benns has seen an interesting shift toward an empathy economy. Brands that are able to harness empathy and work toward achieving a more authentic customer experience will reach the top of its vertical and continuously achieve meaningful improvement for itself and its customers.

Market Disruption has Exposed the Need for Experience Improvement

Years have passed since 2014 when Gartner boldly declared that “customer experience is the new battleground for businesses.” Despite most brands declaring to be customer-centric, many CX programs have failed to realise the full potential of an experience management program. According to a more recent Gartner report pre-pandemic, only 22% of CX Leaders can say that their programs exceeded customer expectations. Now in the wake of COVID-19, customer experience leaders have been forced into the spotlight and asked to prove the value of these experience management programs back to the business. 

The global pandemic has led to a shifted relationship between businesses and their customers. Globally, brands have grappled with how to navigate through these turbulent times and emerge with customer relationships intact. Marketing strategies in most organisations have quickly pivoted to adapt with advertisements and corporate communications declaring “we are here to help!” From Dove telling consumers that it’s not important which brand of soap that we use as long as we wash our hands, to QBE giving cash back to every car insurance customer, as consumers we are being told that “we’ll get through this together.”

Empathy is Now a CX Commodity  

Companies that are surviving and thriving are those that are exhibiting emotional intelligence and communicating with care, honesty, and empathy. In these emotionally testing times, many people are highly sensitive and prepared to make choices based on how much they feel a company truly understands them. Consumers are noticing when brands reach out to try and help, versus when they are being sold to. Brands are not competing over who has the best price or product, but on kindness. It feels that the battleground of the moment is empathy. 

When the pandemic first surfaced, most brands could guess the way customers were feeling. When a crisis hits, humans are immediately looking for help, support and relief – they aren’t concerned with fancy platform upgrades or product features. But what about as we move out of the crisis period?  What are customers looking for as we move into recovery? As a society, we are embarking on truly uncharted territory, and brands know they need to continue supporting, evolving and communicating with customers in a way that resonates. In the new ‘empathy economy’, the secret weapon lies within your customer feedback and your brand’s ability to turn those insights into action as quickly as possible.

Customer Feedback is Crucial in the Empathy Economy 

The definition of “empathy” is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Empathy is not about two-way communication, it is simply about listening and understanding. Thus, the ability to hear what your customers are saying, truly understand their needs, and find a solution to meet their evolving expectations is quickly becoming the most critical business function. 

We’ve seen Australian brands turn off their VoC programs after seeing NPS scores drop. At a time when businesses should be listening to customers more than ever, many brands feel overwhelmed by the seemingly negative information and stop listening to customers all together. 

On the other hand, we’ve been inspired by Australian brands like The NRMA who have used information sources across the entire business to monitor and make decisions. The VoC team has implemented a Coronavirus text analytics category and is updating senior management twice a week, calling out references to COVID-19 within VoC trackers including critical areas of the business like roadside assistance and Thrifty car rentals. The team has also built a specific “Coronavirus” dashboard to monitor comments as they come through. Overall, the tool acts as a cross-check function for business decisions to ensure that opportunities to serve the customer better during this challenging time are not missed.

For Actionable Insights, Move from Past-Tense to Forward-Thinking Survey Questions

Historically, the true value of VoC programs has remained ambiguous due to the quality of insights. We know that the most impactful insights are those that give clear direction to the business and drive a significant uplift in the customer’s experience. The best insights are those that are based in solid research that encourage C-Suite leadership teams to stand up and pay attention. Unfortunately, most programs fall short when it comes to actionable program insights. 

In order to see actionable insights, brands need to shift the mentality of CX as an indication of past performance, to a forward-thinking voice that can shape business strategy. One of the quickest ways to do this is by asking survey questions in present and future tense

In the past tense, survey questions look like “how did we do?” or “how was your experience 0-10?” Of course, there is a valuable place for types of questions by helping businesses learn from past mistakes. However, these past-tense questions can’t help your brand navigate economic uncertainty in the here and now.

Instead, transform your survey using forward-thinking questions. Instead of asking customers “how could we have served you better?” replace these with “how would you like us to serve you better in the future?” The latter question reframes the customer mindset and prompts them to feed back richer text verbatim. Using text analytics to categorise customer feedback, your business will have ideas and insights based on empirical evidence that will help drive your brand forward.

Brands can also ask customers how they plan to behave in the future. After the government announced new guidelines, we saw super funds across ANZ asked its members whether they were planning to take advantage of the $10,000 early access scheme. The insight from these forward-thinking survey questions allowed super funds to make better financial planning decisions. Ask your customers what they anticipate their needs to be, how they would like to receive brand messages and when they will need support. These kinds of actionable insights will inform your business roadmap and propel your brand forward.

Prompt Survey Respondents to Give Richer Feedback through Text Analytics

Increasing open-text verbatim is one of the most powerful ways to get actionable insights from customer feedback. The text analytics capability is an AI-driven approach that encourages respondents to expand on their survey answers. When the respondent gives feedback that is too short like “bad experience,” the platform function prompts the consumer with a message that says “can you tell us a bit more about your experience?.” The text analytics feature collects verbatim at scale, it can be overlaid with emotion and sentiment analysis, categorised into custom categories bespoke to your business and empowers your customers to answer freely.  It is through this capability that your team can discover valuable insights that can be fed back to the business – the kind of insight that  drives business strategy. These powerful customer insights are the key to running feedback from an indicator of past performance into research into future customer requirements.

Allow Your Customers to Get in Touch With You Wherever, Whenever 

The way consumers are communicating and interacting with companies has shifted and many VoC programs have not kept up pace. For example, we have seen that website intercept surveys, which traditionally had a low response rate, have in some cases tripled their response rate in the last 6 weeks.  The technology now exists to understand customer data in its native form. Move beyond calculating metrics to deriving deep meaning from the natural conversations customers are having through open-ended comments, social media channels, contact centers, video, voice and even images. 

In essence, the very premise of NPS attempts to reduce the human experience to a simplified number. And at a larger scale, structured surveys simplify feedback, often removing the human element of a complex customer experience. The future of feedback is in allowing customers and employees to communicate whenever, wherever, and however they want, preserving that data in its native form, and then applying advanced analytics to uncover the intelligence that will drive true change in the business.

In an environment where the ability to listen to and truly understand your customers has become essential, companies with a mature VoC program have the capability to not just survive, but thrive into the post-pandemic economy.  By moving your focus to the future tense, increasing open-ended response and by widening the listening posts, CX leaders can give their organisations the best chance in the new ‘empathy economy.” There is no better time for CX practitioners to reinvent their CX programs and lead their organisations forward into the unknown.

To learn more about how to evolve your CX program, check out our webinar “Now Is the Time to Assess & Reinvent Your CX Program” for free here!

Simon is Sales Director for InMoment in ANZ.  Prior to joining InMoment he spent 10 years helping CX professionals all over the world network, learn and improve as Executive Director at IQPC.  Outside of work he is a keen cyclist and squash player.

Research Shows Customer Perceptions of Businesses During the COVID-19 Crisis

Research Report Background and Introduction

InMoment (formerly MaritzCX), conducts an ongoing study, CX Standards, tracking satisfaction with customers’ interactions with over 300 companies spanning 17 industries in the United States. Beginning on March 27, we added COVID-19-related questions to this study to track how well industries and businesses are doing serving customers during this crisis. Specifically, we asked:

  • When it comes to responding to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), how would you rate [COMPANY]’s efforts to date? [1 = Very poor …10 = Excellent]
  • You rated [COMPANY] a score of [SCORE FROM QUESTION 1]. Can you give some specifics on their effort that led to this rating? [Open-Ended Comment]
  • How much will [COMPANY]’s efforts during this crisis affect your likelihood of doing business with them after the crisis? [1 = Not at all ….10 = Extremely] 

What Does the Research Say About Who is Handling the Crisis Well and Who Isn’t? 

As the research shows, restaurants, shipping, and to a lesser extent, investments are the best responding industries, and customers are most satisfied by their COVID-19 responses. And, we’d like to congratulate these businesses.

Interestingly enough, customers are least satisfied by COVID-19 responses of companies in technology (online-only retailers, mobile, and television) industries. This may be a result of increased demand for these services while people are sheltering at home, and the difficulty of meeting said demand.

How Well Are Different Industries Dealing with the COVID-19 Crisis? 

When we plot how well industries are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis (horizontal axis) by how important their response to the crisis is in terms of determining future business from customers (vertical axis), we can see that several industries like insurance, bank and credit cards, and healthcare* ranked below average in their response to the crisis, but also ranked above average in customers’ views that their response is important. Companies in these industries are in jeopardy of losing customers due to their response, or non-response, to the crisis.

Other industries showing lesser COVID performance and relatively high importance are online-only retailers, television, retail grocery, and retail gas or convenience stores.

Customers Explain What They Want and Don’t Want

Examination of respondents’ comments explaining why they gave companies high or low scores revealed what customers want from companies during this time. On the positive side, the most often-mentioned topics were enforcing social distancing, keeping a clean environment, showing an effort to address the crisis, providing personal protective gear, taking care of their customers, and providing good communication.

The reasons for lower ranking or more negative feedback included insufficient stock, no communication, not addressing the problem(s), and no social distancing. Additionally, this feedback noted lower scores for perceived poor treatment of employees.

The Worst Reaction: Inaction

Our research clearly indicates that the worst reaction companies can have to the COVID-19 crisis is inaction. Customers are appreciative of companies’ efforts to enforce and maintain social distancing rules. Unsurprisingly, they want to feel safe during this uncertain time. Customers also appreciate clear communication about what companies are doing to address the crisis.

It is important to remember that, to date, this information was collected when many businesses in the United States were shut down or working on a very limited basis. It will be interesting to see how customers’ perceptions of companies change as economies are “opened up” and more face-to-face business takes place again.

How to Effectively Desilo Data to Harmonize Your Brand

Anyone who works in customer experience (CX) has heard about the importance of desiloing data (if they’re not already leading efforts to do so). That process has become one of the most popular elements of the CX world as companies strive to integrate data sets, processes, and departments to serve a more unified experience vision.

Desiloing data is generally accepted as a great goal, but executing that goal is no small task. It’s natural for CX practitioners to wonder where to start. Which data sources should they integrate? How exactly is data desiloed? Finally, how can organizations begin using integrated data to achieve CX goals?

Taking Stock

Which data sources should organizations desilo to gain a better view of their CX efforts? The first and most obvious here is direct feedback from customers. Once brands have accrued that set of information, they can look to indirect feedback from customers and other groups. Finally, brands need to unite these sets of data with inferred feedback, descriptive data that can help organizations achieve a united, holistic picture of the customer experience.

Next, practitioners need to understand that their richest source of information about the customer experience lies in the minds of their frontline employees.  This is an often overlooked aspect of CX data and should be a priority.  Employees’ feelings about a brand are just as crucial a component of any company’s experience efforts as customers’, so it pays to include those insights in a desiloed system as well. CRM data is extremely helpful, too—organizations should desilo as much of their customer strategies, technology, and interaction analyses as possible.

There are two more sets of data here that are essential to include in a centralized data system: financial data and operational information. It’s common for organizations to assume that the only data needed for a decentralized CX system is info from customer-facing teams, but operational data is key to understanding a brand’s wider picture. Combine this info with the aforementioned customer data, and the result is a truly versatile and powerful source of knowledge.

Opening The Floodgates

Once a brand has located these data sources, it’s time to begin the process of actually desiloing them. It’s essential for CX practitioners to bear two key principles in mind as they go about this project: efficiency and accessibility.

Efficient data desiloing isn’t as simple as just dumping a bunch of files into a single folder. Organizations that desilo information can attain a cross-functional communication strategy that enables all its departments to take advantage of that data in meaningful ways. CX practitioners should thus strive to be the champions of this data and use it to demonstrate how other departments can benefit from it, not just CX and customer-facing teams.

Fortunately, brands that put their data in one place have largely achieved that cross-functionality with just that action. However, organization goes a long way toward accessibility, too. Keeping a data system in good order means making everything from data source names to file organization intuitive. Organizations that pull this off can better leverage their data to accomplish CX goals.

Executing On Desiloed Data

There are many benefits to desiloing data. Brands that unite disparate sources of information can help ensure that CX data is used throughout an entire organization. This can help brands create a culture of CX centricity (sometimes referred to as closing the outer loop) that makes the company geared toward finding feedback, resolving issues, and implementing actionable insights.

This increased unity in purpose ultimately leads to an improved customer experience. When departments share information and can draw data from one place, it’s easier to accomplish CX goals and to fix problem areas. Thus, desiloing data is a boon not just for brands and organizations, but also the customers for whom those companies seek to create memorable, compelling experiences.

Interested in learning more about making the most of your data and the tools with which you gather it? Check out our article on how to achieve meaningful customer listening here!

A Glance at The Post-COVID Retail Landscape

We’ve examined how COVID-19 is currently impacting the retail world, as well as the effects that major retail brands are suffering as a result of the ongoing pandemic. As quarantine measures and other restrictions are gradually being lifted worldwide, though, it may be prudent to discuss the post-COVID retail landscape in greater detail.

Specifically, what changes will we likely see as restrictions are lifted? How may those changes continue to affect post-pandemic retail? Finally, how might customers feel about these new developments as some semblance of “normalcy” is restored? Let’s take a closer look.

What Changes Will Retailers See As Restrictions Are Lifted?

Let’s begin by swiftly recapping what changes retailers have already seen as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Contactless payments have become more common, customer-employee contact has diminished, and the surge of online transactions we’ve seen in recent years has only strengthened. Customers’ demand for goods and services has also fallen as many of them face unemployment or being furloughed.

That last point, demand, is where retailers will see some marked changes as quarantine measures are rolled back. While some customers may spend high sums as a means of releasing pent-up demand (also known as “shoptimism”), those individuals’ appetites for retail goods, particularly luxury items, will remain overall cool to the touch for quite some time (probably well into 2021). Retailers shouldn’t count on that aforementioned pent-up demand to salvage their bottom line.

It probably comes as little surprise that this pandemic has also heightened customer interest in self-sufficiency, and retailers can expect to see that interest impact their post-pandemic landscape as well. For example, customers are now more likely to buy yeast instead of processed bread, a trend that retailers can expect to provide both marketing opportunities and obstacles.

Listening to Retail Customers in A Post-Pandemic World

Customer experience (CX) programmes will be more crucial than ever for brands to implement and adhere to as quarantine measures are eased. With that in mind, let’s briefly examine how the pandemic has likely forever changed customer expectations, what those expectations are, and why it will pay for brands to listen to them carefully.

First, customers will emerge from quarantine hoping that brands take precautions against additional COVID outbreaks. As such, these organisations need to listen carefully to what those individuals hope to see when they return to physical storefronts. Brands can help assuage customer worries by maintaining cleanliness standards contrived during the outbreak, such as wider aisles that allow for more personal space.

Listening to customers and maintaining a safety standard they’re comfortable with plays into a wider strategy of building and maintaining long-term relationships with those individuals. Retailers that make it apparent that their customers are being listened to will have a considerable advantage over brands that don’t. 

Finally, customers will also pay close attention to how retailers treat their employees and factor that relationship into their decision to resume shopping with a given brand… or not. Brands should be listening to employees anyway, and not solely for the sake of accommodating their concerns and making them feel cared about. Listening to employees also helps ensure that they return to the workplace advocating for their brand, not against it.

The bottom line here is that the pandemic has spurred customers to scrutinise retailers more now than perhaps ever before, and that brand success in a post-COVID world means rolling with both customers’ new realities (reduced spending power, new/upended interests) and still listening for what those individuals want to see as restrictions are lifted. Retailers that can pull this delicate balancing act off will be posed for meaningful success in a post-COVID world.

COVID-19 presents a formidable challenge to retailers of all stripes, but they needn’t’ navigate it alone. To learn more about how to succeed in the era of Coronavirus, read our article on the subject here.

How to Close The Outer Loop and Create a Culture of Customer Centricity

To many customer experience (CX) practitioners, closing the loop refers solely to solving individual customer problems and making it clear that those concerns have not only been heard, but also addressed. The truth is that, while this process is obviously vital to the success of any organization, it is only the first step into a wider world of continuous improvement.

There are actually two loops that organizations need to close. The first, the inner loop (which you can read more about here), is what we just mentioned—interacting with customers one-on-one to listen to and act upon their feedback. Closing the outer loop, by contrast, refers to making customer centricity and continuous improvement the beating heart of any organization. The outer loop is a macro-level process that seeks to make systemic change. This change is based on a wide data set that includes, but is not limited to, the inner loop. Let’s talk about how to close the outer loop and why a CX program will never be world-class without outer loop successes.

Taking The Loop Company-Wide

Companies can’t have an outer loop process if they keep customer centricity confined to experience and service teams. Rather, organizations need to make enthusiasm for that centricity (and the continuous learning opportunities therein) a company-wide value. When every employee and department catches that enthusiasm, it creates organizational strength the likes of which can carry any brand to the top of its vertical. Employees who are engaged in an outer loop process will feel more connected and will strive for excellence.

This approach makes sense when you consider that customer feedback can be about almost any department or employee. An organization that channels learning opportunities toward a few teams instead of at a cross-company level risks failing to identify or address deep-seated problems. That’s precisely what closing the outer loop is about: identifying improvement opportunities for every facet of an organization and addressing a company’s most foundational issues.

Finally, organizations should close the outer loop for one of the same reasons that they should close the inner loop: the customers who drive a brand’s success deserve —and expect—to be heard if they have feedback. Indeed, a strong outer loop is built on multiple, successful inner-loop interactions.

How Can Organizations Close The Outer Loop?

Now that we’ve gone over a few key reasons for closing the outer loop, let’s talk about some ways that brands can actually pull it off. How can companies design and implement an outer loop process that is inclusive, sustainable, and transparent?  All three of these elements can be tied to employees.

If brands want to see continuous improvement (and foster an appetite for it) across their organization, they need to get their employees involved as major participants in  the outer loop program. Companies need to make it as simple as possible for employees—especially customer-facing ones—to share customer feedback with a centralized CX team. This team can then synthesize data, create priorities, and lobby for resources to make the macro-level changes that are the essence of the outer loop.

If you’re just starting your outer loop program, creating an incentive structure to get the process rolling is a practical step. Resist the urge to make this structure purely financial. Rather, make recognition unique and exclusive to gamify the program. 

If all else fails, feed the team! Lunch roundtables are a great way  to leverage inner loop learnings, introduce the outer loop process, and drive employee engagement.   Additionally, do not limit employee input to customer facing teams. No matter how far away an employee may be from the front lines, everyone’s work influences how companies relate to customers.

Finally, one of the key elements of the outer loop is transparency and communication. While the goal of an outer loop process is to implement systemic and sustained continuous improvement,  companies need to ensure they close the outer loop with employees and customers when a change is implemented as part of such a program. Every company will have a different approach to this vital step, but organizations can at least begin to tackle it by quickly transferring feedback to the appropriate stakeholders, enabling them to communicate effectively to their teams, and to communicate back to customers (if appropriate). 

Continuous Improvement

As any CX practitioner knows, there is no such thing as the “perfect” customer experience. There is always room to improve and become more efficient. True success in all customer experience endeavors, especially closing the loop, stems from not just continuously reacting to feedback, but also being on the lookout for new channels to glean it from.

To that end, successfully closing the outer loop means not only encouraging enthusiasm for continuous improvement, but also encouraging the proactivity that makes it possible to begin with. It also means remembering to reach back out to the employees and customers involved in the process to let them know that their effort and feedback, respectively, weren’t for nought. Companies that embrace this principle, and closing the outer loop as a whole, will be able to achieve meaningful improvement, outpace their competitors, and attain transformational success.

Building the outer loop is a critical piece of responding to customers and creating meaningful, transformative success, but there are other elements to that puzzle, too. Click here to learn more about the outer loop, its counterpart, the inner loop, and other principles of listening to and addressing feedback.

Luxury & Lifelines: COVID-19’s Impact on Customer Income

The Coronavirus has drastically altered retail life in seemingly no time at all, leaving both brands and customers around the world scrambling to adjust to a new or ‘next normal’. Though the challenges facing retail customers are many, perhaps none are more formidable than the impact COVID-19 has had, and will continue to have, on their income. 

Today, we’re going to talk about two areas in which this impact will be especially relevant to retail brands and their bottom lines: firstly, luxury goods and the concept of revenge spending. Then we’ll then take a look at what retailers can do to find success in a post-COVID world.

Purchasing Luxury Goods

As COVID-19 has forced countless businesses to shutter, perhaps indefinitely, the number of customers who’ve ended up furloughed or unemployed has similarly skyrocketed. For example, according to The Wall Street Journal, COVID-19 has sent as many as 20% of all workers in some American states scrambling for unemployment benefits. 

Because so many personal incomes have been so severely impacted by this pandemic, demand for consumer goods has dropped considerably as well. Unfortunately, this is particularly true for luxury and fashion retailers, which have already seen their bottom lines affected by the ongoing crisis. A new, expensive handbag does not feel essential during a lockdown.

Though online orders can provide a lifeline for some fashion and luxury retailers, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that these companies can likely expect their earnings to remain subpar for anywhere from the next 5-6 months to until sometime in 2021. These retailers should hope for the former, of course, but should also continue to prepare for the latter.

The Notion of “Revenge” Spending

There’s been some talk in customer experience (CX) media about the concept of “revenge” spending. Revenge spending is the notion that, whenever retailers and restaurants are allowed to reopen, customers will emerge to spend high sums of money as both a means of releasing pent-up demand and to demonstrate (to themselves and others) that the coronavirus hasn’t “beaten” them.

Though this phenomenon may occur to some extent when and if storefronts reopen, retailers shouldn’t count on it to provide a post-pandemic sales boom. Some individuals may spend more, but the aforementioned economic difficulties mean that most consumers will still play it safe even after stores resume normal operations.

How Can Retailers Succeed?

For many retailers, this discussion may seem pretty grim. These are indeed uncertain times, but retailers can increase their chances of post-COVID success by focusing on two areas: employee well-being, and customer relationships.

Brands can drive employee retention and passion by listening intently to their concerns and implementing their feedback whenever possible. Employees will feel reassured that their organisation is listening to them, and thus feel more impassioned about their work. Both elements will be crucial to finding success during and after the pandemic, and ensuring that retailers hold onto the best talent.

Finally, retailers need to continue listening to their customers and let those individuals know that they haven’t been forgotten. Investing in long-term relationships will help convince those individuals to return once some semblance of normalcy is restored.

All told, retailers can confront COVID’s impact on customer income by listening. Brands should not jettison their experience programmes during this time, but rather continue utilising them and continue staying in touch with the individuals whose business and hard work sustains their success. No matter whether they provide clothing, luxury goods, or something else altogether, retailers that dedicate themselves to this idea will find a better tomorrow in a post-Coronavirus world.

COVID-19 presents a formidable challenge to retailers of all stripes, but they needn’t’ navigate it alone. To learn more about how to succeed in the era of Coronavirus, read our article on the subject here.

Why Closing The Inner Loop is Essential to Brand Success

What exactly does the term “closing the loop” mean to you? Is it the part of an experience strategy that is only executed by the most mature customer experience (CX) organizations?  Does it refer to encouraging employees to personalize closing the loop with customers? Since any closed-loop process starts with handling the customer, it’s well worth discussing the inner loop and the importance of resolving individual feedback.

What is The Inner Loop?

The term “inner loop” refers to closing the loop at its most granular level: addressing and resolving feedback submitted by individual customers. The inner loop stands distinct from the outer loop, which denotes instilling a company-wide system of customer service excellence and a commitment to addressing criticism.

The outer loop is important, of course, but it’s built upon dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of one-on-one interactions between customer-facing employees and the individuals whose business sustains that brand. Organizations can’t execute a culture of great customer service if the interactions sustaining that culture are subpar. Because of this, it pays to commit to  closing the inner loop.

Why Close The Inner Loop?

Any company that hopes to maintain continued success (let alone transformational success), will take closing the inner loop seriously. Customers that take the time to voice a concern deserve and expect to be heard. No one enjoys listening to upset customers, but brands that take the time to hear their concerns and formulate solutions will see a surge in both loyalty and retention.

Closing the inner loop can also alert companies to problems and pain points that they were unaware of, giving them the chance to both retain a customer and create a  meaningful, permanent fix. Not every customer who encounters a problem will actually let a brand know, which is why it’s all the more important for organizations to listen to the individuals who do speak up.

Finally, addressing criticism and solving problems allows companies to build one-on-one relationships with individual customers who are questioning their relationship with that business. Like we mentioned earlier, customers will stick with a brand that they feel hears them out, which is perhaps the most crucial reason that firms should dedicate themselves to this process. In short, closing the inner loop boosts customer retention, lowers customer unhappiness, reveals potential problem areas, and provides continuous improvement opportunities.

How Can Companies Close The Inner Loop?

Companies that want to truly close the inner loop need to include their employees in the process. The inner loop consists entirely of employee-customer interactions, so encouraging workers to own their part of this process can vastly improve it. The more personalized an employee makes this experience (and the more passionate they are about it), the better a brand will be at closing the inner loop.

Lending an ear means a lot to customers, but companies need to act on their feedback to close the inner loop. Thus, brands need to create a system that allows them to meaningfully act on feedback. Nothing drives  customers away more than not being heard, so it’s key for organizations to create initiatives that address customer concerns. This is the natural progression from the inner to the outer loop.

Circling Back Around

Closing the inner loop doesn’t end with fixing whatever problem a customer complains about. Rather, companies only truly close the loop by circling back and letting their customers know what their feedback resulted in. Brands should always reach back out to customers, let them know that they were heard, and share how the problem they reached out about was addressed. This will tremendously boost both a customer’s opinion of that brand and their sense of connection to it.

It’s equally important that brands let the employees involved in feedback collection know about these developments. Customer-facing employees who are made aware of the changes that transpired as a result of their diligence will take more pride in their work, ultimately enriching that crucial personalization we talked about earlier. Companies can also incentivize employees who go above and beyond at closing the inner loop, but it doesn’t need to be financial. Creative recognition builds a more sustained cultural impact than a simple spot award.

Building The Outer Loop

Brands that take closing the inner loop seriously will have an easier time creating an effective outer loop process.  A successful outer loop drives a company-wide culture dedicated to solving problems and listening to customers. Both loop-closing processes also enable companies to become aware of pain points, fix them, and reap continued success. Thus, closing the inner loop is not only a vital function in and of itself, but also the foundational building block of organizational achievement.

Want to read the next chapter about how you can close the outer loop? Check out the full article, “The Value of Closing the Loop“!

Employees Are Feeling Uncertain. Here’s How to Engage With Them.

There’s been a lot of discussion about how to interact with customers during this uncertain time, but another topic calls for some serious conversation: how do brands engage with their employees?

Just like customers, employees are facing a lot of uncertainty right now, and that uncertainty can translate into feeling stressed or, worse, feeling ignored. Because employees are so essential to organizations’ success—especially during these unprecedented times—brands need to be sure that considering their employees is not simply an afterthought, but an intentional, empathetic effort. Here are four key ways that brands can help their employees feel cared for and engaged during this pandemic:

Key #1: Listen To Them

This is a foundational principle for the best of times, but it’s especially vital right now. Whether it’s a fear of getting sick or wondering if they’ll still have a job next month, many employees are experiencing existential stress over the pandemic and its resulting policies. Brands may not be able to resolve all of the issues causing this anxiety, but they can make employees feel cared for and listened to.

Listening to employees’ ideas and being sensitive to their concerns makes a world of difference for those employees’ sense of connection to their brands. Organizations should thus stress open-door policies now more than ever. Encourage employees to ask questions, chat with managers, and to share their ideas about how to navigate these uncharted waters.

Making employees feel cared for helps a brand’s customer experience (CX) as well. The more a brand cares about its employees, the more passionate they’ll be about their work. The more passionate they are, the better brand advocates they’ll be, which makes an organization better off when interacting with customers.

Key #2: Provide Tools & Resources

In addition to extending empathy, organizations can further engage with employees by giving them the tools they need to do their jobs during this pandemic. This goes beyond providing remote access to G Suite—companies need to do their best to help employees cope with the new realities brought about by the coronavirus. 

Specifically, organizations should strive to offer flexible hours and whatever anti-Covid measures (be that more versatile procedures or updated health policies) they can. This is no small task, but let’s face it: the reality of work has changed. If brands want their employees to feel cared for, they need to accept and work with that reality however they can.

Key #3: Provide Flexibility

What does it mean for an organization to be more flexible right now? Well, in addition to striving to provide more versatile scheduling, organizations should be mindful of the challenges working remotely can bring. Suddenly, many employees’ new coworkers are pets, spouses, and children, and this simple fact brings up a few challenges that brands should be prepared to face.

For starters, companies need to remember that some employees may have to switch up childcare now that everyone’s kids are home from school. This means that some employees may have to occasionally divert time and attention to their children, which is another unavoidable reality of the current crisis.

Organizations also need to think about how remote work impacts communication and connectivity. Many employees feel disconnected when they have to work from home for extended periods of time, so it pays to be flexible with communication, too. To address this, think about sponsoring virtual happy hours or simply starting out any calls by making sure to ask how employees’ personal lives are going. Fostering inter-organizational communication between remote workers can help all employees feel connected to each other and to their company, which, as we already mentioned, makes them feel more impassioned about their work. 

Key #4: Keep Things “Normal” Wherever Possible

The coronavirus outbreak has made workplace change inevitable, but that doesn’t mean that brands should throw all of their conventions out the window. Yes, the pandemic is forcing a lot of changes onto brands, but organizations should still keep to the norm when they can.

The reason why it’s important to keep things “business as usual” wherever possible is because it provides a sense of normalcy, which in turn can be comforting and reassuring to employees. Workers are facing enough uncertainty from changing home, consumer, and work life—finding ways to keep some things the way they were pre-pandemic can give employees some reassurance and help them stay focused on their work.

What Comes After

How brands treat their employees during this pandemic will also determine those relationships after it passes. When the dust settles, employees will remember how their organizations treated them, which means that they’ll come back to the workplace as either brand advocates… or detractors. 

Brands need to therefore connect to their employees, approach this pandemic in a meaningful way, and make everyone’s value apparent by assessing their needs and well-being.

Knowing how to engage employees during this difficult time can be a challenge, so we distilled our employee experience expertise into a new webinar, “Revealing the Power of Experience Programs in a Time of Crisis,” that you can access for free here!

How to Ensure Effective Survey Design During a Pandemic

Like everything else having to do with customer experience (CX), listening to customers has been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly, brands need to consider how to survey their clientele amid the largest public health crisis in recent years—this means thinking about how the pandemic has affected customer life and how to effectively listen to those individuals despite significant disruption.

Though the challenges this pandemic has conjured are many, brands needn’t panic. In fact, companies can take some solace in the fact that, though the disease is certainly disrupting customer life and communication, that doesn’t mean that brands need to throw their survey playbooks out the window. Instead, they need to consider four factors that can allow organizations to still listen to customers in spite of everything going on.

Factor #1: Geography

Geography has been a crucial part of survey design even before the pandemic. There are the obvious considerations, like language localization, but also climate, cultural norms, economic conditions, and other geographic elements that factor into building surveys.

Now, of course, companies need to add another element to this mix: how the country or region they’re targeting is faring against the coronavirus. For example, are there local quarantine or social distancing laws that might impact a customer’s interactions with a survey? What about supply shortages or especially severe rates of infection?

Brands should take some time to consider factors like these before dispatching surveys to a target audience. Doing so increases the likelihood that customers can and will respond. Additionally, companies that clarify that they understand or at least empathize with what a given audience might be enduring stand a greater chance of building stronger, long-term relationships with those customers.

Factor #2: Survey Type

This point doesn’t beg much explanation, but it’s worth mentioning that brands need to carefully consider the type of surveys they deploy within the context of how their targeted region or group is faring against the pandemic. For example, it doesn’t make much sense for organizations to deploy transactional surveys if customers within a given city have been ordered by a local government to stay home. 

Relational surveys, on the other hand, may still be a useful tool for ascertaining brand-customer relationships. They also give brands a means of staying in touch with customers and encouraging loyalty during and after the pandemic.

Factor #3: Communication Method

The pandemic may force some brands to reconsider how they distribute surveys to customers. Additionally, companies should remember that, should they opt to send more surveys via email, thousands of other organizations are deploying email surveys as well.

Because customers interact with so many brands throughout their daily lives, companies risk inundating them with too many announcements, updates, and survey requests. Thus, it pays for companies to keep their communications concise. Brands should limit the amount of messages they send wherever possible and remind customers that they want to hear those individuals’ voices.

Finally, brands should also sprinkle their surveys with empathy. Companies should ask how customers are doing because, as previously mentioned, lending an ear can help customers feel valued and keep relationships with them strong even when they can’t stop by a storefront.

Factor #4: Your Industry

Taking care of their customers should be a brand’s number one priority, but they also need to be aware of the novel challenges that the coronavirus may throw their way and incorporate that into survey design. For example, many restaurant chains will remain closed for some time, and that simple fact may alter the questions on a survey.

Being aware of the unique limitations the virus may impose upon certain brands can go far beyond better survey design. That business intelligence can enable companies to devise short- and-long term strategies for combating this pandemic, and then communicate those strategies to customers. It pays to keep everyone in the loop.

Keep Listening

These are strange times, but brands that alter their survey design and communication to suit customers’ unique geographies, challenges, and communications will help many of those relationships survive this pandemic. Being mindful of a brand’s own challenges can also go a long way toward effective, versatile survey design, not to mention communicating those surveys to customers. Above all, companies need to keep listening, and continue being aware of their audiences even when those audiences may not be buying.

In these trying times, we know that it’s more important than ever to focus on CX best practices. That’s why we hosted a new webinar with a panel of CX experts, “Managing the Customer Experience in a Time of Crisis.” You can access it for free here!

Proving Customer Experience’s Business Value: Customer Retention

A brand hasn’t won the battle once it’s acquired new customers. Far from it. Once a company has convinced a customer to buy with it, that brand needs to continually meet or exceed customer expectations (while striving to further develop that relationship) if it hopes for repeat business. 

This, of course, is the science of customer retention, and it can be challenging during the best of times—not to mention times of crisis. Fortunately, customer experience (CX) programs can help. Here’s how brands can use customer experience to retain customers and prove the effectiveness at doing so:

Taking Care of Business

CX programs enable brands to listen for what customers want. Companies can use CX listening tools to identify and react to the trends that might entice new customers, but they can also utilize this same suite of functions to listen to what their current customers are saying.

Of course, customer retention isn’t about trend-chasing. It’s also about building long-term relationships, closing the loop, and harnessing the power of service recovery. 70 percent of customers for whom companies satisfactorily address a problem will stay with that brand, so it’s well worth organizations’ time to invest in retaining those individuals.

Retention in Action

The Coffee Club, Australia’s largest homegrown coffee chain, was able to leverage customer experience to both retain customers and improve the artisanal experience it provides across hundreds of locations.

TCC was able to identify several customer pain points using an experience intelligence platform. When customers were dissatisfied with the brand of eco-friendly paper straws the company was using, TCC was able to process that feedback and make corrections quickly.

Armed with richer data, the brand made insight-driven menu updates and identified more than 30 at-risk customers each month, resulting in greater customer retention.

Clean-Burning CX

There’s another piece to the CX-driven customer retention equation: creating more effective internal processes. After companies collect insights from current customers via these tools, it’s important to craft initiatives that can actually make something of all that feedback. 

The benefits here are many—internal processes can become more streamlined, weak points in customer journeys can be fixed, and customers will be left impressed by the brand’s dedication to resolving their problems. The number-one reason customers leave brands is because they feel unappreciated—taking action on their feedback is a great way to show that companies do, in fact, appreciate them.

The True Benefit of Retention

The number of stats out there about how much cheaper retaining customers is than acquiring new ones is staggering. Closing the loop and retaining customers is important, but it’s also much cheaper than focusing solely on attracting new business. 

Companies can take retention even further by both constantly addressing customer issues and working to improve what draws those brands back to begin with. Businesses that use CX tools to close the inner and outer loops (fixing individual customers’ issues while also redesigning a larger, customer-facing process, respectively), will retain far more customers than firms that can’t be bothered to tackle either challenge. CX practitioners can then point to improved retention, NPS, or a host of other factors to prove their customer retention effort’s ROI.

Want to learn about other economic pillars that can support a successful CX program (and business)? Check out our new infographic “The Four Pillars of CX ROI,” or read more from Eric in his article on business value here!

Why Market Research is Vital to Your CX Program in Times of Crisis (and Beyond!)

Let’s start off with a question that people around the world have been asking throughout the past few weeks:

Why is toilet paper such a demand-buy in the current COVID-19 climate?

Customers are heading to grocery stores, chain pharmacies, and even home supply stores looking for just one roll only to find completely empty shelves. In the case of pandemic, such supply shortages are to be expected—but toilet paper? I think it’s safe to say we are all a little shocked.

In order to get to the root of this TP panic, our Strategic Insights Team decided to run a few questions on this topic by our global access panels. Safe to say, the results were incredibly interesting.

  • From the 15,000 global respondents that completed the panel pulses: 70% of the population were concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic. The other 30% were more likely to note that the media had ‘over exaggerated’ the situation.
  • Only 8% of the sample noted that they had purchased more toilet paper this past weekend, in comparison to their regular shopping times. This was mainly to do with the lack of stock offered at the grocery stores.
  • Approximately 35% of the comments discussed the importance of purchasing bulk toilet paper as it was considered to be a “last-minute” purchase (not something they actively purchase on a normal grocery cycle).

So how does this relate back to customer experience (aside from the obvious observation that toilet paper is very important to customers at the moment)? Well, it displays the power and absolute necessity of market research and its ability to anticipate new trends based on customer and non-customer behaviors. 

In this example, the lack of toilet paper in stock could definitely have been anticipated by simply understanding an individual’s monthly journey in a grocery store.

In our research, we found that while canned foods, fruits and vegetables, and similar food products tend to be an ongoing grocery purchase, items like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and paper towels tend not to be. This “normal” customer approach to their weekly shopping trip causes many stores to invest less in stocking these products on a monthly basis. 

This is a crucial understanding that explains why these particular items flew off shelves in a matter of minutes when the crisis began: lower existing stock in stores plus an irregular amount of demand (due to the understanding that we may not be able to grocery shop as usual for the next few months) equals empty aisles where paper products once were.

How Should You Utilize Market Research Capabilities?

It’s evident from this example that market research is key for companies seeking to understand customer trends and behaviors in a time of crisis. But how should brands utilize this research normally? Here are a few good rules to follow when planning out any type of industry-based research:

Rule #1: Define Desired Outcomes

What are you trying to achieve? How will you utilize this data? What actions will you drive with the outcomes?

With every client that we work with, understanding their financial goals is crucial to success. If driving customer acquisition is important, then you should focus on targeting non-buyers to understand their behavior is crucial to getting a proper battle plan in place.

Example: In a recent market study run for a specialty pharmacy brand, we were able to find more ways to convert non-buyers by extending their cash wrap sections with influential products that could drive revenue. (This approach was tested at certain locations to gauge the level of success as well.) 

Rule #2: Think Outside The Box

Has this research been conducted before? Why was it conducted? What were the outcomes?

Market research is an absolute gold mine when used correctly. However, before beginning any program with our clients, we tend to take a few days to understand what other research was conducted by other companies and organizations to make sure we don’t simply ‘recreate the wheel.’

Example: One of the largest global toy manufacturers currently runs multiple research studies through our global access panel. For each project launch, our Strategic Insights Team spends a good 1-2 weeks brainstorming, researching the industry, and building unique insights that have never been run before.

Rule #3: Set Core Actionable KPIs

What actions will be taken with the outcomes? How can I confirm that this approach was successful overall?

Informative research is exceptionally helpful, but the challenge for all organizations is how to act on this research. How can they set organizational KPIs that can be traced back to some form of financial outcome and help confirm the success of this program?

Example: A recent market study helped our client, a global specialty footwear brand, understand the importance of tackling a more interactive e-commerce experience. Live chat and touch-point KPIs around resolution were set in place to help continuously measure and track success via executive dashboards to help the client gauge the success of new strategies in the upcoming quarter.

After working in the market research field for over 10 years, I’ve found that the most successful programs are those that go above and beyond. My team and I spend days brainstorming a project with a client before actually beginning to design a survey, sample methodology, and plan the project overall.

If you take the time and do the work, you too will be  able to anticipate trends, take action, and grow your organization. Even if it simply means investing into certain seemingly random products, like toilet paper.

In these trying times, we know that it’s more important than ever to focus on CX best practices. That’s why we hosted a new webinar with a panel of CX experts, “Managing the Customer Experience in a Time of Crisis.” You can access it for free here!

4 Keys to Successful Customer Communication in the Coronavirus Era

The coronavirus pandemic has done more than upended how brands communicate with customers—it has completely changed the lives of customers across the globe.

The sudden influx of physical distancing, the (hopefully temporary) shuttering of businesses, and general unease about the virus have all reshaped how customers interact with brands virtually overnight. On top of all of that, it’ll be at least a few months before any sort of normalcy is restored.

Because of all of this rapid change, it is absolutely crucial for brands to re-assess how they communicate with customers and how to conduct business in the age of a global pandemic.

The question isn’t an easy one, but in a recent webinar, our experts shared how companies can communicate with their audiences and build strong relationships with them (even in times like these).

Key #1: Acknowledge That Your Brand is Taking The Coronavirus Seriously

There are several means by which brands can communicate their commitment to squashing the coronavirus to customers. The first, and most obvious, is to release an email (or message via social media—whichever is more your speed) acknowledging the pandemic and what your brand plans to do about it. Whether it’s reassuring customers that a given service will continue or announcing a temporary closure plan, customers will appreciate the update.

There is, however, one caveat to this message notion: every brand is transmitting messages just like these to customers, putting themselves at risk of being just another email. To help avoid this problem, brands should keep their messages as concise as possible. This can help a given company’s message stand out in an all-but-literal sea COVID-19 musings.

Brands that maintain physical storefronts (and can responsibly keep them open during this pandemic) can consider more in-person reassurances that they take customer health seriously. 

For example, in several Costco locations around the country, the brand employs workers who not only sanitize tables, but take pains to ensure that their work is very visible to customers. Gestures like these can go a long way toward helping customers feel safe and healthy in an in-person shopping environment, and thus help ensure that they have a quality experience.

Key #2: Emphasize That Customer Feedback Matters Now More Than Ever

In times like these, brands need to reiterate to customers just how important their feedback is. Thus, companies should use messaging to communicate both their dedication to fighting the pandemic and how much they value their customers’ views and opinions on a provided experience.

More specifically, brands should ask customers open-ended questions about their views on the pandemic and, perhaps more pertinently, those customers’ opinions on what an ideal experience looks like in an age of quarantine and temporary shuttering. This strategy yields two results—it gives organizations a glimpse at pandemic-era customer thinking, and it reassures those customers that their opinions still matter.

Key #3: Do Not Try to Sell to Customers Right Now

It may be tempting for some brands to capitalize on the coronavirus, but the simple truth is that now is not the time to try to sell to customers. Rather, brands need to emphasize the importance of customer relationships over profits.

As previously discussed, the pandemic presents an opportunity for companies to demonstrate that they care about their connections to customers, and that endeavor will yield big long-term dividends.

Think about it—the brands that go most out of their way to build lifetime value with customer relationships are the ones that stand out in those individuals’ minds even during “normal” times. This factor is multiplied a hundred fold in times of crisis, as customers are even more impressed with brands who still prioritize customers despite hardships. As has long been established, customers will pay more for brands that they feel care about them.

Key #4: Thank Customers for Their Support

This point overlaps somewhat with our previous bullet, but it’s worth reiterating the importance of building long-term relationships with customers, especially in adverse times. This point also hearkens back to one of the fundamental principles of CX—if the customers who sustain a brand submit feedback, that brand owes it to those individuals to respond.

With that in mind, don’t hesitate to thank customers for their support during trying times. Be generous with letting them know how much their business meant before the pandemic and how much it means during the fact. That sense of connection matters, and customers will remember it when the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

Looking To The Future

The coronavirus has conjured a lot of uncertainty in today’s experience landscape, but that doesn’t mean that brands shouldn’t look to the future. Even if this disease causes upheaval for a few months, companies can still invest in a better tomorrow by strengthening relationships with their customers through concern instead of just commerce. Customers, in turn, will remember the effort that these organizations put forth during a challenging time, and make good on that memory when daily life returns to normal.

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