The times certainly are a-changing and these past few months haven’t been easy. There is a great deal of stress and anxiety to stay safe as well as physically, mentally, and fiscally healthy. In a world of travel restrictions, work from home orders, and shelter-in-place, the importance of digital across all industries has come out loud and clear. Be it retail, banking, restaurants, hotels, or grocery stores, a digital-first strategy is critical to adjust to the shifts in consumer behavior and needs. In this environment, if a business doesn’t have an effective digital strategy in place, chances are that it is struggling to connect with its customers to alleviate their concerns, build trust, and win their loyalty.
A recent analysis by Gartner reveals that even the most digitally advanced companies are falling short on offering satisfying online experiences. The Gartner report notes that 71% of even the most digitally advanced companies are not helping customers with their most pressing questions and problems.* According to the report, “Helping customers is not just the right thing to do. It improves customer retention, which mitigates revenue loss.” So, what can businesses do to show their customers that they care during these troubled times and beyond?
Concrete Steps that You Can Take Now
Gartner recommends 4 steps that businesses can take now to proactively help customers when they come to a website:
Deliver “how can we help you” options
The key takeaway here is to be sensitive to your customers’ safety concerns and make pertinent information easily available on websites or mobile apps. In our opinion, this includes information such as, placing policies such as store hours and locations in the footer of each page; Putting shipping costs and delivery dates on product pages; making returns and exchanges easy to understand and execute; Striving to make your website and mobile apps user friendly to enable better self-service.
Remove reasonable COVID-19 gotchas
The pandemic has disrupted plans, vacations, purchases, loan payments, rent payments, and more. The point here is that if it were not for COVID-19, most of these plans would have come to fruition. So, where ever possible, businesses should not penalize customers for events that were not in their control. We think some of these mindful actions include being flexible about refunds, loan payment deadlines, cancellation policies, fee waivers, expiry of loyalty points, and so on.
Reach out with personalized advice
This point, in our opinion, relates to leveraging your knowledge about the customer to provide relevant information or advice that is meaningful to them. This point is elaborated further in the next section of this blog.
Orchestrate proactive action
This step, in our opinion, goes one step further than giving personalized advice by proactively taking actions that will make life easier for customers during the crisis, delight them and make them feel good about engaging with the brand.
Learn from Your Peers: What are Digital-First Brands Doing Successfully?
By examining best practices from digital-first brands, you can learn how to engage and retain customers. Many use how-to videos on how to use products they sell, these are often based on questions customers use to ask in-store. Can you start a cooking channel on YouTube to introduce customers to new recipes using food from your grocery store? DIY projects are popular now, can you create package products that help customers execute DIY products with video tutorials, some of which already exist? Apparel and Beauty retailers can create fashion and make-up tips. Adding chat capabilities to your website allows you to interact with customers as they seek items for projects or new activities.
Show Them You Care: Optimize Your Digital Platform for Personalization
One of the best ways you can show customers you care for them is to provide a personalized experience on your website. Creating hyper-personalization opportunities for consumers within your e-commerce ecosystem is readily achievable. There are four essential elements of engaging with shoppers that gain their trust and encourage sales.
- You have to provide a fast, engaging, 1:1 in-the-moment experience. If you are out of a product, tell them and be able to offer an appealing, alternative product instantly. If you can let them know when the product they seek will be available again, so much the better.
- Make sure you are offering products and services that contextually relate to the consumer’s needs. Who are they, where are they, and when are they shopping must be factored in instantly. Let’s say a consumer resides in Miami, FL is price-conscious, and it’s March. A retailer would offer warm-weather clothing displayed from low-price to high. But if the consumer travels to Denver, CO, in that same month and browses the site, the retailer should offer the consumer cold-weather gear instead that is readily available in inventory so it can be shipped right away.
- It’s important that you are omni-channel to follow consumers across all devices and channels to provide the most updated information so you can stay engaged and relevant. Multiple devices are still in use even though we’re staying home. People may start browsing for an item using their laptops during the day and move to a tablet and/or mobile phone in the evening to finish their purchase. It’s our job to follow them from device to device to ensure a seamless shopping experience.
- Lastly, you have to scale. Internet traffic is growing and spiking in ways that are different than just a month ago. Enterprise brands selling online have to provide the same online shopping experience at peak times as they do during slow traffic. The consumer doesn’t know when or care when internet traffic spikes; they only care if the brand is providing a timely and relevant experience.
Some Changes Are Here to Stay, So Hang on to Them
There is no sugar-coating the challenges businesses are facing today. The epidemic has caused unprecedented upheaval for both consumers and for businesses around the world. But while it represents a major challenge, the crisis can also serve as a catalyst for businesses to double down on their digital transformation efforts. Many of the habits that consumers have been forced into now, such as buying online to pick up in-store, online meal orders, online banking, curbside pickups, are probably here to stay. So the investment that businesses are putting into these initiatives will continue to pay off later.
Certainly, these are difficult times, but we’ve been in lockdown for over 3 months and with no real end in sight it’s time for all companies to learn to swim in our changing business world.
For more information on concrete actions to take during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, you can access the webinar on 7 Strategies to Win Customers in Times of Crisis.
*Gartner COVID-19: Take Immediate Action to Help Customers, Kristin Moyer, Hung LeHong, Rui Zhang, 30 March 2020. (Gartner subscription required)