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Remember the good old days when eCommerce and social media were just getting big? ECommerce led to more touchpoints for businesses to connect with customers, and social media was a new channel to reach even more with consumers. In the early 2000s, positive sentiment and loyalty were important— eCommerce and social channels were examples of some ways to drive these. Well it’s 2020, COVID-19 is here, and now sentiment and loyalty aren’t just critical. For some businesses, customer experience service indicators are the only things standing between them and complete irrelevance. 

COVID-19 has created unprecedented disruption to supply and value chains, as well as demand and consumer behavior. In these uncertain times, businesses must find even better ways to connect with their customers and meet them where they are. Meeting their customers’ needs will undoubtedly drive positive sentiment and loyalty. But how can businesses do this during a crisis and adapt to future challenges? Let’s first reimagine the customer experience during COVID-19.

Meeting new customer expectations during COVID-19

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We are now likely serving customer personas that have changed significantly. In addition, the (contactless) methods of interaction may be new to both suppliers and customers, and there are now new purposes for today’s consumer goods we would have never imagined before. Grasping so many changing aspects of the supply chain, demand profiles, and fulfillment processes are enough to not only challenge startups, but also established brands.

So how should businesses think about the new customer personas, evolving customer experiences, and contactless channels, while meeting increasing customer demands? Oh, and while paying close attention to trends that may impact the business in the coming weeks? 

Customer personas

We may believe we know our customers, but our customer base could pivot substantially anytime — as a result of a major disruption or crisis like this one. The ability to quickly adapt to new customer needs is key. To understand and act on the evolving customer needs, we must think about the different customer personas that may be impacted. Here are some examples of groups and new challenges these customer personas may experience:

  • Existing customers with usual inquiries about our established services and are part of the existing value chain — an unreliable internet connection would severely impact these customers who are now needing to work from home, home-school their children, and shop online for groceries.  
  • Existing customers who have COVID-19-instigated needs, such as new types of inquiries of the existing value chain — an owner-occupied property, or even a commercial tenant, may need to seek reprieve from rent and mortgage payments.
  • Net-new customers who were previously with a competitor – these customers may now see the intrinsic value in your premium offering, but they may also be skeptical of your value proposition.
  • Completely new personas you would not have imagined to be possible before — for example, a dentist may go beyond his or her traditional services by looking for an online collaboration platform for pre-consultancy checks.

To ensure existing customers are served with intent and new customers orders are fulfilled, businesses must map the customer journeys into their value proposition.

Evolving customer experiences

A positive customer experience is either an engagement with the customer that meets or exceeds their expectations. Expectations are now shifting. Experiences delivered previously may now not be positive. With COVID-19, customers want transparency and accurate information. If a stocked item reports as “in stock,” then the customer is expecting delivery and fulfillment in the advertised time frame — they will be sensitive to apologetic communications that say: “unfortunately we are out of stock, we are working hard to fulfill your order.” Even before COVID-19, findings from the Customer Experience and the Connectivity Chasm report showed that 80% of consumers say out-of-date or inaccurate data (e.g., inventory availability and delivery tracking information) would make them more likely to shop with an alternative retailer next time.

The little things matter too. When queuing at a grocery store, I was patiently waiting and observing appropriate social distancing. I noticed a staff member using both disinfectant spray and cloths to clean the carry baskets at the front of the line. They were thinking ahead and giving me more comfort that all possible steps are being taken to make me safer while shopping. I, therefore, didn’t mind the wait, since they were being mindful of the safety of my customer experience.

Contactless channels

So how do businesses apply these thoughtful gestures to digital channels? Unlocking even the smallest, but significantly important, data from your systems and applications to enrich your digital channels is critical for delivering the expected experiences of your existing customers and new personas.

While companies must serve with humility, they must also act prudently yet aggressively to minimize the impact to their businesses and operations. This is a time to act with intentionality and commit to short-term needs, which have long-term implications. For example, by easily surfacing data from any system and automating delivery of information requested by the customer via portals or mobile applications, you meet the customer’s needs and allow your employees and resources to focus on high-touch needs. 

What about inbound customer requests or responses to advertising campaigns? How should businesses serve customers when their offshore call centers are closed and onshore resources are potentially unavailable? Companies can invest in integration to enable automation of business processes wherever possible. For example, one of MuleSoft’s telecommunications customers recently granted additional mobile data for all of its customers given increased internet usage. They added the functionality to their mobile app and then advertised the benefit widely. This drove many customers to the mobile app, instead of calling the support team to help. In an era where wait times and queues for call centers are through the roof, the company created a positive customer experience in a time that could have crippled the call centers — especially during a crisis.

Now is the time to invest in your existing and new digital channels and leverage integration as an asset for enabling new experiences that customers expect today and tomorrow. The effects of changing consumer behavior as a result of COVID-19 will continue after the crisis, so we will see digital channels and eCommerce continue to rise.  

Addressing short-term needs for long-term impact

The new ways we are serving customers during COVID-19 will not only be applicable in the near term but also in the future, long after COVID-19 is over. With an increasing reliance on digital capabilities to support internal operations and customers, CIOs and IT teams are in a unique position to lead their business through crisis. IT can unlock the value of their organizations’ data and assets and empower internal and external teams to innovate freely with them. By implementing an API strategy that makes your capabilities securely accessible for consumption and reuse by others, IT can enable its organization and the broader digital ecosystem to stitch together a richer customer experience. This may seem like you’re giving up control of the value chain, but using the digital ecosystem to get your services, products, and capabilities into the hands of customers in these times will have a longer-lasting impact on customers. Bringing those customers back to your value chain in the future is entirely possible – more possible and cheaper than new customer acquisition.

A perfect example of focusing on the customer experience is how NSW Health, a state-wide clinical and scientific service provider in New South Wales, teamed up with Amazon Web Services, Deloitte, Microsoft and MuleSoft to build an SMS system that automated the delivery of COVID-19 pathology results to patients who test negative. Before, the sheer volume of tests meant that NSW clinicians weren’t able to get results to patients quickly. The new opt-in SMS notification service will halve the notification period for results, reducing the anxiety for patients and easing pressure on hospital and pathology staff. This initiative has provided a new and accessible channel for the state to potentially leverage for pathological test results in the future.

Deeper customer relationships will prevail

Establishing deeper relationships with new and existing customers will provide a foundation for your business as we enter the recovery phase of COVID-19. Customers will look back to organizations that built a positive experience during this time and show their loyalty with their wallets. The opposite is also true: enterprises that don’t prioritize customer experiences when there’s no specific business value attached will find that they are easily replaceable by another that focuses on building positive customer sentiment.

Focusing on the customer, when businesses are struggling for survival, is a hard priority to commit to. But it will undoubtedly stand the test of time and help deepen your relationship with your customers as you help them through challenging times.

Check out more examples of MuleSoft customers who are rising up to today’s challenges to quickly deliver on mission-critical projects and focus on delivering great customer experiences. For more information on how MuleSoft can support you in leading through change, visit our COVID-19 resource hub.