What are brands thinking?
It’s no secret that the pandemic has significantly increased online transactions whilst also having a huge negative impact on bricks and mortar stores. The BBC here reports on ‘Tesco profits surge as online orders double‘ whilst Aldi, which hasn’t had online ordering so far, is now being driven at least to trial it.
It’s not only supermarkets that have been affected, and with the growth in numbers come people who are less used to online commerce, or who have different needs and perspectives — which is maybe why they weren’t already online.
In their Digital Trends Survey, eConsultancy asked brands about what they were finding in relation to customer journeys. You can see from the chart below that some felt they were in a better position than others to cope.
Whilst organisations are dealing with the changing way that customers want to interact with them — and who those customers are — they are also having to manage and cope internally with their own disrupted workforce. We’ve all seen the (sadly ongoing) news around temporary and permanent layoffs, as well as the huge shift to working from home. Again, some companies will have had better business continuity plans than others and the impact on customers will have been mixed.
It’s pertinent to ask what organisations are focusing on in all this turmoil. Of course, for some it’s simply a question of doing what it takes to survive. But for those with cash reserves or enough business to see them through, are they looking simply to conserve resources until it all gets better, or are they still making a priority of customer service?
There is plenty of research that shows that companies with a customer-focus outperform the stock market — including in bad times. There is also some good advice on how to win customers in an economic downturn. When people are feeling down and their livelihoods are threatened the last thing they need is poor service. When things do start to recover those people who interacted with brands and had good or poor experiences at emotionally stressful times will remember. What brands do now will impact customer attitudes towards them later.
What customer focus means
One of the buzz phrases for some years now has been ‘digital transformation’ which is about large-scale changes in infrastructure and processes to get to a better operating position with digital services. This is typically (and not wrongly) what the higher echelons in companies think of when they ramp up digital. However, the best also understand the value of a good hands-on experience for customers, underpinned by research and implemented by designers of various stripes.
You can have the greatest CRM or personalisation system in the world, with the best bandwidth, security, and redundancy, but it’s all for naught if customers just don’t want to — or can’t — use the service.
I’ll give you some examples.
I was recently looking for some blue-light clip-on filters for my glasses. I want to wear them in the evening to help my brain prepare for sleep before I go to bed. I did what so many of us do these days and started on Amazon and found the usual array of similar products for varying prices, with little supporting information as to the difference between them and why I shouldn’t just buy the cheapest. However, the most expensive ones (for £27 from Klim) included information on what wavelengths of light were blocked, and how much of it was blocked.
In addition there was information about the differences between models of Klim clip-on glasses. Psychologically it’s been shown that people don’t actually have to understand this sort of thing (although I think I do) — just having some scientific-looking information and some product info helps potential buyers to trust the seller more. There’s an emotional component as well as just providing straight facts.
In the Amazon product listing there was a cheaper pair from Cyxus. I’d never heard of either Klim or Cyxus so I checked the company websites. They both looked reputable (again the emotional component) but there was still no technical information on the Cyxus site including what effect the different colours of glasses would have.
I messaged the company through their site and never received a reply.
Needless to say I bought the Klim glasses.
Here’s a different sort of issue.
In April of 2018 I wrote a blog post about a disconnect between Lloyds Bank databases that resulted in a significant customer problem. When lockdown hit I received messages from people who had obviously Googled the problem and found my post. They were asking for help and solutions that they couldn’t get from Lloyds for a problem that had been known for years. Banking problems can be immensely stressful, and even more so in troubled times. How do you think those people are going to think about Lloyds in the future?
And yet another example.
A while ago I was trying to log in to Simply Health — a health insurance provider. I got this message.
The error message told me that I couldn’t log in because of a technical glitch at their end and to try again later. In fact the reason for the error was because they’d changed from using usernames to email addresses for login. They had warned me in advance by email but I’d forgotten and they’d failed to update their error message. This is exactly the sort of thing that I know from surveys and feedback that will cause people immense frustration as they follow the instruction and try again and again over time.
The inability to contact companies for basic information or function is another source of complaint.
During lockdown I ordered something from Currys’ website. I then wanted to cancel it. It isn’t possible to cancel an order online and because Currys had limited phone capacity was a nightmare to get through. Around the same time I ordered a different product from Very and then needed to cancel it. The process on the Very website was simple and easy and the refund arrived quickly.
These experiences form emotional associations in our minds and give us little nudges when we’re thinking about where to buy the next product from, or who to recommend to our friends and neighbours.
4 things that brands can do to help themselves and their customers
We could acknowledge that brands may not have been set up for the pandemic and had record traffic levels to their websites, but too much of what I see has nothing to do with that. It’s about a fundamental attitude and approach to improving the customer experience and, in these cases, doing some Digital Experience Optimisation (DXO). Brands need to live and learn and understand how delving into the world of customer research (attitudes and behaviour) and experimentation can help them on the road to delivering a better digital experience for customers that will reap business rewards in the form of long-term customer loyalty and competitive advantage.
To get started on this journey here are four areas brands should look to prioritise as we move into 2021
- Do everything possible to allow customers to self-serve. Divert some of any remaining development funds from new sales features to self-service enablement. Within organisations it’s usually the sales functionality that’s considered the sexy bit on a site. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best way of spending a pound though. Customer experience isn’t always included in the ROI equations of business cases, but it should be if you’re interested in keeping customers and thinking of lifetime value. If you can provide basic functions online then the overworked customer service staff can focus on the people who really do need to talk to them.
- Ensure information on the website is up to date and comprehensive. Which shops are actually open? What times? Ensure that FAQs do really reflect frequently asked questions, rather than being just added sales blurb that someone in an office thought of. Analyse calls and emails and social media to find out what customers want to know, and put it on the site.
- Not all issues are necessarily going to be apparent through calls and emails. Through those you’ll find out the issues that people have when they are sufficiently motivated to make contact, but there are likely to be other problems that exist that just cause people to give up and go away, and you’ll never know. For these you need to do some proactive research. Just running a simple site survey can yield a goldmine of information, and methods such as session replay and interviews conducted by experts can help paint a vivid picture of customer pain for internal stakeholders who hold the purse strings.
- If you don’t have time or expertise for this work, get some help. This applies to organisations of all sizes, and not only commercial organisations. If you want to provide a successful service to people the principles in this article apply. Even large companies with expert internal teams might find they are maxed out on essential work — where they don’t consider customer experience to be essential. It doesn’t have to be expensive. You might just need some consultancy on identifying opportunities, or could benefit from input from a researcher on structuring a survey so you don’t end up collecting junk data.
In tough times people can become overwhelmed with emotion, and anyone who contributes negatively to those emotions shouldn’t expect to be welcomed back when things get back to normal — whatever ‘normal’ looks like at the end of the tunnel.
I am (I’ve said it so many times) constantly amazed at the blind spots that organisations have in understanding the impact of the customer experience online, and what to do about it. Organisations need to embed this into their culture now rather than waiting for a post-covid world when it may be too late.
Start with the intent to do better, find out what problems your customers have and work out (with external help if needed) how you can optimise your digital customer experience to solve them. I work for an agency called Daydot. If you’d like some help to optimise your digital customer experience, get in touch