No one saw it coming, let alone prepared for it. Yet, here it is in almost every corner of the world. What began in a province in China is now being experienced everywhere from Soweto to Vladivostok.
The Covid-19 Pandemic is the subject of many studies across various research fields from its psychological effects on children staying at home for extended periods of time, to the performance of stocks on financial markets.
Some businesses like Zoom (for online meetings) and Netflix (for online entertainment) amongst others have seen astronomical increases in their patronage and profits; outliers in space and time where a greater number of businesses in most industries all over the world have experienced the opposite drastic declines in patronage leading to employee downsizing, lost jobs, reduced remunerations and salaries, and even complete shut-downs.
Clientele numbers and patronage of goods and services are going through tough times as financial and psychological factors, either directly or indirectly as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic, transform practically all our structures, norms, and freedoms of living life and doing business.
Occasional troubleshooting situations and decisions like cancellation or reduction of services, product returns, and market gluts have become the norm due to the various ways in which customer spending (both the choice and the ability) has immediately transitioned, and the manner in which the incomes of many customers have significantly reduced either due to loss of jobs or allowances and perks; or due to their deliberate decision to save money instead of spending it.
The restriction of physical movements of people, enforced by governments to limit the spread of the virus, has also limited the way in which customers patronize goods and service pushing a lot of transactions online and into more usage of digital and drop-off delivery services (more of the non-physical contact services).
These factors plus many others have resulted in customers all over the world being generally financially inconvenienced either experiencing reductions in their sources of income or losing it altogether, or having to divert some spending streams towards more critical ones that have emanated due to the pandemic – e.g. holiday savings being diverted to stocking up on foods and medications to cover several months; or school fees being diverted to paying for internet data and electricity for homeschooling and remote working.
Therefore, how businesses manage and innovate on their customer engagements is critical to winning new and maintaining old customers when the pandemic is over. Customers will certainly remember the businesses that were more responsive to them and supportive during their low moments and reward them for those life-saving responses.
Let us consider a number of ways in which businesses can better manage their customers during this pandemic in order to gain trust and loyalty far beyond the pandemic and its associated economic difficulties, and even into the changing lifestyles of what some are now beginning to call 'the new normal'.
To be able to implement all the methods outlined in this paper will require the use of various resources to varying degrees to enhance the customer's experience. These are tough times for almost all businesses.
However, business leads should regard these methods as recommended investments towards retaining existing customers and attracting new ones similar to investing in various channels of advertising. When properly executed, these actions will secure and retain your business profitable numbers of customers. Method #1: Show that You Care
Customers are human beings. Humans are emotional beings. There is no better or more opportune – time to show that you care about the difficulties that a lot of customers are likely to be going through at this point in time than now.
In times like these, customers long for humane responses and connections; for service-providers to empathise with them; and beyond that, for businesses to take practical steps to reduce the burdens that might come with doing business.
This is the time for businesses to enhance person-to-person chats with their customers, to check on them and see how they are doing, evaluate how the use of their products and services can be (more) beneficial to the customers (or can be if the businesses are receptive to worthwhile change suggestions), find out what difficulties the customers may be going through – and assure them of steps being taken to enhance their experiences in spite of all the above.
Customers are generally more leaning towards businesses that are sensitive to trying times. Some businesses have been quick to show care by putting together special packages to respond to the situation at hand. For instance, a couple of banks and other financial institutions in Ghana and elsewhere have communicated the extension of loan repayment periods, reduction of interest on loans, waiving of certain fees and charges, etc., to basically cushion customers and reduce the financial burdens on them.
Businesses who yearn to win the hearts of their customers during this pandemic, ought to communicate care to their customers. This can be done by coming up with packages and services that reduce the financial burdens on them, as many family incomes all across the world have reduced or become more applicable to specific streams of critical care depending on their needs and conditions.
It is time to give discounts, come up with payment plans, and also find new ways of reaching customers that will allow them to continue enjoying businesses' products and services at affordable rates. Method #2: Enhance Communication with your Customers
If there is ever a time that customers needed information most from the businesses that provide them with products and services, this looks like a picture-perfect moment. This is when it can actually be considered life-saving to provide all the information your customers could possibly need, in a timely manner, across as many channels as possible: bulk SMS, radio, television, social media, email, phone calls, etc.
The physical limitations of lockdowns, and the now increasingly popular 'working from home' phenomenon plus other factors have limited customers' ability to access products and services as they used to during pre-COVID times.
Businesses will benefit from exploring all the options available for pushing across such useful information examples being details such as which branch locations are open for business and on what days and at what times; what kind of delivery or extra support services are available; the kind of new products and services available for the current situation; provisions made towards ensuring customers' safety when they need to make physical visits to branches/offices; any innovations added to businesses' online platforms; alternative arrangements, etc.
In situations of difficulty and extreme changes to routines and ease of doing business like what we are all going through now, not having adequate information about businesses and their products and services can be quite burdensome to customers and lead to some negative experiences. Timely information and humane connections are crucial and must not be trivialized.
Business entities can further innovate and use their channels to communicate and re-emphasize public education on how to prevent or fight the Covid-19 virus, after all, customers can only patronize products and services if they are alive. Additionally, the above efforts are a great way to build more updated and comprehensive customer databases.
Businesses that have taken the time and effort to build comprehensive customer databases will find it easier to communicate to their customers effectively since they have their contact information or know where to find them, and are familiar with their most likely needs. Method #3: Enabling your Team to delight Customers
Service people, especially those on the frontline interacting directly with customers ought to be enabled (given resources and support) to delight customers. The pandemic has resulted in some service people working from home, separated from other team members who provide them with the resources and support to serve customers. It is crucial for supervisors and managers to enable all service people in order to ensure that help is within reach for customers each time it is needed.
Technology is a great resource that can help with communication channels to provide constant support to all team members in order to deliver great and timely service experiences to customers.
Bonuses and freebies can and should be provided to service people to offer to customers who need them most. A quota system for every customer-facing team member can also be implemented to put smiles on the faces of customers who may not be expecting them, thereby enhancing affinity to your brand or business. Method # 4: Explore Ways to add Value
Customer value is described as the worth of the product or service as compared to the price paid for it. In other words, a determination of whether the customer feels he or she received benefits corresponding to what he or she paid, or received much more.
When customers feel they have received a lot more utility than they paid for, it makes them happy. It is therefore natural to find customers gravitating more towards the businesses that give them more value for their monies. Of course, for any business to add value to their existing offering to customers, there is the need to know what the customers consider as value, and how it relates to what competitors are offering at the same or different price.
Businesses can seek out ways to add value by exploring the database they might have on customers and what insights it gives about how to delight them. For example, for an internet service provider, adding value can be through an increase in the speed of the service or providing more data at less cost, or both – as this is a good time to give customers faster speed to ensure they enjoy their browsing experience, or remote working time with their colleagues online, as well as their entertainment time.
For a restaurant another example – adding value could be through enhancing the quality and quantity of food ordered, enhancing both the physical and virtual ambiance of ordering food or coming in to dine, or upgrading the customer's experience with personalized treats. Recommendations
Businesses may not need to execute all the actions suggested, but they ought to examine their current situation and determine the best actions to undertake to bring more considerate and memorable experiences to their customers.
We are not in normal times and do not know how long the economic downturn from this pandemic will last. But, we do know that customers are generally looking out for human-centered initiatives by entities they do custom with, and this means that business leaders need to constantly review their offerings to customers in order to retain them and also stay competitive.