By: Kathy Kent Toney, President of Kent Business Solutions
It’s common knowledge that bottom lines for many companies have taken a hit during the pandemic. Once-loyal customers have fled some companies and flocked towards others that have very smartly pivoted to meet changing customer needs.
What is it about these companies that has created a virtual red carpet for new customers? What’s the secret formula?
One of my alliance partners, Roberta O’Keith has some answers to these questions. She’s an expert in Customer Experience with over a 20-year track record of creating successful customer experience programs. The topic she’ll be sharing about today is:
4 Tips on How to Retain Customers in Our Post-Pandemic World
On a side note, I received so much positive feedback on The Office videos I’ve been posting, so here’s another one…ways you DON’T want to treat a customer.
Kathy: Welcome, Roberta. Thanks for joining me today! What are these four tips?
Roberta: The first tip is:
1. Ensure Employee Safety and Communicate This to Your Customers
What I mean by that is making sure their employees are trained around what needs to be done to ensure that their work environment and their customer areas are safe. That builds trust with your employees and hopefully it will reduce employee turnover.
Then, talk with your customers about what precautions you have taken to ensure the safety of your employees so they feel trust with your brand. Build this into your marketing strategy, specifically to build more awareness and brand messaging around making safety #1 within your company.
Kathy: Have you seen any good and bad examples of ensuring customer safety?
Roberta: Yes. I have definitely seen restaurants that have gone above and beyond by providing wipes for your table as you walk in the door. Stores with plastic shields…we’ve seen that in a lot of places.
But I've also seen bad things as well, specifically restaurants where you walk in and the table that they're wanting to seat you in is still right next to another person or the table is not clean. There are still crumbs on the ground and crumbs on the table…that's just unacceptable.
These days when we walk into restaurants, we have a certain level of expectation that is higher than it's ever been. I think expectations are going to continue to be super high going forward, and companies are going to have to meet that expectation and raise the bar.
Here’s another example: I haven’t traveled on any airplanes these days, but I’ve seen some articles stating that Southwest Airlines is leaving middle seats open so that you don't have to sit immediately next to somebody on the plane.
And then I've heard the opposite from someone who has traveled on American Airlines. They are still putting you next to everyone, cramming everyone close together.
So, there are two major examples that I think show the side of the company's personality and how they are responding to the customer. Being sensitive to the customers’ needs and expectations is so important, and Southwest has always done a great job with that.
Kathy: yes, those are great examples of what to do and what not to do around the topic of employee and customer safety.
What’s your second tip?
2. Listen to Your Customers
There are lots of ways to do this, like through traditional channels such as surveys and phone calls.
Also, be present…walking your customer journey and experiencing what your customers are experiencing is important for any employee or manager.
Then take that feedback and do something with it. Don’t just be listening to your customers…collect and use that feedback to drive change in your organization.
Here are two other ways you can do this:
Listen to what people are posting out there on social media about your company and then take action with that feedback.
Go out and talk to your customers. Be present during their experience with your brand so you can build stronger relationships.
A great example of this is that I've seen more managers coming around and asking how things are…they are more present on the floor, whether it's in a store or at a restaurant. And I think that is because they want to show empathy and they want to hear what the customer has to say…to see if there are any issues so they can be proactive in fixing them.
The third tip is:
3. Be Flexible
Companies need to be more flexible and be able to pivot their products and services in a quicker way, because COVID isn't the only disruptive thing that's going to happen. There are going to be others, I'm sure…other situations where we'll have to learn to pivot quickly and be agile.
So, if companies have not been focused on understanding the holistic customer experience, they should be today, because your customers are going to be expecting more from companies. And if you're not delivering on what their needs and expectations are, you're going to miss out and lose that customer base.
Also, if you're not taking the feedback that you're getting and taking action with it, you need to. That will help keep you differentiated in your market.
Take, for instance, restaurants and how they've had to pivot during COVID. Those that have survived have been able to pivot quickly and produce food in a separate way, using a different type of kitchen environment so that they can do deliveries or pickup. If they don’t use an app to allow for ordering online for their customers, they should be now. Restaurants that haven’t done this have probably not survived through this COVID experience.
Another example is the KC manufacturer Thermo Fisher. They have built a whole new facility where they're going to be manufacturing PPE equipment. They were able to seize a moment to switch operations and meet the demands of the economy fairly quickly.
Kathy: another good example is J. Rieger. They pivoted from making exclusively alcohol products to making hand sanitizers, because there was such a huge customer need.
Roberta: Yes! That’s the way to meet consumer needs and also build goodwill with customers.
So that brings us to the fourth and final tip:
4. Personalize Your Approach
This involves adding messaging that is more compassionate or empathetic to your customers and ensure that you're providing content that's relevant to your customer.
Companies need to make sure they're becoming more aware of how they're treating their customers. And I think now more than ever, we have to be kinder and more patient with them, so that you can provide them that personal touch.
Make sure your employees are trained to do so, because we're all stressed out during this time. And if you can go above and beyond just your average experience, customers will remember that, especially during this time period.
In the end, when you can make their experience more personal and you'll be able to build more loyalty.
A great example of this are restaurants like Chipotle or McDonald's where you can order online and pick up your food in their parking lot. It’s very easy. With Chick-Fil-A, you can place your order online, go to a specific parking spot and they'll come to deliver the food directly to you. That was something that they never did before and now they're able to do that. I think that's something that's going to stay.
Kathy: That’s certainly a great example of personalization!
So, Roberta, do you have any closing thoughts?
Understanding your customers experience and identifying where to improve throughout that experience is very critical, more critical than it has been in the past.
And the last thing is this…
COVID has definitely provided an avenue to bring to light issues with businesses processes or systems and now's the time to take action on addressing those issues. If you haven't already, you won't survive the next pandemic or the next global crisis.
Kathy: I agree wholeheartedly.
Well, that’s it for today. Thanks for joining me, Roberta!
Roberta: Thanks for inviting me!
Also, if you’re interested in addressing process and system issues that have come to light during this pandemic, I’d love to talk with you about them…be it streamlining or automating them…or both!
If so, click here to schedule a virtual coffee. I’d love to connect with you!