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Juliana Holterhaus: So, you’re an online business now? How brands can survive and thrive post Covid-19

Written by Juliana Holterhaus, Senior XM Consultant at Qualtrics Clay Warren, Head of Digital CX at Qualtrics

What a few months it’s been. The emergence of Covid-19 has fundamentally changed the way we live our lives, from social distancing to self-isolation and quarantine. The nature of work has also changed beyond recognition, with mandatory work from home policies, restaurants switching to delivery-only ordering and some automaker factories shutting down or even switching to producing ventilators. We’re seeing a rapid, historical, and primarily forced organisational transformation that puts many in a uniquely challenging situation.

In the face of this crisis, digital commerce, self-service systems and customer experiences will all be tested against consumer expectations. If brands weren’t focused on digital before, they are doubling down today in the hope of minimising business disruption during this turbulent time. For businesses that have never offered an online presence this disruption is already being felt, with brands such as Primark dropping from over £650m worth of sales a month to zero.

The irony is, that this new entirely-online reality has been discussed for decades, it just got here a whole lot faster than most of us expected. The brands that will thrive in this new reality will be those who have invested in digital transformation and, even more importantly, understanding digital experience management. If your business requires physical interaction, the challenges are palpable. Discretionary brands such as luxury retail, brick and mortar retail, restaurants, travel, and other people-centric businesses are experiencing massive fallout.

While these industries struggle, businesses that have invested heavily on satisfying consumers through digital channels rush ahead. Digital grocery businesses, ecommerce stores, financial services, technology and healthcare all have the opportunity to improve customer loyalty in these difficult times, not just surviving but thriving.

When it comes to building such positive digital experiences during this difficult time there are three key areas that brands should focus one: Emotion, Effort and Success.

These areas of focus have become increasingly important in the time of Covid-19 and will all foster a sustainable and differentiating experience:

1. Emotion — how did the interaction make the customer feel?

Capturing and conveying meaningful emotion through a website or app can be challenging for brands, but those who find the right balance are much more likely to create and maintain a meaningful relationship with their customer base. Post Covid-19, a focus on empathy is essential. This is an unprecedented time and there are many unknowns. In light of these extreme challenges, brands have the opportunity to convey trust and confidence, even in the face of uncertainty. To achieve this, they must take the time to listen to customers and understand their concerns, but don’t ask too much of anyone at this moment.

And it’s not just customers who should be treated with the right level of emotion, employee experiences must also adapt. According to the latest Qualtrics research, 49% of UK workers are reporting a decline in mental health since the start of Covid-19, this will inevitably impact performance and ultimately their interactions with customers. To address this, brands must listen to both their customers and staff, treating their various concerns with patients and respect.

2. Effort — how easy or difficult was it for the customer to achieve their goal?

The second key ingredient is that of effort … how easy or difficult was it for your customer to complete their task. People come to the digital environment with the expectation that they will be able to seamlessly accomplish their task, and this effect has been amplified during Covid-19. People are desperate for ease and stability right now, and don’t want poor digital experiences adding to their confusion and frustration.

In the current climate, it’s essential for brands to communicate clearly. Every brand is impacted in some way by the coronavirus outbreak, and each will be forced to make a host of difficult decisions at an extraordinarily fast pace. Providing effective, timely and consistent communication is critical during this time, even if the nature of the update is negative, this could mean the long-term difference between increased loyalty and customer churn. Any efforts made in this space will prove fruitful long after COVID-19 is behind us.

3. Success —was the customer able to achieve their goal?

While the concept of effort is quite variable depending on the task at hand, success is much more black and white. Your site and app visitors were either successful or not when it comes to completing their task. Maybe it was hard, but they still got it done. This is where it’s important to know your strengths. What strengths does your brand already possess that can make a genuine difference for your stakeholders? How can you use these strengths to not only ensure your own success, but also guarantee that customers are successful in whatever endeavour they are trying to achieve? Wherever possible, prioritise what will make your customers successful in their digital experience with your brand.

Today more than ever, customers and employees have the desire to be heard, and to know that their voices matter. The current crisis demands acknowledgement of the human on the other side of every interaction (and every data point). As such, we have an opportunity to create impactful interactions and experiences if we can learn to listen at meaningful moments, assess each situation within context, and act with empathy and compassion.