How COVID-19 has Changed Customer Relationships (forever)

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COVID-19 has brought with it immense changes. Things have shifted dramatically and rapidly in the face of this global pandemic. From how we deal with our everyday chores to how we interact with others—everything has changed. Small business owners now have to reassess how they operate and many are panicking. But there’s a way to stay afloat: Nurturing your customers.


Customers are now more discerning about what they need. They only take what they deem necessary. It’s survival mode out there and people are more selective than ever. This has left many businesses floundering and trying to digitally market more, bring in more customers, and depend on the customer base they’ve already amassed.


Nowadays, a loyal customer can make or break a business. Which is why a lot of small businesses should now focus on customer experience more than ever. As a business coach, I would encourage cultivating customer relationships and making their experience much better with your business, increasing the likelihood of sales.


The customer may not always be right, but by purchasing your goods or service, they can bring about a big change for your small business in such a tumultuous time.

What is customer experience? 


Customer experience stretches far beyond just customer service. It’s how a customer interacts with your business from start to finish, even beyond the purchase. 


Loyalty is great for your business as it promises repeat purchases. A loyal customer will return and even provide feedback which can be critical to your business as you only experience it from your side. Being able to understand what happens  at  the buyer’s end can give you wonderful insight as to what works and what doesn’t. 


A happy customer is someone who might even market your business for you by spreading the word of what a great experience they had. They might even leave you with good reviews or testimonials, boosting credibility and trust in your product or service. 


With how many choices there are available, a loyal customer will make all the difference in the world. They can choose any service or product similar to yours, but tailoring the customer experience to make them happy will always give your business an edge. 


Making it easy for them to navigate your website or store, for example, will already mean they are  happy. But personally assisting them, giving suggestions, and interacting with them makes them feel like they’re talking to someone who really cares about them, giving them an even greater experience with you and your business.

How big brands are giving their customer more love


Some great examples of brands providing excellent customer service are Wistia and Airbnb.

Wistia


In terms of having a very human touch, Wistia has it down to the letter. Not only do they prioritise being nurturing and providing top-notch customer experience, they want to make sure that their customers encounter a human being when being catered to. Customer relationships are vital to them.


Humanising processes can make customers feel special. They feel like they’re not just being responded to by something automated, but by someone who cares. This helps build meaningful connections for the business and secures the loyalty of customers. They’ll feel cared for, heard, and have an overall pleasant picture of your brand.


They do this by bringing a more personal touch to their emails. Emails from brands aren’t uncommon and can sometimes feel detached and robotic. But with Wistia, they respond with video voicemails—that is, attaching an embedded video from their site to their email. It allows the customer to feel like they’re interacting with another person rather than just a few paragraphs.


They’re also very open and honest about how they operate—even admitting to when they’ve made errors in the past and how they built their brand. By making themselves a little more vulnerable, they’re easier to connect with. No one, not even business owners, are perfect, and this revelation of the flaws in Wistia’s structure as they grew makes them more approachable as a brand since people can recognise themselves in those errors, too.

Airbnb 


Airbnb is a platform that allows guests and homeowners to connect and discuss matters of renting on their own. There usually isn’t any mediation required from the platform itself as people can carry out their arrangements by themselves. 


But in one case, a user tweeted about how she had difficulty finding a stroller for her potential guests and Airbnb quickly took notice. Instead of leaving her to her own devices (after all, it’s not their job to source things for their users), they went above and beyond what was expected and provided her with one. 


The image contains an Airbnb message addressed to a customer in need of a stroller


Doing this set Airbnb apart from other booking sites as they placed importance on their user’s needs, making their customer experience more positive overall. Not only did they physically provide something their user needed, they also gave them an experience that no other booking sites probably would. 

Using the HEART framework to enrich B2C relationship 


The HEART framework, which originated in Google to evaluate key user metrics and to increase customer satisfaction, works very well in sustained crisis situations or when an event is predicted to last a while. It helps keep businesses connected with their customers despite crises like COVID-19. It stands for:


  • Humanise your company
  • Educate Your Consumers
  • Assure that company values will continue despite all odds
  • Revolutionise the key idea of your business or the factor that the customers care about the most
  • Timeline for the future (tackle/plan as you see best)


  1. Humanise your company


Nothing turns a consumer off more than a brand blatantly trying to profit—especially during a time like this. Be sincere with how you present your company and what you do and let your customer base know you care for them and value them.


By reaching out to your consumers, you give them a space to engage with you and tell you what they need. Maybe your product or service can be handled or delivered in a safer way. Maybe it can go to assisting healthcare workers. Whatever it is you do, tune in to the world’s social needs carefully and avoid being heavy-handed as consumers may see it as insincerity. 


People are also likely to feel more grateful towards companies that have bridged gaps for them. Many businesses have brought people closer despite the lockdowns, innovating ways to reach loved ones digitally, quickening processes for testing, and showing generosity by donating to healthcare workers. 

  1. Educate your consumers


Communicating with your customers about your new protocols will be crucial as many physical stores have and will remain closed. Make sure this information is visible on  social media or your website. 


Whether it’s new operating hours, where to purchase online, or how to reach customer service, ensure that it’s all clearly laid out where they can find it. Don’t send your consumers on a clicking maze through Google just to figure out how to reach you. Chances are they’ll give up and find a similar business instead.


By proactively educating your customers on all the changes you’ve made, you can still ensure their loyalty and allow them to engage with you.  

  1. Assure that company values will continue despite all the odds


A consumer stays loyal to a company that aligns with their own values. Being able to assure them that those values will persist can convince them that they’ll continue to receive the same quality product or service with those ideals they hold dear. 


Being able to reassure a consumer that you will operate as you always have puts them at ease. They may be anxious that they won’t receive the same calibre of service from you but if you’re proactive in supplying them with the information that you’ve just shifted to the digital sphere with the same standard, they’ll remain in your customer base.

  1. Revolutionise the key idea of your business or the factor that the customers care about the most


Innovating in the time of COVID-19 hasn’t just become an option but a necessity for many businesses. One such industry that needed to adapt would be hospitality and travel. Since a majority of flights remain banned and many tourist spots have been stalled, they aren’t earning as much. But still, plenty of them have found ways.


One example is Sentosa, Singapore. Capitalising on the popularity of the game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, they were able to create a virtual Sentosa that people could enjoy while living through the pandemic. By making iconic areas in-game accessible to those who can’t visit the sunny island, they still offer the experience a consumer can access from home.

  1. Timeline for the future (tackle/plan as you see best)


By showing your consumers that you are staying afloat despite the situation, you can also reassure them of your longevity as a company. Being able to establish a concrete timeline of what you’ll carry out also puts them at ease because they can see that you’ve got plans to sustain yourselves even beyond these unprecedented times.


Show them that you envision a future where your company is still thriving even when things go back to “normal.” Not only will this strengthen your brand’s relationships with your customers, it’ll boost their trust in your business as one they can rely on.


COVID-19 has been devastating to many small businesses that weren’t ready to weather the storm it brought. But this doesn’t have to be the outcome for every small business. Being able to nurture the bonds you’ve already made with your customers while being proactive to potential ones has changed the landscape that brands operate in. It’s all about cultivating customer relationships and making them feel seen, heard, and cared about.


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