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The opinion of 14 experts on customer experience in the post-Corona era Steven Van Belleghem - April 16, 2020

Customer Centricity Ani Kolleshi Vu Da Zveny0 Unsplash 10441F9Ec937D856Cc8684470C3373Ac

The Corona crisis is still raging around the world. More than 1 billion people are presently quarantined, and the economy is having its worst moment in the last few decades. The question is, what will the world look like once this crisis is under control? What will change in the world, and what will remain the same?

Many companies all over the globe are re-thinking their marketing strategies – which is really hard, because nobody really knows what this current situation is going to do to human behavior. This is the largest real-life experiment we have ever seen. Last week, I formulated my own views on customer experience after Corona in this article, this week I want to share the opinions of others.

I asked a very broad and open question to a group of 14 experts: what will customer experience look like in the post-Corona era? This is what they had to say.

Brian Solis

Brian is an Enterprise Industry analyst, a global keynote speaker and 8-time best-selling author. The title of his most recent book is Lifescale.

What will customer experience look like in a post-Corona world? To answer that question requires first answering another one: what will the customer look like by then? I call these times the #NovelEconomy, because it literally means new.

One thing I’m sure of: we’re not going back to business as usual. We need new perspective to see problems and opportunities in a new light. What’s happening now is a tremendous exposure to weaknesses in digital transformation and innovation initiatives. Beyond infrastructure modernization, organizations need to invest in systems and operations that learn from shifts in behavior, preferences and aspirations.

We need to get back to basics. We need to really put people at the center of our business.

Thankfully, intelligent technologies will allow us to expedite the process. Through what I call ‘data-driven empathy’ we’ll have the ability to learn from customer shifts and also understand and even predict new trajectories. Doing so will help organizations understand what to prioritize and how best to organize around it. This moment is critical for taking action.

Some will batten down the hatches and wait it out. But they will be behind the curve as markets evolve and expand.

We will start to emerge on the other side of this sooner rather than later. This is the time to prioritize not just customer experience, but also the “customer’s experience.” When we explore customer trajectory from their point of view, we can make empathetic investments and changes that are informed, relevant and ready to scale in the #NovelEconomy.

Tom De Ruyck

Tom is Managing Partner at the global digital research company InSites Consulting.

We are in the midst of a health and economic crisis, and it’s still unclear how this global event will influence consumer expectations in the long run. However, the ‘weak signals’ from tomorrow that we are already picking up today can help us formulate certain foresights that might give us an idea of what potential futures await us. I observe 5 aspects that consumers are focusing more on in Corona (and maybe also post-Corona) Times:

  • BRAIN: Brands that invested in effortless and frictionless digital experiences are winning. Today – more than ever – consumers want to give their brains a break.
  • BODY: Consumers are starting to become more aware of the importance of physical and mental health and well-being.
  • CONNECTIONS: More than ever we are connecting with family and friends (through digital means) and revaluing deep human connections.
  • COMMUNITY: We are starting to pay more attention to local companies and even rediscovering our local communities.
  • PLANET: We are seeing the first effects of a planet in ‘pause mode’. A planet that recovers slowly from how we have treated it since industrialization started. Will we want to go back to business as usual after this?

Companies that are able to help consumers to realize their new needs and dreams in these 5 fields might be the love brands of the future. At InSites Consulting, we just started a Global Corona Consumer Community to verify these hypotheses and to develop some strong insights into what the day after this COVID-19 crisis might look like.

Nienke Bloem

Nienke is a Customer Experience Management expert and an international keynote speaker.

For me, the question of Corona’s impact on customer experience has two lenses. First, the outside-in perspective, that of customer perception. Because of current emotional stress, customers will remember more clearly how they were and are treated. Elements like compassion, purpose, consistency and ease will be more important in choosing where to do business at a later date. Customers will prefer to buy local, stick with brands they love and trust, and value the human touch.

The second lens, looking from an inside-out perspective: companies that win the battle in customer experience will be those that deliver on their customer promises. That being said, winners need to define the desired customer experience. The role of the customer experience professional is to stand up as a true leader and guide the organization towards consistent delivery on these promises, in both online and offline channels. A trend that I foresee is a shift in voice of the customer programs. Winners in customer experience will adapt to elementary human standards. Where companies don’t just send out surveys any longer, but really listen, are curious about the customer experience and proactive in responding and acting on customer feedback. In the post-Corona era, the difference between business winners and losers will be even more visible. So, if I may offer a piece of advice: step up your customer experience management and take charge of how you want your customers to be treated.

Pieter Janssens

Pieter is founder and CEO of digital agency Intracto.   

When we deal with crises like these, you have this unique momentum, this struggle for life, when things can move very quickly. You get to see clearly which companies already considered their digital channels as primary. The crisis has limited consumers in physical mobility, and so for them to be able to fall back on digital channels was a must. As a company, it’s one thing to have the channels in place, it’s another to scale them fast enough to keep up with customer demand. And so a lot of companies were forced into rapid digital adoption and maturity. It’s kind of like companies enabling remote work: there were those who had already facilitated remote work, and they were able to seamlessly continue their activities, and then there were those who were forced into enabling remote work just to be able to survive. One of the positive points that we can take away from this crisis is that customers really appreciate when a company has absolutely flawless digital channels and processes in place. The same goes for employees.

Rudy Moenaert

Rudy is Professor of Strategic Marketing at the Tias Business School

Will consumer expectations and behaviors change profoundly once the Corona crisis is over? From a behavioral perspective, we are experiencing a temporary crisis as well as a global experiment. I see a number of potential changes:

(1) Online Rules. E-commerce did not need a boost, but Corona has further fostered online shopping as a global and convenient shopping corridor. In this social distancing era, many view it as a life-saving service. Important: not only are more people ordering online, more categories are being explored online as well. Who would have thought of ordering toilet paper online? Goodies you can no longer find in your local supermarket, you will find online. Online not only builds traffic, it gains reputation as a reliable channel.

(2) Build an Entrance. Managers are scrutinizing cash flows diligently – they have to, since sales are suffering greatly. Even Messi took a significant pay cut to help FC Barcelona through these tough times. Survival in the modern arena entails more than monitoring cash flows, however. Local industries are rightfully urging local consumers to buy online locally. The online behemoths have indeed turned ‘local shopping’ into an oxymoron. The good news – local consumers definitely want to shop locally. The bad news? They get stuck when answering the first question: “Where?” The entrance to the virtual shopping malls of Amazon, Coolblue, Zalando, Bol and the like are known to everybody. Local businesses suddenly realize that the old adage of marketing is hitting them right in the face: customers do not buy what they cannot find.

(3) Generation Zoom. As far as consumption goes, we love routines. The Corona crisis compels us to experiment with new ways of doing things, and is forcing us to adopt new communication technologies. We have now all become Generation Z(oom), video chatting with friends and relatives. Many people now experience what academics and independent professionals have enjoyed during much of their lifetime – a home office. This increases discretionary behavior, and will undoubtedly further foster online ordering. Smart local business people will find clever ways of linking the local shop floor with customers nearby. Might this offer an opportunity to build a new layer of customer intimacy, one that the e-commerce behemoths cannot mimic?

(4) M2M Marketing. If you survive Corona, put a badge on yourself! You have now, just like your grandparents, witnessed a war up close and personal. One difference, however: in this war, we’re desperately waiting for a serious shot – a shot of good medicine, that is. The war context has transformed consumption patterns overnight. It is devastating to see how swiftly a hedonistic society takes the emergency exit to the lower levels of the Maslow pyramid. I wonder what those families will be doing with 124 rolls of toilet paper and 72 packages of macaroni. As Steven Van Belleghem rightly argues, machine-to-machine marketing holds great potential for removing friction. I would add that in a robust supply chain, it may help to abolish unneeded panic buying as well. Bring it on!

(5) Engage through Purpose. Never more than during a crisis do companies have the opportunity to polish their mandate for society. Some familiar names are doing very well at this – LVMH, Coca-Cola, AB Inbev, Unilever, etc. go out of their way in producing goods, enabling the supply chain, and communicating the essentials. Their sales may take a hit, but they create shared value and will build a lasting reputation.

(6) Experts, not Opinions. My last concern is more of a hope than a prediction. Experts have become fashionable again. At long last, I might add. Maybe the rigor that the academics have shown in analysis, diagnosis and advice throughout this ominous health crisis will re-establish the quest for valid information. Related to (5), the prestigious New York Times as well as the Sloan Management Review have made sections of their websites that are relevant to the crisis available for free. Who needs influencers if you can have scientists and great reporting?

Tom De Bruyne

Tom is the founder of SUE Behavioral Design & Behavioral Design Academy.

The most important thing that will matter from a customer experience point of view is a capacity to think outside-in: great brands will put the human behind the customer first. Great brands will find a genuine connection with the pains and anxieties of people (e.g. their uncertainty, stress, frustrations, struggles), they will help them to achieve their jobs-to-be-done (take care of their family, achieve economic security, be creative and productive, experience joy and excitement, etc.), they will help them to build new positive habits or help them to break with the bad habits of the pre-Corona era (e.g. help them to blend their private life and professional life in a more balanced way).

Rik Vera

Rik is co-founder and partner of Nexxworks and an international keynote speaker.

All of a sudden, the future starts the day after COVID-19 and not beyond 2030.

People and society are going through a massive change in just a few weeks, and life will never return to “good old normal”. People have been on their own and the digital toolkit made them more connected than ever before. At the same time, we have become acutely aware that we cannot live without the real stuff.

Companies that not only connect to many customers using the digital toolkit, but know how to engage each of them on both an individual and a collective level, will not only survive and strive, but will win big time. People will be strongly connected and will be aware of the real values of life and work and business. They will be more tribal than ever and the tribes will make or break your brand. They will love to serve as your sales and marketing and even infrastructure, or they will ignore you and let you die.

Your customers are in lockdown. The world is at a standstill. This is the moment to really engage. Customers are receptive. However, they will not remember what you say, claim or do, but how you make them feel right now.

How does one engage customers? By showing that you have a H.E.A.R.T.:

Be Honest

Be Ethical

Be Authentic

Be Responsible

Be Transparent

Use the next couple of weeks to think about how to connect to and engage with individuals, and how to really show that you are a company with a HEART. Make sure they can feel it.

Marion Debruyne

Marion is Dean of the Vlerick Business School and Professor in Marketing and Innovation.    

You’ve probably seen the jokes on your LinkedIn or twitter feed: the “videocall bingo” joking with all of the mishaps from background noises to people talking on mute. But honestly, they don’t reflect my reality. In the last week, we ran 472 Zoom meetings at Vlerick Business School, with 12,000 people logging in altogether. We held a staff meeting, ran an executive program on M&A strategy, and our Masters students participated in an online business game. And frankly, it all worked just fine. It makes me question my usual habits. I used to not think twice about travelling across the globe for a 1-day meeting. And I spent an enormous number of hours of my life in traffic. Bad for the planet, bad for my own efficiency. So why do we keep on doing it? The truth is, consumers very often operate out of habit. Even if an alternative is clearly superior, we stick to old routines and mental models. It takes a shock to the system to reconsider our old habits. So when all this is over, will we crave human connection? Will we want to be together physically? Sure. But I believe we will be more discerning about how we spend our time and money, and raise the bar for real personal and customized experience. Because while I’ve been stuck at home, I also messaged my favorite lunch spot for a customized order for pick-up. I’ve called a local shop to get advice for my online order, and had a lovely chat with the owner whose daily updates I follow on Instagram. Consumer experience that is human makes the difference. If it is personal, customized, convenient and omni-channel, it will survive.

Marco Derksen

Marco is the founder of Marketingfacts.nl and a lecturer at the AOG School of Management.

I have been helping organizations with their transformation to the digital network society for more than 25 years, but I have never experienced what I’ve seen in the past few weeks. In just one week almost 90 percent of primary schools went online, complete e-learning modules on COVID-19 were developed for nurses in no time, and even executives went online to collaborate. It remains to be seen how much of this behavioral change will persist after the crisis, but it will certainly have an effect on how people communicate and cooperate with one another in the future. Obviously, the crisis will have a huge impact on how customers interact with organizations and what they expect from organizations. At an unprecedented pace, both customers and service employees of organizations are now getting used to online customer contact. In addition, it is clear which parts of organizations are too rigid and need to be adjusted in the future. After all, we will increasingly have to deal with what Nassim Taleb calls “black swans”. Rare events in a hyper-connected world that have a huge impact on society and how organizations should respond to them. What does this complexity and uncertainty require of organizations and what does it ask of leadership? No one has the concrete answer, but one thing is for sure: organizations will have to become much more agile, and tomorrow’s leaders will have to prepare for the new storms to come. As an organization, you will need to be clear about what you stand for and what direction you are heading in. It’s time to show your true colors and develop an organizational compass for everyone involved or you’ll be out of business in this fast-changing world!

Seth Godin

Seth is the successful author of several seminal management classics and is one of the top keynote speakers in the world today.

A few weeks ago Magali De Reu interviewed Seth Godin on this topic. Click here for the entire interview. In my opinion this is a must-see video. A lot of what Seth said in the interview is relevant for this article. I chose the following excerpt.

When society is hit by a crisis you can do one of three things: react, answer or initiate. ‘To react’ literally means a negative reaction to external input, such as news or medication, for instance. ‘To answer’ implies responding to an external signal – e.g. a promotion in your inbox. Finally, ‘to initiate’ means putting things in motion,

which is what all of us should do. Not just when the world is turned upside down but as a rule. At the end of the day, did you only answer your emails and read every single post on Facebook? Or did you create significant added value for your fellow man? The American economist Milton Friedman has been dead for a while now but he was convinced money played a central role. But you know what? He’s as wrong now as he was then: making a difference is much more valuable.

Paul Van Cothem

Paul is founder of TurnLeaf Marketing Consulting. He advises companies, drawing on his experience as a senior marketing leader at Xerox, Apple and Telenet.

At this time, it is important to focus on communication that everyone (customers, employees, etc.) with questions can find support and clear answers in. ‘Boost your business’ campaigns should be postponed for later. I suggest pushing the pause button on those. Right now the focus should be on human and ethical values, not commercial objectives.

There is hope for positive change after the crisis. I’m optimistic as well. Let’s hope that society and the corporate world take a step back. There is a chance that we will see a decrease in excessive consumerism and an increase in attention to well-being. This is an evolution in which the marketing world should play a positive role.

Peter Hinssen

Peter is co-founder and partner of Nexxworks. He is a lecturer at the London Business School and MIT. Peter is also a successful global keynote speaker and author of many bestsellers.

In my opinion, the entire COVID-19 phenomenon offers companies a gigantic ‘digital stress test’. Just as we had the stress tests of the banking industry after the financial crisis of 2008, we’re now seeing the equivalent where companies are experiencing what it means to operate and work in a fully digital new-normal world. I had a conversation last week with one of the world’s largest telecom operators, where more than 25,000 people in their shared service department – many of them in countries like Egypt and India, which are going into full lockdown – have to organize themselves in order for this company to remain fully operational while almost every employee works from home. The same thing on the customer side: every day we are experiencing as customers ourselves which companies and brands we can still work with, in a fully digital world. The digital stress tests are revealing which companies were ready and which ones failed to fully prepare themselves to stay functional and operational when digital is the only option.

Leslie Cottenje

Leslie is the founder and CEO of Hello Customer.

Many companies are now being forced to switch to e-commerce, work remotely and find new ways of servicing their customers. This demands a huge effort from businesses that have to approach their customers in an entirely new way. Also, they have to do post-haste: it’s a race against the clock to stay relevant during and after this life-changing period. What do customers expect from our company, how can we create added value right now and ensure that we can give them what they need? How can we be of service and help them? And above all: how do you do this in a humane manner and let your customers know they can count on your company?

More than ever they must keep up to date on what’s going on with their customers in order to succeed. They must stay in contact with them, maintain a connection. More than ever companies will need to develop a culture of experiments and innovation. More than ever they will have to rely on the creativity of their employees and put communication at the top of their agenda. Empathy will be central. Empathizing with colleagues but also with customers. More than ever, we will have to listen to them. After all, enthusing and motivating employees is directly related to the delivered products and services.

Listening to customers and employees on an ongoing basis will give companies the opportunity to validate experiments and gather input on how to adapt to this new world. Incorporating such a real-time feedback loop will also boost the confidence to organize experiments. Initiatives that are not well received can be dropped immediately and at minimal cost. Popular initiatives can be developed while feeling confident that they are the right investments to be successful in the aftermath of the Corona crisis.

Dan Gingiss

Dan is an expert in customer experience as well as a keynote speaker and a marketing & customer experience consultant.

There’s never been a more important time to be focusing on customer experience. With many companies shut down and consumers stuck in their homes, people are looking for confidence and support. They are not always getting it from the government, and they are not always getting it from the media. This presents a unique opportunity for businesses to demonstrate to their customers that they are calm, confident and coordinated in the face of a pandemic. What companies do now will have a great effect on the perception of their brand after the COVID-19 situation passes. People will remember the companies that went out of their way to provide help and resources, versus the ones that simply pointed us to the same websites.

It’s also the perfect time to take a step back and evaluate your entire Customer Journey from start to finish. Identify customer pain points as well as opportunities to take the experience from ordinary to extraordinary. Take care of those website and mobile app fixes that you’ve been meaning to do but that have not been prioritized. Gear up for a future where customer experience will be even more important than it has been. When this is over, customers will still want to do business with companies that care about them and make an effort to provide remarkable experiences. The situation we all find ourselves in today will only make that future experience more important.

Steven Van Belleghem B W
Steven Van Belleghem

Steven is an expert in customer focus in a digital world and in how our customers will behave in the Day After Tomorrow. He is a popular speaker at home and abroad. In his keynote...

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